PHOENIX – As the newly formed LIV Golf takes its tour to Tucson this weekend, many former Sun Devils will return to the desert for the first time since they switched to the controversial league.
In June of 2022, six-time major champion Phil Mickelson decided to take his talents to the LIV tour after spending over 30 years with the PGA.
The move was controversial as LIV uses the Saudi Arabian Public Investment Fund to pay players. Saudi Arabia’s involvement with the league has come under scrutiny as many human rights activists and organizations have protested the league for sports washing, which uses sports to clean up someone’s image.
Despite the problems arising from LIV Golf’s startup, the tournament format differs significantly from the PGA’s, and some golfers enjoy the change.
In LIV, a tournament is 54 holes long over three days. There are no cuts, and players play for themselves as well as their teams.
Mickelson, who plays for HyFlyers GC, enjoys the team element of LIV as he believes it helps elevate everyone’s game.
“I could not be happier with our team, and it’s the chemistry and the way we have worked together, and I think that there’s an aspect of team golf that we are starting to see a little bit here that helps each other elevate and get the best out of each other,” Mickelson said.
As LIV continues to innovate the game of golf, the PGA tour has been changing its format to compete with its new rival.
At the beginning of this month, the PGA introduced the idea of holding tournaments with no cuts. The PGA made these proposals just months after increasing the purses for designated events.
“I think there will always be a need and a want for traditional golf. And there’s always an opportunity to innovate and to allow LIV to be additive and create something new and different for the going,” Mickelson said. “I also think the changes bring the best players about more often. I think that’s what fans want and what the sponsors want.”
As LIV makes its way to Arizona, it brings back fond memories for those who played their college careers in the state.
Mickelson has had some of the best moments in his career while playing in Tucson. As a 20-year-old in 1991, Mickelson won the Northern Telecom Open by one shot.
To this day, Mickelson is the last amateur to win a PGA Tour event.
“I really do enjoy the state of Arizona, but also, Tucson has been a great place for me. It’s where I won my first professional event in 1991 as an amateur,” Mickelson said. “I have fond memories of coming back here. To participate and bring live golf to Tucson is exciting for me and everybody else involved with LIV.”
Mickelson isn’t the only Sun Devil who has made a move to the LIV tour. David Puig was with the Sun Devil program in 2022 before turning pro and playing for LIV.
The 21-year-old from Spain plays for Torque GC, a squad composed of other Spanish players such as Mito Pereira and Joaquin Niemann.
Being on the LIV tour and being on a team has made the transition from college to the pros much easier for Puig.
“It’s been great. We are a group of young guys, and we all speak the same language, which is good,” Puig said. “So we are having a great time, especially in practice rounds and dinners.”
As LIV does its best to make golf fun, attendants going to the event will wonder how the tournament environment compares to that of the rowdy WM Phoenix Open every January in Scottsdale.
Organizers of the LIV event have planned entertainment to keep the fun going from the time doors open until the final shot. Like the WM Phoenix Open, local food and drinks will be available along with a DJ performing when the golf is over.
Pat Perez, who won a national championship with Arizona State in 1996, hopes the reputations of ASU and the University of Arizona as party schools will make their way toward LIV this weekend.
“I hope they come down. I hope we get some Scottsdale, Tempe people that come down. It will be fun. I don’t know if they will or not, but it would be nice to rival some of the Wildcats,” Perez said.
Whether or not the college students make it to The Gallery Golf Club in Marana, just outside of Tucson, golfers hope this weekend will showcase how great LIV can be for the game of golf.
“I’m really happy with the way LIV has brought about new changes to the game… It brought about a new energy for me and a new dynamic, and my teammates and myself are helping each other be our best,” Mickelson said. “It’s brought a lot more joy to the professional golf experience, and I’m really appreciative that it’s come about.”