The highly contentious LIV Invitational Series, bankrolled by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, is here with a host of golf’s most famous players signed up to play. Golf’s divide is widening by the day; colleagues like Tiger Woods and Rory Mcilroy have been more than outspoken in their scathing assessment of the league’s formation. With seemingly no signs of stopping it will continue to do so in the coming weeks, but the PGA Tour is adamant it will still thrive amid the chaos LIV Golf has created. The financial package put forward by LIV Golf has already seduced Dustin Johnson, Phil Mickelson, Lee Westwood, Ian Poulter and even now former Ryder Cup captain Henrik Stenson, with more high-profile stars tipped to follow suit. Several former major champions have joined after the offering of guaranteed contracts reportedly worth more than $100m in some cases. It is clear that this saga is far from over and with the situation developing day-to-day it is obvious that more defections are yet to come. So what happens from here? Does this mean the end of the golfing world as it was? Has the emergence of the Saudi-backed golf league irreparably damaged the PGA Tour? Whose absence will be felt the most? And who else will leave for pastures new? Here are three of the biggest dominoes to fall so far.
Many of the best betting apps are even offering odds on the next golfer to announce they are leaving for LIV Golf, with Justin Rose, Viktor Hovland and Matt Fitzpatrick all at 5/1 to be the next to defect to the Saudi Arabian-owned tour. The first and most notable name to join the LIV Golf tournament was Phil Mickelson. Mickelson was reportedly paid $200m (£159m) just for turning up; more than double what he has earned to date for the entirety of his PGA Tour career. Whilst he is yet to shut the door on a potential return himself, the Tour has acted swiftly and decisively, indefinitely suspending him alongside the other LIV defectors. Mickelson has been one of the most iconic figures in American golf in the last three decades, featuring prominently in several Ryder Cup teams and winning a host of major titles along the way. The moments he has provided US Golf fans with over the years are the stuff of fairytales and as a result, the decision of such a beloved and esteemed member of the golfing community to throw his hat in with the Saudis has been heavily criticised after their association to the events of September 11th 2001 along with their poor human rights record. Furthermore, his decision represented a U-turn that left golf fans and pundits scratching their heads, one moment labelling the Saudis scary and the next speaking optimistically of the breakaway league. Whilst he is banned from sports events, he has still been able to compete in majors. Even so, someone with his reputation and charming charisma joining up with LIV is not only heart-breaking for PGA Tour fans but represented the first major shift in power in the golfing world.
There were plenty more to follow from the example Mickelson set and amongst them was former world number one Dustin Johnson. Whilst someone of his stature joining up with the league is not entirely shocking, the fact his decision comes after his announcement to commit to the PGA Tour in February. Further still, Johnson’s reversal came at the eleventh hour with Greg Norman, head of the Saudi-backed operation, extending the deadline to announce the London field to ensure Johnson’s passage to join was clear. As with all the players joining the league, the decision by Johnson is primarily motivated by money. LIV Golf is set to pay him up to $150 million for stating his commitment to the new golf circuit. For comparison, he ranks third all-time in PGA Tour earnings history with $73.4 million. This isn’t the first time a player has been lured in by a nine-figure cheque and it is unlikely to be the last and Johnson is likely to earn a hefty sum more through prize money too as one of the standout performers in the PGA Tour over the last few years and one of the best to join the league thus far. The sums he stands to earn even offsets the endorsements he will lose as a result of his decision. There is real potential for him to become one of the top 10 wealthiest golfers of 2022 with only eight players having a net worth higher than $100 million. As one of the LIV players to have very recently been world number one, his addition to the league packs a greater punch after having denounced it so adamantly earlier in proceedings.
Bryson Dechambeau is one of the best future prospects the game has producing some of the best performances and most scintillating golf of the last three years on the PGA Tour, but even he was not immune to the lure of the LIV league. The eight-time winner on the Tour, including the 2020 US Open, was offered a sum of $100million to join up with the Saudi-backed tournament but despite knowing the potential consequences, was adamant in his determination to keep hold of his PGA Tour membership. He labelled the choice as a business decision and few could argue against the monetary benefits stating that his primary goal was to entertain and that he didn’t quite see the connection between the role of golfers on the field and the Saudi fund backing the tournament. While his form as of late would not suggest that his absence will be felt significantly in the short-term, he was billed as one of the future prospects of the game and certainly had the potential with his famously long drives to compete at the very top of the PGA Tour for years to come. His decision to opt for the league is symbolic of where the future of the game potentially lies and the scale of the task the PGA Tour faces in trying to keep hold of some of the best and brightest emerging players the world has to offer as it has so often been associated with.
Whilst some of golf’s most famous faces have refused offers and remain loyal on principle, such as Woods who was offered a gargantuan fee of $800million to join, there is no doubting the power the LIV league wields and it has left the future of the PGA Tour looking anything but certain.