Column: LIV has more to lose than it does to gain at Masters
The Masters should be above all the clamor caused by 18 players from LIV Golf and this feeling of "us versus them" in the first major championship of the year.
But just wait until names and numbers start to fill the white scoreboards around Augusta National on Thursday. Try to see only names without considering their allegiance.
No one wants to talk about it. That doesn't mean no one is thinking about it.
The Masters is a real chance for LIV Golf because with few exceptions, its members have not mixed it up with anyone but themselves over the last nine months while piling up generational wealth provided by Saudi Arabia's sovereign wealth fund.
And now they're all in the same arena. It's not about relationships — on the range, in the locker room at the Masters Club dinner — it's about performance.
"I think it's just important for LIV guys to be up there because I think we need to be up there," said Cameron Smith, still known more as the "champion golfer of the year" from St. Andrews than team captain of LIV's Rippers.
"I think there's a lot of chatter about: 'These guys don't play real golf. These guys don't play real golf courses.' For sure, I'll be the first one to say the fields aren't as strong," Smith said. "But we've still got a lot of guys up there that can play some really serious golf."
Dustin Johnson in a green jacket on Sunday? That would surprise no one.
Johnson has been No. 1 in the world longer than any player since Tiger Woods, and everyone knows his current world ranking of No. 69 requires an asterisk. He hasn't played a tournament with ranking points since he tied for sixth in the British Open.
Brooks Koepka is coming off a victory last week in LIV Golf-Orlando and is starting to regain that swagger that made him "Big Game Brooks." He's won four of his last 20 majors. Koepka was so excited about his prospects after winning Sunday that he said, "It gives me chills thinking of the capabilities of what I can do when I'm healthy."
All this give Greg Norman chills just thinking about it.
Norman, the CEO and commissioner of the Saudi-funded league, sounds as though he would consider a LIV player winning the Masters even sweeter than if the Shark had won it himself, which he famously never did.
"I would be the happiest man in the world, the first to ring and congratulate and pay for what would be an incredible party," Norman told The Daily Telegraph last week in Florida.
"They've said that if one of them wins, then the other 17 will hang around and be there to congratulate him around the 18th green," Norman said. "Could you imagine what a scene that would be, all these players hugging the winner? You only see things like that in the Ryder Cup, although it's happening in our events more and more."
The last such scene was when Woods won in 2019, and so many past champions waited in their green jackets near the scoring room. Yeah, this would be different.
With the Masters on the horizon, LIV Golf offered a clever reminder of the players it has on its 48-man roster with interviews and images of Phil Mickelson putting the green jacket on Charl Schwartzel, who a year later presented it to Bubba Watson. And then there was Sergio Garcia passing along the green jacket to Patrick Reed.
But it also raised questions about where these guys are now. Mickelson hasn't made a cut against a full field on the PGA Tour since September 2021. Since joining LIV, he has finished in the bottom half of the 48-man fields eight out of his 10 tournaments.
Watson is coming up on five years without a win. It's hard to move past Rory McIlroy referring to LIV as the "pre-Champions Tour."
And now consider the flip side. What happens if none of the LIV players contend this week?
It's a small sample size, for sure. The best measure of LIV players — and suggestions they lack sharpness or serious competition to be considered among the elite in golf — will be an entire season of majors, if not longer.
The Masters is only the first test.
And depending on a potential winner, the reputation of LIV Golf has more to lose than it does to gain. If it were to be Johnson, Koepka, Reed or Joaquin Niemann? These guys are good players. But if no one contends? That's all the ammunition needed for critics who believe LIV Golf has no relevance.
"I think that only puts more pressure on themselves that they are not just playing for themselves and they are playing for his cause," McIlroy said. "Look, it's a narrative and a storyline, but the Masters and the four major championships sit above all that noise, and that's the way it should be this week."
Odds are it won't be.
LIV Golf promotes how its players often look at leaderboards at their events to see how their team is doing. The Masters might not be any different.