Duncan Mackay

As the increasingly bitter dispute between the PGA Tour and LIV Golf continues to provide plenty of work for the world's lawyers, there was an unexpected admission from one of its biggest critics this week that perhaps not everything about the controversial Saudi Arabia-backed series is bad.

Northern Ireland's Rory McIlroy admitted that the emergence of the Saudi-backed LIV Golf has forced the PGA Tour into change and believes players will benefit from a new-look schedule next season.

LIV Golf launched last year with an eight-event schedule ahead of a 14-tournament league in 2023, with a host of major winners, Ryder Cup stalwarts and PGA Tour players joining the breakaway circuit.

The PGA Tour has responded by offering eight designated "no-cut" events in its 2024 schedule, all with reduced 70-78 player fields and offering elevated purses and FedExCup points, with McIlroy impressed with the alterations to the golfing calendar.

"I'm not going to sit here and lie; I think the emergence of LIV or the emergence of a competitor to the PGA Tour has benefited everyone that plays elite professional golf," McIlroy, a four-time major winner and the most outspoken member of the PGA Tour's Players Advisory Council, said.

"I think when you've been the biggest golf league in the biggest market in the world for the last 60 years, there's not a lot of incentive to innovate.

"This has caused a ton of innovation at the PGA Tour and what was quite, I would say, an antiquated system is being revamped to try to mirror where we're at in the world in the 21st century with the media landscape.

"The PGA Tour isn't just competing with LIV Golf or other sports. It's competing with Instagram and TikTok and everything else that's trying to take eyeballs away from the PGA Tour as a product.

"Yeah, you know, LIV coming along, it's definitely had a massive impact on the game, but I think everyone who's a professional golfer is going to benefit from it going forward."

LIV Golf arch-critic Rory McIlroy has admitted that the breakaway tour has provided a much needed shake-up for his sport ©Getty Images
LIV Golf arch-critic Rory McIlroy has admitted that the breakaway tour has provided a much needed shake-up for his sport ©Getty Images

We are all hardwired to resist change. Part of the brain - the amygdala - interprets change as a threat and releases the hormones for fear, fight, or flight, medical studies have discovered. Your body is actually protecting you from change.

That is why so many people in an organisation, when presented with a new initiative or idea - even a good one - will resist it.

Nearly half-a-century ago, another sport faced a similar threat that golf is currently tackling and came out the other side a much stronger and better product.

Coloured clothing, floodlit day-night matches, white balls and drop-in pitches - cricket, as we know it, mostly began during Kerry Packer's World Series Cricket (WSC) staged between 1977 and 1979.

The "Packer revolution" began when the cricket-loving businessman wanted to show the sport on his commercial television station Channel Nine

In 1976, he tabled a AUD$1.5 million (£835,000/$988,000/€937,000), three-year offer to the Australian Cricket Board (ACB) for the exclusive TV rights of cricket in Australia.

According to witnesses at the time, when putting the offer forward Packer said: "There is a little bit of the whore in all of us, gentlemen. What is your price?"

Despite long-time broadcasting partner the ABC offering a contract some eight times smaller, the ACB re-negotiated a deal with the public broadcaster.

Packer later admitted that had Channel Nine been awarded the rights to cricket in Australia, he would simply have left the running of the game to the blazers at the ACB. But, not even given the opportunity to negotiate and left fuming, he instead launched a revolution.

Former Australia captain Richie Benaud was recruited to advise Packer on how to run WSC, with the emphasis placed on one-day limited overs cricket.

A series of meetings were arranged with the world’s leading players, already dissatisfied with low rates of pay and increasing commitments on their time.

Kerry Packer's World Series Cricket introduced many of the innovations, including coloured clothing, that we now take for granted ©Getty Images
Kerry Packer's World Series Cricket introduced many of the innovations, including coloured clothing, that we now take for granted ©Getty Images

By 1977, 35 of the world’s best cricket players from Australia, England, West Indies, Pakistan and South Africa, even though the country was banned at the time because of its apartheid regime, had signed on to WSC after top-secret negotiations.

In total, 70 of the world’s top names, including Tony Greig, Imran Khan, Clive Lloyd, Dennis Lillee and Vivian Richards were signed by Packer.

The response of cricket's governing bodies was to ban the players.

The WSC lasted for two seasons during which 16 "Supertests" and 38 one-day games were played, before it was ended after Packer was awarded the exclusive TV rights for cricket in Australia.

These two seasons, however, were enough to revolutionise cricket forever. A game that was shot with one camera that showed the view from behind the bowler's arm for six balls and behind the batsman's back for another over, was now generously employing replays. In any televised cricket match now, pitches are well lit and the action is broadcast from a multitude of camera angles.

Floodlights were introduced, meaning that matches no longer exclusively took place during the day, cutting off the sport to anyone who had to work during office hours. More people were able to attend matches and attendances improved.

Traditional white flannels were out of the one-day format and replaced with coloured kits, which proved a massive hit with spectators and TV viewers. Drop-in pitches grown in greenhouses meant that the ball stated to come on to the bat much more nicely and the amount of boundaries increased.

In one of the WSC Test matches, West Indies bowler Andy Roberts hit Australian David Hookes, and helmets were adopted by players on a major scale for the first time.

Packer's revolution paved the way many years later for the establishment of the Indian Premier League (IPL), which has brought its own innovations, including the invention of stroke play, helping make cricket one of the most-watched and richest sports in the world. Thanks to Packer, the players are now sharing in the riches.

LIV Golf faces lots of opposition from the establishment at the moment but may come be viewed differently in a few years time ©Getty Images
LIV Golf faces lots of opposition from the establishment at the moment but may come be viewed differently in a few years time ©Getty Images

The comparisons between what happened in cricket and is currently happening in golf was something that Australian Greg Norman, the chief executive of LIV Golf Investments and driving force behind the new tour, referenced last year.

"For 53 years they have been doing the same thing. it is boring it is staid," Norman said. "Kerry Packer changed the way cricket was played and IPL came out of it. With that, the franchise model has grown in IPL.

"Test cricket never died. LIV Golf is a different platform and model. Majors will not die. Everyone plays in the majors. It is just that certain people are monopolists and don't want change."

Leaving aside the argument about whether the sovereign wealth fund of any country, let alone one with such a poor human rights record as Saudi Arabia, should be getting involved in revolutionising a sport, will the likes of McIlroy and his fellow pros on the PGA Tour, one day be praising LIV Golf as the catalyst that changed their sport for the better?

It seems an unimaginable scenario now but, shortly before his death in 2005, Packer was admitted as a member of the Melbourne Cricket Club, one of the country’s most exclusive establishments and considered the guardian of the sport in Australia.

Former Bob Merriman, the chairman of Cricket Australia, formerly the ACB, said on Packer's inauguration: "I think the two greatest influences in the last 100 years of Australian cricket have been Sir Donald Bradman and Kerry Packer."