Black signage with green and blue lettering around the property at Trump National Golf Club in Sterling proclaimed how LIV Golf, the Saudi-backed breakaway circuit that has lured some of the world’s top players from the PGA Tour, is branding itself as it attempts to gain a foothold in the traditionally genteel sport.
“Golf, But Louder,” read a prominently displayed banner adjacent to the No. 1 hole, where a sound system blasted hip-hop, metal, grunge and rock ’n’ roll, emboldening fans to cheer wildly while surrounding the tee box at this week’s LIV debut in the national capital region.
Among the selections at the start of Saturday’s second round, which ended with Chile’s Mito Pereira leading at 9-under 135, were appropriately, AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck” at such volumes the speakers were shaking. Meanwhile, players wearing shorts — attire not permitted on the PGA Tour or the majors — took practice swings amid the din.
“For us, or for me at least, I like seeing different models and franchise models for ideas and thoughts of what we could do out here,” said Bryson DeChambeau, among the more high-profile players to sign on to LIV. “So I think that’s all part of it.”
Some players even have walk-up music, similar to Major League Baseball’s practice for hitters stepping into the batter’s box. LIV has adopted the No. 12 hole at its events for any player who requests musical inspiration before striking their tee ball.
“Ice Ice Baby,” for instance, means Henrik Stenson (7-under 137) is approaching. The 2016 British Open champion became the first Swedish male to win a major and ascended as high as No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking in 2014. He also had been named Europe’s Ryder Cup captain but was stripped of the captaincy last year when he joined LIV.
It wasn’t always music full-blast and full-time at LIV events, which feature live acts following each of the three rounds.
In last year’s inaugural event in London, music played only on the driving range until players requested it be audible at the tee boxes and throughout the course. Many LIV players warm up with ear buds anyway, so they had grown accustomed to swinging with music.
The environment this week in Sterling has stood in stark contrast to that of last year’s PGA Tour event, the Wells Fargo Championship, at TPC Potomac at Avenel Farm, where a handful of current LIV players, including Sergio Garcia and Anirban Lahiri, posted top-25 finishes.
Demographics at PGA events traditionally have skewed toward fans who have been following golf for years, if not decades. LIV has taken aim at a more youthful demographic that might be only recently discovering the sport.
“Our audience is so much younger and so much newer to the game generally than a traditional PGA Tour audience,” said LIV Golf broadcaster Jerry Foltz, formerly a longtime analyst for the Golf Channel. “I think we just keep putting our product forward.”
Targeting a younger fan base also has translated into more early 20-something players joining LIV. Spain’s David Puig, at 21, is the youngest member of the LIV roster. Fellow Spaniard Eugenio Chacarra and Aussie Jediah Morgan are 23. Americans Matthew Wolff and James Piot are a year older.
After trailing by two after Friday’s opening round, Piot fell off the pace Saturday with a 2-over 74.
“LIV Golf for me, I can speak personally, has given me an opportunity to succeed,” said Piot, winner of the 2021 U.S. Amateur at Oakmont. “I mean, there are so many good golfers out there, and just to be one of the 48 [with LIV], I feel like one of the luckiest guys on planet Earth. It gives young guys another opportunity is the way I see it.”