MAYAKOBA, Mexico – As the wins piled up for Dustin Johnson’s 4Aces GC last season, the 11 other LIV Golf captains and their teammates were left scrambling for answers.
Sure, no one knew exactly what to expect in the beta-season of the sport’s groundbreaking team competition, but watching DJ and his boys pop celebratory champagne bottles on a regular basis probably wasn’t among the preferred outcomes.
“It was annoying as hell,” said Crushers GC Captain Bryson DeChambeau. “Not happy about it. Trust me. It’s all I’ve been thinking about.”
On Friday at El Camaleon Mayakoba, the LIV Golf League makes its debut, a full schedule of 14 events in 2023 with stabilized rosters. Two of the teams have been rebranded. Six new members have joined. And the majority of the lineups have been revised – all with the goal of leveling the playing field and preventing another season of 4Aces dominance.
“That will not happen again,” said Majesticks GC co-captain Henrik Stenson in what sounded more like a promise than a prediction.
LIV Golf Mayakoba: Power Rankings | Expert Picks
Season Power Rankings: Team | Individual
Of the eight tournaments played in LIV Golf’s beta year of 2022, five were won by the 4Aces after Johnson revamped his roster following a frustrating start at the inaugural event in London. He brought in Patrick Reed and Pat Perez, and acquired Talor Gooch in a transfer.
The all-American lineup promptly won all four regular-season events played in the U.S., then ended the season with another win on home soil, the Miami Team Championship.
Gooch is gone now, having joined Bubba Watson’s rebranded RangeGoats GC so that he could play with good friend Harold Varner III. When Gooch informed DJ of the move, the 4Aces captain had a biting response.
“He should enjoy being on stage in Miami because that was the last time he's going to do that,” Johnson said.
Filling the vacant spot is Peter Uihlein, who finished third in last year’s season-long Individual Champion standings while spending the majority of the year with Smash GC. That gives the 4Aces three of the top four point-producers from last year – Johnson (1), Uihlein (3) and Reed (4).
“We felt like Pete was the best option for our team, so then we asked Pete if he wanted to join,” Johnson said. “And he said yeah. It was really simple.”
Based on last year’s results, the 4Aces lineup seems even stronger in 2023. But so do many of the other four-man rosters.
Joaquin Niemann has upgraded Torque GC with the additions of LIV Golf newcomers Mito Pereira and Sebastian Munoz. Watson’s return from knee surgery, Gooch’s transfer and the signing of big-hitting Belgian Thomas Pieters should make the RangeGoats significantly better. Smash loses Uihlein but is adding high-ceiling guy Matthew Wolff.
Other new LIV Golf members include Dean Burmester (Stinger GC), Brendan Steele (HyFlyers GC) and Danny Lee (Iron Heads GC). Each will be a positive addition to their respective lineups.
“I think all the teams right now are pretty strong,” said Niemann, whose Torque roster averages 25.5 years of age, the youngest in the league. “It's going to be a competitive season, but I feel really confident of how good this team is, how good this team plays in team format.”
Captain Cameron Smith makes his all-Australian Ripper GC team competitive on any given week. The team finished second in Miami, due in large part to Smith’s stellar final round at Trump National Doral. But they made just one podium in the regular season, tying for third place.
Now the Rippers have added 24-year-old Jed Morgan to the lineup. Smith, the reigning Open champ, feels like the foursome – that also includes veterans Marc Leishman and Matt Jones – will be consistently competitive this year. They’ll get plenty of home support in April at LIV Golf Adelaide.
“Hopefully, we can put on a bit of a better performance,” Smith said. “Especially toward the end of last year, I don’t think the guys felt like they were playing their best golf. The plan is to get off to a nice start and just kind of take that momentum into the season.
"We're all competitors and we all want to win every week. I think rather than having one dominant team, we could have 5-6 teams up there and make for an exciting finale."
Even the teams that did not make any lineup changes – DeChambeau’s Crushers, Stenson’s Majesticks and Sergio Garcia’s Fireballs GC – expect more parity.
Asked on Thursday what it would take to catch the 4Aces this season, Garcia responded with a bemused look.
“We haven't started yet,” he said. “Did they win already?”
The Fireballs were one of the few teams to deny the 4Aces a victory last year, as they won at LIV Golf Bangkok on the strength of Eugenio Chacarra’s individual victory in just his fifth pro start. Now the Fireballs have home-field advantage in two LIV Golf tournaments in 2023, here in Mexico and in Spain at legendary Valderrama in late June.
“Obviously I have an amazing team, super happy with it, so I didn't have to look anywhere else,” Garcia said. “I think that we look really strong. We feel great about each other. But I definitely think that there's going to be two or three teams that maybe last year struggled a little bit and they're definitely look stronger on paper starting the season.”
Stenson, the individual winner in Bedminster last year in his LIV Golf debut, expects more balance this year but knows anything is possible.
“One team – and it might not necessarily be 4Aces – might be dominant again. I would love it to be our team,” he said. “But I think it is pretty geared up to not let one team run away with too many wins.”
DJ and his 4Aces were prefer the status quo, of course.
“It's going to be tough,” Johnson said. “Even all our wins last year, it wasn't like they just gave it to us. We had to earn them. There's a lot of great teams. If we want to win, we're all going to have to play well and put the scores together.I think if we play like we did last year, then yeah, we're going to contend and win a lot of tournaments.”
About the only thing the 4Aces failed to accomplish last season is winning a tournament outside the U.S. – and there are six of those in 2023, starting in Mayakoba. The 4Aces also never won when three scores counted for each team in each round, now the standard rule throughout the entire season.
Even so …
“If us four play the way we're supposed to play, I feel like we're a hard team to beat,” said Reed. “Nothing is ever for sure. We just have to go out there and grind.”
That grind – for all 12 teams – begins Friday.