Don’t like Saudi Arabia’s new golf course? Phil Mickelson thinks you’re the problem

Don't like Saudi golf?  Phil Mickelson thinks you're the problem - GETTY IMAGES

Don’t like Saudi golf? Phil Mickelson thinks you’re the problem – GETTY IMAGES

If you’re in your 50s and older and don’t enjoy the Saudi Arabian rebel circuit in the form of a 54-hole tee – not to mention the music, weird team names and YouTube coverage – then Phil Mickelson and production guru of LIV Golf is not for everyone. Because you are part of the “Awful Truth About Golf”.

Mickelson received abuse here at Trump National Bedminster in the third event of the £20m series – “do it for the Saudi royal family” shouted a member of the gallery during Friday’s first round – but the 52-year-old is more concerned about the situation of his game. A second-round 73 moved him to 6-over and leaves him 43rd in this 48-man field, 16 shots behind leader Henrik Stenson.

Mickelson is on a mission to help secure a significant return for the Kingdom’s sovereign wealth fund on its £2bn investment, including a reported advance of more than £150m to the six-time major champion.

“As a game and a sport, viewership is up five years at an average age of, I believe, 64 – we have to target the younger generation,” Mickelson said. “This will happen in two ways. First, it’s not a 12 hour day, you have to watch golf all day. You have a four and a half hour window [with the 48-man field all starting off different tees at the same time].

“Secondly, when a streaming partner comes along, it will revolutionize the way golf is viewed. You will have no ads and you will have shot after shot and it will catch the attention of the younger generation. We will open many opportunities to get this new generation. For 30 years we’ve been trying to do that and it’s backfired.”

In addition to the team concept – with a separate leaderboard and prize money for teams of four with names like Majesticks, Fireball and Stinger – the target audience is central to the LIV game plan. David Hill is the industry giant masterminding the campaign to entice the new wave of 18-35 gamers to watch as well as play.

Hill’s appointment as an executive advisor is big news in the television world. The 76-year-old founded Sky in the UK in the 1980s and then Sky Sports in 1991. Rupert Murdoch then moved his fellow Australian to the US, where he founded Fox Sports, winning the rights to the NFL. Hill isn’t one to pull his punches, as he reiterated in a revealing interview last week, taking aim at the PGA Tour and DP World Tour production.

“Golf viewing is on a downhill ski slope”

“The horrible truth about golf is that the last figures I saw said 50 percent of the TV audience is over 65, which means they’re dead in 25 years,” Hill said. “And 78 percent are 50+. So what does that tell you? It tells you that the audience is dying.

“Golf viewing is on a downhill ski slope. Golf on TV is something you go to bed with. Monotone. What Greg [Norman, the LIV chief executive] what he wants to do is reverse that trend and produce golf that is attractive, for the first time in many decades. Our aim is to produce something that is dramatic and exciting. And I don’t think, with all due respect, those are two adjectives you can apply every week to golf tournaments.”

Hill is a fan of controversial boxing promoter Don King. “What he’s always said is ‘content is king and the king is content,'” Hill said, before explaining that the most important aspect isn’t all the bells and whistles, with leaderboards and F1-style drones. “The announcer is the key, because sports is all about human beings for human beings,” he said.

To that end, Hill brought in David Feherty, the former European Ryder Cup player from Northern Ireland who has become a huge star on American networks as an irreverent pundit. This is his first week alongside Arlo White, the English football commentator who was hurled into last month’s inaugural LIV event in Hertfordshire, tasked with presenting his first golf tournament.

And although Ferherty has been ridiculed on social media for airing a conversation with Sergio Garcia in which the Spaniard told him, “this atmosphere is as close as you can get to a Ryder Cup”, as well as his comment that “I’ve noticed the everyone’s women are happier now that they’ve joined LIV,” the 63-year-old’s arrest is a pretty positive one.

“We’re excited to get David because he actually makes commentary fun,” Hill said. “And we’re looking at some other guys to add to that. It’s the commentary that does it. It’s the most important part of any producer’s arsenal.”

Of course, the platform is even more important and currently the broadcast is limited to the official website and in the US it is also broadcast on DAZN. But that doesn’t have a strong subscriber base, so the vast majority of viewers are on YouTube. Audience numbers have yet to break the 100,000 mark for a single day of coverage.

They hope to pass that milestone on Sunday when fans tune in or log in to see if Stenson can win the £3.3m first prize on his LIV debut – to add to £40m – just a week later he was stripped of the Europe Ryder Cup captaincy. It was a remarkable performance from the 46-year-old, considering the negative attention.

A 69 took him nine under and three clear of former world No 1 Dustin Johnson and within tempting sight of his first title in two-and-a-half years.

Regardless of misgivings that Stenson is playing the victim rather pathetically, despite the Swede having signed a contract effectively saying he won’t be joining LIV – Feherty scoffed at Ryder Cup Europe’s justified sacking as “bitter and mean-spirited” – this is an impressive one. performance that deserves a wider reception. For Norman and Hill, the clock in the corner of the screen is ticking.

Next year, the £332m LIV Golf League kicks off with 12 four-man teams appearing in 14 events around the world and a TV deal looks vital if the LGL is to be viable.

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