According to a new survey by TheLines, 58% of survey respondents support Augusta National Golf Club’s decision to give LIV golfers eligibility for the Masters. Another 24% had no opinion, while 17% opposed it.
As what diehard golf fans call “Masters Week” has arrived, an unintended consequence of last year’s defection of numerous star players to the Saudi Arabia-backed LIV Tour – led by former Masters champions Dustin Johnson, Phil Mickelson, Patrick Reed, Bubba Watson, Sergio Garcia and Charl Schwartzel – has reached the spotlight.
That is why the four majors this year – the Masters being the first – arguably are more compelling than ever. That’s because, while many casual golf fans are unaware that neither the Masters, the British Open, the U.S. Open nor the PGA Championship are run by the PGA Tour. So the upstart LIV Tour can, for the moment, send their golfers to participate in them.
The result is added intrigue in the four majors.
For instance, have the LIV Tour players – taking in tens of millions in guaranteed money, facing no worries about missing a 36-hole cut, not getting paid anything that week and being set for life financially – had their competitive spirits wither? Or is the chance to challenge the biggest critics of the LIV Tour – led by iconic golf star Rory McIlroy – just the rocket fuel those players need?
While legal sports betting in Georgia is currently off the table, Georgians can bet that LIV golfers will have big targets on their backs courtesy of their PGA Tour counterparts.
Most respondents viewed LIV Tour positively
Regarding the “competitive spirits” question, TheLines survey respondents had an emphatic answer: 74% said they expect PGA Tour players to outperform their LIV Tour former rivals.
And while the controversy over human rights violations in Saudi Arabia has garnered a lot of press, 57% of survey respondents said they are indifferent to whether a golfer defects to the LIV Tour. Furthermore, 65% said they believe the LIV Tour has had a positive impact on golf.
The perceived loss of credibility and a diminishment of respect for LIV golfers also seems to be minor. Only 14% of respondents said they view those players less favorably because they left the PGA Tour.
Mickelson was the biggest surprise among defectors
As to which player surprised them most by defecting, 44% chose Mickelson, who in many respects was the most popular PGA Tour player to defect. Mickelson openly chafed at what he saw as undue restrictions on player rights, and the Tour has made many of the changes Mickelson had sought.
The huge jump in prize money at several events has led to more “stacked” fields than ever at those tournaments – likely explaining some of the reasons that nearly two-thirds of fans are pleased the LIV Tour was founded.
The next-biggest “surprises” to fans over defections were 2022 British Open winner Cameron Smith at 20%, Johnson at 19% and four-time major winner Brooks Koepka at 13%.
Of the 48 players on the LIV Tour, 18 of them were invited to play in this week’s Masters. They will compete against just 70 PGA Tour players in what is by far the smallest field size among the four majors.
Most respondents think Adam Scott is the next chip to fall
Finally, asked which players are the next most-likely to shift to the LIV Tour next year, 42-year-old Australian Adam Scott – the 2013 Masters champion and green jacket participant – got the nod from 32% of respondents.
Others in double digits were Patrick Cantlay (16%), Jon Rahm (15%) and Hideki Matsuyama (11%).
What are the odds for LIV stars to win this week?
There are seven players given odds of 20-to-1 or better this week, and all seven are PGA Tour members: Scottie Scheffler, McIlroy, Rahm, Cantlay, Tony Finau and Justin Thomas.
At 22-1 is a group that includes LIV stars Johnson and Smith as well as PGA Tour members Jason Day and Xander Schauffele. The third LIV Tour choice is Koepka at 35-to-1.
Georgia LIV golf fans have one Georgian to hang their hats on: Augusta’s own Charles Howell III. While he didn’t get invited to this year’s Masters, his play definitely puts him in the conversation for a possible 2024 Masters invite should LIV still be eligible.
Photo Credit: Seth Wenig / AP