PLAYA DEL CARMEN – The main interest around LIV Golf’s debut season in 2022 was the player movement and discussion of the controversial funding for the upstart circuit.
Now in its second year – the first of the re-branded, 14-event LIV Golf League – the focus will be on the golf. Will it deliver?
From the 2022 team championship to this week’s 2023 season opener at Mayakoba’s El Camaleon Golf Course, LIV was able to shed some of its dead-weight players and brought in the likes of PGA Tour winners Sebastian Munoz and Brendan Steele, as well as world No. 34 Thomas Pieters. None of those players will necessarily move the needle for golf fans, but the league is undoubtedly deeper than before.
The inaugural eight-tournament season was dominated by Dustin Johnson’s aptly named 4 Aces GC, but year two should be a bit more competitive according to the players.
“I think there’s been a lot of good players coming in, in some of the other teams that obviously needed a little bit. So it’s going to be fun to see how everything develops,” said Sergio Garcia, the Fireballs GC captain who returned all four players from last year. “But I definitely think that there’s going to be — there’s definitely going to be two or three teams that maybe last year struggled a little bit and they’re definitely going to look — they look stronger on paper starting the season.”
“I think all the teams right now are pretty strong. It’s going to be a competitive season, but I feel really confident of how good this team is, how good this team plays in team format,” added Joaquin Niemann, captain of Torque GC. “At the end of the day, that’s what they’re here for. We’re a team. We enjoy playing all together, and we’re going to be battling all season for Team Torque, which is going to be a great experience.”
Niemann’s squad features two of LIV’s new toys with Munoz and Mito Pereira, as well as David Puig, who joined the league led by Greg Norman and backed by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund straight out of college.
“We’re here to prove ourselves,” said Munoz. “We’re trying to show our product, and I think we have a really good product and we’re going to have a strong showing this season.”
Each team will need to improve seeing as Johnson’s 4 Aces added Peter Uihlein, who finished fourth on LIV’s money list last year, to a championship squad that also returns Patrick Reed and Pat Perez. Talor Gooch, last year’s fourth Ace, has joined Bubba Watson’s RangeGoats GC.
“I think the team is as strong as it was last year, if not stronger,” said Johnson, who claimed the individual season-long title in 2022. “I feel like we’ve got the better end of the deal here with Pete. I think he’s a really nice player. I like having him on the team.”
“If us four play the way we’re supposed to play, I feel like we’re a hard team to beat,” added Reed. “Nothing is ever for sure. We just have to go out there and grind, and if we play half the game we’re supposed to, we’ll have a chance on Sundays.”
“Obviously they won everything last year. I’ve kind of said this before, but when they had an opening, they’re like the Yankees, and if they come calling, you answer the phone,” said Uihlein.
When asked if Gooch was traded or fired, Johnson delivered a dry-humor gem of a response: “All of the above.”
“Talor, no, he wanted to go play with (Harold Varner III on the RangeGoats), and so I said, ‘Good luck,’” Johnson explained. “Me and Talor, we’re fine and we’re friends, but I did tell him, though, he should enjoy being on stage in Miami because that was the last time he’s going to do that.”