While the ratings for LIV Golf haven’t exactly set the world on fire so far in 2023, it’s fair to assume that plenty of people will want to tune into The Masters this year in part to find out how things will go between the golfers loyal to the PGA Tour and those who left for the LIV money.
A lot of golf fans have also been wondering exactly how CBS and ESPN plan on discussing LIV, given their cozy relationships with the PGA Tour and some recent incidents that seemed to imply broadcast partners were willing to ignore LIV golfers during major golf events.
Wonder why they’re doing this…
Showing the players names who won doesn’t effect anything… does it?
— Steve Elkington (@elkpga) March 25, 2023
During last week’s WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, a graphic that displayed past winners of the tournament did not include Bubba Watson and Dustin Johnson, both of whom now play for LIV. That’s fueled speculation about how Augusta National, which is not affiliated with the PGA Tour but is well-known for carefully managing how The Masters is discussed during broadcasts, might handle the controversy.
Both Masters broadcasters say that they do not plan on shying away from discussing the PGA-LIV dynamic or discussing LIV golfers in any way, though they wrapped that in caveats about how deep they might go in discussing them.
During a Tuesday media call, ESPN’s Scott Van Pelt said that the network, which will broadcast the Par 3 Contest as well as the first and second rounds, isn’t looking at this as a PGA vs. LIV event.
“I understand the question and the curiosity about it, but I make zero distinction between anyone,” said Van Pelt. “It’s an Augusta National Golf Club event. They sent out the invitations. They had the qualification process, and it’s their field. This isn’t a PGA Tour versus LIV Tour conversation at all. It’s who’s the low man at Augusta National, and I can just speak for me personally, that a guy like Cam Smith, the last time we saw him in a major, he played pretty well at St Andrews on the back nine and won a major championship. He’s a top-5 player in the world. He was a guest in the Butler Cabin with me last year on Thursday. Had eight birdies, I think he bogeyed a couple coming in, but whatever, he was there with me in the Butler Cabin because he was a storyline.
“We’re there to cover whatever storylines there are, and there’s been zero conversation, nor would there be, to exclude someone based on which Tour he played for at all. It has nothing to do with the Masters. The storylines are the storylines, and we’re there to cover those. I’m certain that that’s the way that Sean [McManus] and sellers and folks from CBS feel.”
When pressed to clarify exactly how ESPN intends to reference the ongoing drama between PGA and LIV golfers, Van Pelt did try to impart that there’s a line between mentioning LIV Golf and bringing up the controversies unnecessarily.
“Let’s say that there’s a player that plays on LIV and there’s a player that plays on the PGA Tour and one of them hits a shot on 3 and then somebody hits a shot on 6. Would there be — let’s say it’s Reed and McIlroy,” said Van Pelt. “Would you say they had that dust-up because of — I don’t know how it would — I don’t understand how it would create a need for discussion in relation to covering the Masters.
“I’m excited to see the top 5 player in the world who won the last major play against all the guys who played so well on the PGA Tour. That’s really exciting, and I’m thinking about this. If I’m sitting with Curtis [Strange] and there he is, this is the first chance we’ve had to see Cam play because he plays on the LIV Tour. Would I not say that? Of course I’d say that. But the controversy part, I don’t know how I would — what I’d say about that in relation to anything that would be germane to covering the first round of the Masters.”
As for CBS, which will broadcast weekend coverage of the final two rounds, Chairman Sean McManus offered a similar response regarding transparency.
“We’re not going to cover up or hide anything,” McManus said. “As I’ve said often, our job is to cover the golf tournament. We’re not going to show any different treatment for the golfers who have played on the LIV Tour than the other golfer. If there is a pertinent point or something that we feel we should bring up in our coverage Saturday or Sunday or on our other coverage throughout the week, we’re not going to put our heads in the sand.”
McManus was quick to follow that up by noting that CBS won’t go digging for reasons to discuss the PGA-LIV drama if it’s not obvious.
“Having said that, unless it really affects the story that’s taking place on the golf course, we’re not going to go out of our way to cover it,” added McManus. “I’m not sure there is anything that we could add to this story as it already exists. It’s a factor and we’ll cover it as suitable.”
So it does sound like while both networks will have no problem bringing up that a particular golfer plays for LIV, neither is going to try to mine the controversies between the organizations in order to goose the drama on the course.