After the chaos is calm? Or just a little extra excitement? If any sport has suffered more madness and disruption in 2022 than golf, then they’ve done an excellent job with the smoke, mirrors and concealment.
The legends that once spoke to golf’s superior nature and calming nature were all buried somewhere in the crater left by the LIV asteroid, which didn’t so much shake up the old game as dismantle its landscape and some of the its friendships.
With so much to resolve in that civil war, it’s a certainty that the toxicity of the relationship between LIV and golf’s traditional factions will once again be a dominant topic in 2023.
Rory McIlroy (pictured) lifts the FedEx Cup following a hugely successful 2021-22 season
But from Rory McIlroy’s battle with the monkey on his back, to Tiger Woods’ battle with his own body, to Europe’s Ryder Cup battle with the US, there’s more to the 12 months ahead than the fights outside.
Here, we look back at a year like no other in golf and the year ahead.
How much disruption from LIV?
The first thing to recognize is that LIV has grown bigger and faster than expected. Even with $2billion in Saudi Arabian money, their expansion has been rapid — it’s one thing to land an aging megastar like Phil Mickelson and some big names like Sergio Garcia, Patrick Reed, Bubba Watson, Lee Westwood and Ian Poulter, but it was a little different to secure Cameron Smith, Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka and Bryson DeChambeau.
They have amassed great talent and in the next month to six weeks they will be looking at their line-up for the coming season.
Where 2023 is meant to be different from 2022 is that LIV aims to have its golfers all signed up before the expanded 14-event season starts in February, theoretically meaning less hassle.
So far, no newcomers have been announced since the close of their first season but it is understood as many as seven could be recruited, with the American Ryder Cup pair of Patrick Cantlay (world No4) and Xander Schauffele (No6) long known as top targets.
But there was a strange silence around them and other names they wanted to recruit. A more inauspicious move for world No44 Mito Pereira is believed to be in the pipeline, but expect the next batch to make fewer waves than those generated by the arrivals of Johnson, Mickelson, etc.
2023 will bring the answer to the question on many people’s lips: just how big of a disruption will the LIV Tour really be?
LIV and let die or LIV to thrive?
On the broader topic of LIV health, questions need to be asked. They have no TV deals, no ranking points, which means their players keep falling in the standings (the idea of Dustin Johnson being the 41st best in the world is ridiculous) and there’s a lot of uncertainty behind the scene.
Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods are not alone in believing that Greg Norman should leave his role as LIV CEO if there is to be a compromise between traditional golf and the start-up, an idea that is privately supported by some people on the other side of the divide.
Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods aren’t alone in believing Greg Norman needs to step down as LIV CEO
Where LIV has been hurt in recent weeks is by the sudden departure of chief operating officer Atul Khosla, a former member of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and very much seen as the adult in the room. That indicates chaos within the organization.
Despite those concerns and indeed the unresolved legal battles between LIV and the DP World Tour and PGA Tour, LIV had a major win in December when the Masters confirmed they would not change their eligibility criteria.
Currently, this means around 15 LIV players could tee up at the first major in April, although they will have to address the ranking-point scenario if many of their golfers are to remain eligible for the majors beyond the next year or two.
LIV has also had some success in acquiring popular golf courses, including Valderrama in Spain, and it should be recognized that their team format has great potential.
Of course, what is the highlight of 2022?
Matt Fitzpatrick’s US Open win was special. It was made all the more impressive by the drama and brilliance of his shot from a fairway bunker on the 72nd hole to clinch it. It was also great to see Nelly Korda win again after four months out with a blood clot.
Matt Fitzpatrick’s victory at Brookline in the early summer was the golfing highlight of the year
Who is the breakthrough star?
Tom Kim. As a 20-year-old he won twice on the PGA Tour, the first to do so under the age of 21 since Tiger Woods. An incredible player.
What does 2023 look like for Rory McIlroy?
Big commitment, even though we’ve obviously been here before. It has been eight years since his last major but he will be in good shape if he can maintain his form in 2022.
He closed last season as the winner of the PGA Tour and DP World Tour rankings and also finished as world No1, an unprecedented hat-trick. His wedge game has evolved significantly, meaning he is probably at his most complete as a player.
McIlroy will look forward to a potentially exciting 2023 after enjoying his best 12 months in years in 2022
And Tiger Woods?
It’s clear he can still hit all the shots, but chasing them down is the issue for a man who nearly lost his right leg in a car accident in 2021. Padraig Harrington believes Woods can win a 16th major but that seems like a generous assessment of a 47-year-old who has played just nine competitive rounds in 2022. If he plays more than six or seven tournaments in 2023, it would be a surprise.
Favorites for the Ryder Cup in Rome?
As it stands, that would be the US, despite the Americans failing to win in 30 years and their ranks being hit harder by LIV than Europe. The latter lost their captain Henrik Stenson but little else left apart from Sergio Garcia and yet the Americans, for all their losses, were still stronger on paper. An intriguing subplot concerns the Cantlay-Schauffele partnership for the US. If LIV grabs any of them, it will be a huge blow to Zach Johnson’s team.
Zach Johnson and Luke Donald are both looking to take the Ryder Cup in the fall