Last fall at Whistling Straits, Greg Norman attended the Ryder Cup for the first time. He said it opened his eyes to the power of team golf.
Norman was mesmerized and energized by what he witnessed — the passion from players on both the American and European sides and by the rabid fan interaction.
He saw it as “a game-changer’’ watching the fans and players “engage’’ in a way he’d never seen in all of his years of playing tournament golf.
Norman recalled being at the first tee and watching Justin Thomas and Daniel Berger fire up the crowd by chugging beers and thinking, “There it is. That is exactly what the fans are looking for.’’
He said the entire scene gave him “goosebumps.’’
Fast-forward to Wednesday at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, N.J., where Norman’s Saudi-backed LIV Golf venture officially announced its 12-team, 14-event format for 2023, featuring 48 players, ahead of the third LIV Golf event of this season, which conducted its second round on Saturday.
There are grand plans on the part of Norman and LIV Golf to turn these teams into rival franchises like Yankees-Red Sox, Giants-Cowboys, and Rangers-Islanders, with passion becoming a part of the fabric the way it is in our mainstream sports.
There are visions of team merchandise becoming as hot a commodity as an Aaron Judge or Pete Alonso jersey.
The question is whether that ever will be possible, whether this team golf scheme is nothing more than a pipe dream. Because, right now the LIV Golf team element, while an interesting idea, feels more like a gimmick, much like the tour’s shotgun starts and 54-hole format.
It’s difficult to envision a time when golf fans are going to be standing in line to buy gear for their favorite LIV team — be it Nibicks, Majesticks, Cleeks or Fireballs.
If you ask even the most ardent golf fans, they’d be hard-pressed to even come up with a name or two of the existing LIV Golf teams, though in fairness it is very new.
Merely understanding how the team concept works as the 48 players compete for themselves in a medal play tournament and for a team isn’t very clear-cut. The fact that the lowest cumulative score among the four players on each team accounts for its final score is not something that’s likely to generate the kind of passion that a proper match-play team format might.
“Listen, we’re still learning, too, how it’s all going to work out,’’ Charles Howell III, one of the three players making his LIV Golf debut this week, said Wednesday.
The reality is that much of LIV Golf’s success will be based on whether the team concept works. It is, in a way, a linchpin for the LIV business model.
“Our franchise model will bring new energy and excitement to fans from all corners of the world, establishing a league of teams to connect and grow with,’’ Norman said. “I don’t know if we can generate what you saw at the Ryder Cup, but I can say this: I’d be shocked if it’s not successful.’’
Norman pointed to Carlos Ortiz making a putt on the final hole of the second event of the season, outside Portland, Ore., to clinch third place by one shot for his team, the Fireballs. His teammates Sergio Garcia, Abe Ancer and Eugenio Chacarra breaking into celebration for the $125,000 they each won.
Norman said when he watched that scene, he thought, “Wow, OK, this is what we’re trying to create.’’
Jason Kokrak, playing in his first LIV event this week, called the team concept “a new and exciting way to invigorate the sport.’’
“I think it’s going to bring new audiences and a different type of draw to the team aspect,” Kokrak added. “You see how big the Ryder Cup and team events are, and I think a lot of players are going to enjoy the team camaraderie as well as the fans and everybody else watching.’’
Paul Casey, also playing in his first LIV event this week, has competed on five Ryder Cup teams for Europe, and he wondered aloud what might become of the LIV Golf team concept.
“Look, I guess we’ll find out, won’t we?’’ Casey said. “I think sports fans understand teams, so this just adds another layer. What I hope is that these teams will then transcend once I’ve moved on we’ve all moved on. It would be very, very cool if the teams transcend players and it becomes an element. It does in the Ryder Cup. It’s Team USA-Team Europe. Players come and go.
“The truth is I don’t know. We’re going to find out.’’