There were a few problems with the first day’s coverage of the LIV Golf Invitational from Centurion Club - we will get to the on-screen graphics and team format - but the main one was this: when you know that the commentator you are listening to, who has never commentated on golf before, is earning seven figures to turn up and talk about how amazing the golf tournament you are watching is, you do tend to question what you are being told.
This was not commentary, this was propaganda. From the moment a glossy pre-produced video entitled ‘Evolution’ was trailed before the start of the coverage at 2pm, with Dennis Quaid narrating (“Evolution can be uncomfortable but we love this crazy game enough to try!”), and we cut to the studio where Greg Norman was served up some softball questions, it was difficult - impossible - to escape the feeling that you were being marketed to. It was overkill. The Saudi rebel league is already the most controversial thing to be happening in sport right now. You rather felt the producers might have wiser to tell their commentary team to tone it down a bit and try to sound more objective. But the hype was unrelenting. And flew in the face of everything viewers already knew about the event.
“The crowds have flocked in,” we were told (the organisers had to give tickets away to get anyone to show up in Hertfordshire). “The excitement is palpable,” (the rules governing spectating at Centurion Club were criticised in the build up for being ridiculously “draconian”). “The draft party the other night was mind-blowingly fantastic.” (the original host Alexandra Palace pulled out and journalists were banned from attending the draft). “I’ve never seen so many smiles on the faces of elite sportsmen,” (as play began at 2.15pm the PGA Tour Commissioner was simultaneously sending out an email making clear that any of its members playing at Centurion Club who had not already resigned their membership were now banned).
To be fair to Arlo White, who has recently been replaced by Peter Drury as NBC's Premier League commentator and was enticed by what Telegraph Sport understands to be a seven-figure sum to front the LIV coverage, he had a job to do. As did pundits Jerry Foltz, Dom Boulet, and on-course commentator Su-Ann Heng (a former No 1 in Singapore). But they weren’t half made to work for their paycheques.
“Lee Westwood has just made history,” White informed us solemnly when the Englishman made the first par of the day.
You could see why the likes of Darren Clarke had turned down multi-million dollar deals to be LIV analysts, even without the threat that he might risk a ban from the Champions Tour if he accepted.
All that being said, the viewing figures were actually half-decent. The fact that at one stage over 100,000 people were following on YouTube (the major broadcasters had all declined to cover this first event, which was being live streamed on YouTube, Facebook and LIVGolf.com) compared to a couple of hundred watching the free DP World Tour coverage from Sweden will encourage Greg Norman as much as it will scare the European Tour.
And the golf? It was ok. The format - it was a shotgun start with the entire 48-player field beginning simultaneously on 16 holes, meaning the action was indeed, as they kept reminding us, “relentless” - may well attract new fans.
But they are going to have to do something about the on-screen graphics. This viewer at least found the team logos confusing, the scores slightly misleading given they were all attacking the course in a different order, and the constant ‘pinging’ noise every time a score changed utterly infuriating.
Not that the LIV Golf commentary team was bothered. “History was just made in a big way,” Foltz informed us after Mickelson sent his opening tee shot soaring down the 1st fairway. “And it’s here to stay.”