In March, Rory McIlroy called the LIV Golf venture “dead in the water.” He continued, “Who’s left? Who’s left to go?”
How about two of the last six winners of the Masters, a tournament he’s never won, and four other major winners including a Northern Ireland compatriot.
The LIV Golf Invitational Series will debut next week at the Centurion Golf Club, just outside of London and will be headlined by two-time major winner Dustin Johnson – the longtime world No.1, and Sergio Garcia, the 2017 Masters winner.
The 37-year-old Johnson is one of four top-35 ranked players in the world who will tee it up in the 54-hole event, along with Louis Oosthuizen (20), Kevin Na (34) and Talor Gooch (35).
In all, there were 42 players announced, including 26 of the top 150-ranked players in the Official World Golf Rankings, featuring familiar names such as Branden Grace, Ian Poulter, Graeme McDowell, Lee Westwood, Martin Kaymer and Charl Schwartzel.
One name not listed was Phil Mickelson, who, along with Greg Norman, has become the face of the breakaway tour. The 2021 PGA Champion was cancelled by the far-left golf media for comments he made earlier in the year about the PGA Tour and Saudi Arabia.
According to reports, the six-time major winner could be a late addition to the event to be contested June 9-11 in England.
Bob Harig of SI wrote, “With only 42 players announced, it leaves room for Mickelson and five players who will qualify via an International Series event this week being played in London.”
The inaugural tournament will feature a massive $25 million purse, with $4 million going to the winner. For comparison, the purse for the PGA Tour’s Canadian Open, which plays opposite LIV Golf’s England stop, is $8.7 million with the winner receiving $1.5 million.
While Garcia hinted his intention to play in the LIV Golf Series a few weeks ago at the Wells Fargo, Johnson was the big surprise, and his decision should send shockwaves back to the Tour’s headquarters in Ponte Vedra Beach.
Johnson, who has been one of the most prominent faces of the PGA Tour for more than a decade, released a statement earlier in the year, saying, “Now is the time to put such speculation to rest. I am fully committed to the PGA Tour.” He was asked about LIV Golf at the PGA Championship two weeks ago, though, and seemed to soften his stance, saying, LIV Golf was “potentially good for the game of golf” and he’d “be watching.”
Marquee names like Johnson and Garcia are reportedly receiving six-figure appearance fees on top of the tournament’s record prize money.
“Dustin has been contemplating this opportunity off-and-on for the past couple of years,” said Johnson’s agent, David Winkle, in a released statement.
“Ultimately, he decided it was in his and his family’s best interest to pursue it. Dustin has never had any issue with the PGA Tour and is grateful for all it has given him, but in the end felt this was too compelling to pass up.”
Johnson has an endorsement with RBC, the Canadian financial services company, which title sponsors next week’s RBC Canadian Open. As part of his deal, Johnson annually tees it up in the two events RBC sponsors: RBC Heritage and RBC Canadian Open.
He is still listed as being in the field for the Tour’s Canadian event.
Swafford and Gooch are two of the PGA Tour’s current season winners. Na, Grace and Matt Jones were Tour winners in 2021, while Westwood and Poulter are two of the England’s most accomplished golfers of the past two decades, and Ryder Cup regulars.
“The desire shown by the players to participate in LIV Golf demonstrates their emphatic believe in our model and confidence in what we’re building for the future,” LIV Golf Commissioner and CEO Greg Norman said.
“We couldn’t be happier at the diversity of our field, featuring players from around the world including major champions and those making their debut with us, competing in their first professional event. We can’t wait to start that journey at Centurion Club with this group of first movers who are committed to growing the game in new and exciting ways.”
Last month, the PGA Tour denied the ‘conflicting event releases’ for members who’d sought to play in the inaugural event. Tour members were informed of the decision in a memo.
“We have notified those who have applied that their request has been declined in accordance with the PGA Tour Tournament regulations,’’ said Tyler Dennis, PGA Tour senior vice president, in a memo to players.
“As such, Tour members are not authorized to participate in the Saudi Golf League’s London event under our Regulations.
“As a membership organization, we believe this decision is in the best interest of the Tour and its players.”
Norman, the CEO of LIV Golf Investments, said the PGA Tour was on the wrong side of history, “perpetuating its illegal monopoly of what should be a free and open market”.
“The [PGA] Tour’s action is anti-golfer, anti-fan and anti-competitive,” said the two-time British Open champion.
“But no matter what obstacles the [PGA] Tour puts in our way; we will not be stopped. We will continue to give players options that promote the great sport of golf, globally.”
He added, “No tour owns the game of golf, and we feel we’re on the right side of history.”
Last year PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan threatened bans for players who joined the breakaway tour.
Norman, however, has boasted that he would pay the fines of players who choose to play in the LIV Series.
“If you so choose to want, as an independent contractor, to come and play with us, we’ve got your back,” he said during a press conference at The Centurion Club in early May.
“I’ll break it down to three very simple things: we’ll defend, we’ll reimburse, and we’ll represent.”
The first season (2022) will feature eight events, contested on three continents, with players competing as individuals and on teams (similar to F1 racing).
The format for each 2022 LIV Golf event will be 54 holes of stroke play, offering a purse of $25 million. Fields will be limited to 48 players, comprising 12 four-man teams.
Norman also noted that an additional $2 billion in funding had been secured for a 10-event series in 2023, and eventually a full 16-event league, beginning in 2024.
Listed Field: LIV Golf Invitational Series London
World Rank – Player, Country
13 – Dustin Johnson, USA
20 – Louis Oosthuizen, South Africa
34 – Kevin Na, USA
35 – Talor Gooch, USA
54 – Sergio Garcia, Spain
65 – Pablo Larrazabal, Spain
66 – Richard Bland, England
68 – Matt Jones, Australia
69 – Shaun Norris, South Africa
72 – Sam Horsfield, England
74 – Lee Westwood, England
87 – Ryosuke Kinoshita, Japan
89 – Ian Poulter, England
90 – Bernd Wiesberger, Austria
91 – Hudson Swafford, USA
93 – Oliver Bekker, South Africa
103 – Jinichiro Kozuma, Japan
109 – Scott Vincent, Zimbabwe
111 – Justin Harding, South Africa
114 – Laurie Canter, England -114
118 – Branden Grace, South Africa
120 – Charl Schwartzel, South Africa
125 – Sadom Kaewkanjana, Thailand
128 – Hennie Du Plessis, South Africa
133 – Phachara Khongwatmai, Thailand
138 – Sihwan Kim, USA
154 – JC Ritchie, South Africa
162 – Adrian Otaegui, Spain
173 – Hideto Tanihara, Japan
210 – Martin Kaymer, Germany
235 – Jediah Morgan, Australia
250 – Blake Windred, Australia
276 – Wade Ormsby, Australia
319 – Peter Uihlein, USA
376 – Graeme McDowell, Northern Ireland
720 – Turk Pettit, USA
979 – Oliver Fisher, England
1349 – Andy Ogletree, USA
1543 – Chase Koepka, USA
1743 – James Piot (amateur), USA
1743 – David Puig (amateur), Spain
N/R – Ratchanon Chantananuwat (amateur), Thailand