how will LIV Golf change golf? There’s a not-zero chance that there will be some blowback from fans — the auto racing world may already know.

Sports history is littered with the names and numbers of leagues and organizations that tried to challenge the status quo. 

Remember the XFL? The World Hockey Association? The United States Football League? The American Basketball Association? 

The PGA Tour has ruled men’s golf for decades without a serious threat. Now arrives the Saudi-based LIV Golf Investments group and its plans for a “super league” and its offers of magical amounts of money for any and all PGA players who will sign on.

Generally speaking, it’s not nice to mess with the Big Dog on the Block. Most fledgling sports leagues have failed miserably, although some have lasted for years and others made enough noise to eventually earn a merger with the established league.

Golf is the latest sport to face this landscape, one that is peppered with golf’s favorite color – green. 

Greg Norman is leading the charge, and Phil Mickelson has been outspoken – to say the least – in his support for change and his parallel criticism of the PGA.

The short version is that it’s a mess. PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan, in an eye-opening press conference prior to the Players Championship, put on figurative battle armor, basically saying the tour will turn away any and all pretenders to the throne.

Mickelson’s missteps and Norman’s combative letter to Monahan threatening legal activity have put LIV on the defensive. Leading PGA players have lined up to voice their support for the tour. But there is little evidence that the Saudis, who have very deep pockets, are going away.

For some, this golf imbroglio brings up memories of a similar situation in auto racing – the infamous split between Indianapolis Motor Speedway and its Indy Racing League and the challenger — Championship Auto Racing Teams (CART), an organization of team owners.

The IRL/CART split lasted for more than a decade (1996-2008) and almost killed one of the world’s leading forms of motorsport. The Indianapolis 500, considered the No. 1 race on the globe by many, was crippled, its fields devoid of many of the sport’s top drivers.

“If you look at the history of any sport where someone tries to start a new thing, it’s rarely successful,” said John Oreovicz, a long-time motorsports writer and author of “Indy Split” (Octane Press), which chronicles the open-wheel racing disagreement from start to finish.

“The thing that surprises me about the Saudi golf league is that they don’t seem to have anything other than money,” he said. “When IndyCar split, at least the IRL and the speedway (IMS) had leverage. They had something tangible. They had history. They had a real stake in the game. The Saudis seem to have only money.”

The genesis of the IRL/CART split was the arrival of Tony George at the helm of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Oreovicz said. George was the latest member of the Hulman family, which had run the track for decades, to take charge, and many in the sport considered him not ready for the challenge.

“They handed him the keys to the empire when he was 30, and he wasn’t ready,” Oreovicz said. “He got appointed in December 1989 and went down to a CART owners meeting in Houston in 1991 and presented his vision for how the sport should be governed. It placed the speedway as large and in charge. They basically laughed at him.

“CART was formed in 1978, and the animosity from the old guard never went away. When Tony arrived, the CART guys didn’t respect him and the speedway, but the bigger problem is that Tony didn’t respect what CART did.”

The rupture ultimately split the series into two, leading to a ridiculous debacle May 26, 1996. The IRL ran the Indy 500 that day, while CART raced in its own 500-mile event at Michigan International Speedway. Both sides lost.

“The IRL was putting out a pretty shoddy product,” Oreovicz said. “People noticed immediately. The race at Phoenix went from a packed house in 1995 to about 5,000 the next year with IRL in charge. People weren’t stupid. They knew they weren’t getting the good guys.”

Fans and sponsors left the sport while the people in the front offices bickered. The split ultimately ended in 2008 when it became evident that major league open-wheel racing couldn’t survive as a house divided. Since then, we’ve seen significant rebuilding, and IndyCar racing is on the rise.

“But they blew 20 years and their fan base,” Oreovicz said.

The lesson could be transferred quickly to golf. We may find out what the PGA and LIV might be willing to lose in order to shake things up– especially at a high point of popularity for the sport.

Mike Hembree

Mike Hembree is a veteran journalist who has covered a variety of sports for numerous publications and websites, including USA Today, Fox Sports, TV Guide and The Greenville (S.C.) News. He has written 14 books and has won numerous writing awards at the national, regional and state levels. He is a seven-time winner of the National Motorsports Press Association Writer of the Year Award.