That would be Atul Khosla, chief operating officer of the Saudi-backed circuit. Khosla, 43, left his job with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to join LIV in January 2022. Khosla is a sports-business veteran; before his five years with the Buccaneers, he spent six years as COO of the Chicago Fire Soccer Club and five years with Alli Sports, which is a part of NBC Sports Group.
Khosla was seen as one of the voices of reason inside LIV, sources tell Golf Digest. Against criticism that LIV Golf was nothing more than a publicity stunt to improve the reputation of Saudi Arabia—which funds the golf entity through its Public Investment Fund—Khosla insisted the organization’s goals were business related.
“If you look at the investment portfolio of our primary investor, PIF, they have invested all over the world in incredibly large businesses that they believe will be profitable,” Khosla told Golf Digest this summer. “Their view of this is no different. That’s the expectation that we have from our board.
“Like any other startup, do we have upfront costs to get the product off the ground? Yes, we do. And it is no different than a burn rate that an Uber may have or any other startup tech might have to get the product off the ground with a vision of disrupting the space. We are fortunate, of course, to have an institution that has the patience to be able to go through this methodically and in the right fashion.”
The report comes a week after the NYT uncovered a proposal put together by an outside consulting firm that set fantastical, and borderline unrealistic, assumptions needed for LIV Golf to achieve financial success. A 2021 plan called “Project Wedge” from the firm McKinsey & Company outlined a number of scenarios for the Saudi Arabian pro golf venture that ultimately launched in June 2022. According to the Times, the documents revealed that benchmarks for success the “need to sign each of the world’s top 12 golfers, attract sponsors to an unproven product and land television deals for a sport with declining viewership—all without significant retaliation from the PGA Tour it would be plundering.”
LIV Golf has fallen well short of those ambitious endeavors, failing in its inaugural season to land a TV deal or sponsors, and the PGA Tour has suspended any of its members who have defected to LIV, leading to a lawsuit between the two entities. It is not clear what constituted a “top golfer,” as McKinsey listed both Sergio Garcia and Henrik Stenson in this category—players who, while achieving past success, were well past their playing primes. Out of the 12 players listed—which included Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods—only Garcia, Stenson, Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson have signed with LIV Golf.
LIV Golf’s second season will launch in 2023 with a 14-event schedule handing out $405 million in prize winnings.