- Bryson DeChambeau and Patrick Reed are both reportedly heading to LIV Golf.
- The Saudi-backed upstart golf league will hold its first event this week in London.
- As more PGA Tour pros make the jump, LIV Golf shows more strength than some previously expected.
Just a week ago, the imminent debut of LIV Golf felt like something of a joke.
“I certainly don’t think the field is anything to jump up and down about,” PGA Tour star Rory McIlroy said.
“Look at the field this week,” McIlroy said, of the PGA Tour’s Memorial Tournament. “Look at the field next week in Canada. They are proper golf tournaments.”
Indeed, the field for the debut LIV Golf event leaves something to be desired. Aside from headlining superstars Dustin Johnson and Phil Mickelson, there is a notable absence of top-level talent in their prime preparing to tee it up in London this week.
Aside from Johnson, just three players currently ranked in the Top 40 in the world — Louis Oosthuizen, Kevin Na, and Talor Gooch — will be among those competing.
But in the week since McIlroy’s comments, LIV Golf has undoubtedly strengthened its hand.
Bryson DeChambeau and Patrick Reed are the latest big names to make the jump to LIV Golf
While the field of 48 players at the Centurion Club this weekend still won’t be filled with heavy hitters, more big names appear to be on the way. PGA Tour fan favorite Rickie Fowler, who once ranked as high as fourth but now sits at No. 145, has been rumored to be signing onto the upstart series, which is being bankrolled by the Saudi sovereign wealth fund. And on Wednesday, multiple reports indicated that two of the biggest eye-catchers on the PGA Tour — Bryson DeChambeau and Patrick Reed — would be heading to LIV Golf in time to play in the second event of its schedule.
“Bryson has always been an innovator,” DeChambeau’s agent Brett Falkoff told ESPN. “Having the opportunity to get in on the ground floor of something unique has always been intriguing to him. Professional golf as we know it is changing, and it’s happening quickly.”
Innovation may be one of DeChambeau’s reasons for interest in the new league, but another, for him and every other player in the field, is cash.
The purse at this week’s London event is $25 million, with the winner of the event taking home $4 million. By comparison, Scottie Scheffler, the winner of the green jacket at the Masters this year, took home $2.7 million for his effort, as did PGA Championship winner Justin Thomas.
Further, given the no-cut aspect of LIV Golf, every player that shows up is guaranteed to leave with a payday, with last place still getting $120,000 in earnings for 54 holes of golf. Given that half of the field at every PGA Tour event goes home empty-handed after missing the cut, it’s easy to see the draw of LIV Golf’s pitch.
Neither DeChambeau nor Reed rank near the top of most popular players on the PGA Tour, but between Bryson’s bombing drives and Reed’s reputation as a provocateur, both garner plenty of attention wherever and whenever they hit the course.
DeChambeau’s departure comes just a few months after he, much like Johnson, pledged loyalty to the PGA Tour in the wake of Phil Mickelson’s controversial comments that nearly derailed the launch of the new league.
“While there has been a lot of speculation surrounding my support for another tour, I want to make it very clear that as long as the best players in the world are playing the PGA Tour, so will I,” DeChambeau said at the time. “As of now, I am focused on getting myself healthy and competing again soon. I appreciate all the support.”
As LIV Golf fills out its roster with more PGA Tour talent, it becomes easier for more players to convince themselves that making the jump is worth it
While the best players in the world still are playing on the PGA Tour — four of the Top 10 players in the world will be playing in this week’s RBC Canadian Open, while none of the Top 10 have yet committed to LIV Golf — as more prominent players make the jump, it’d be easier for others to justify making the same move. There is strength in numbers.
Still, there are drawbacks to joining LIV Golf. The series is backed by the Saudi government’s Public Investment Fund, the sixth largest sovereign wealth fund with an estimated $620 billion in total assets.
The venture is largely viewed as an exercise in sportswashing — an attempt by the Saudi government to launder their reputation by aligning with high-profile sporting events enjoyed by fans worldwide.
Several players including Mickelson and Johnson have already lost sponsorship deals in part due to their affiliation with the new league.
Players have also struggled to answer questions about the Saudi government’s involvement in LIV Golf. Ahead of this week’s debut event, several players were stuck searching for words to justify their presence on the breakaway tour.
“I don’t condone human rights violations at all,” Mickelson said on Wednesday. “I am aware of what happened with Jamal Khashoggi, and it’s terrible.”
Asked if he would play in a tournament hosted by, say, Russian president Vladimir Putin, Ian Poulter said, “Speculation, I’m not even going to comment on speculation.”
—Sky Sports Golf (@SkySportsGolf) June 8, 2022
But with guaranteed paydays, no cuts, and better money for a shorter schedule, so far the promise of LIV Golf has clearly been enough to entice a good amount of players to take the leap. And as more players continue to join, the muddled responses to questions about the financials behind the league begin to blur into one.
When Mickelson was alone in his comments, saying he would work with the league despite it being run by “scary motherfuckers,” it was shocking. But as more players line up to do the same, the impact lessens.
The PGA Tour does not appear to have support from the majors, one of its best defenses against players considering a move
It’s still unclear whether LIV Golf will reach a breaking point against the PGA Tour. As things stand, the Tour still has the top talent in the world, with Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm, Thomas, and Scheffler all pretty publicly committing to staying with the Tour.
But should the balance of talent shift from one side to the other continue, the Tour could face a problem, and as things stand, the majors look unlikely to help.
The four majors in golf — the Masters, U.S. Open, Open Championship, and PGA Championship — are not controlled by the PGA Tour. As the biggest tournaments in golf, they hold plenty of power in the current moment. As things stand, the PGA Tour has threatened to strip Tour status of players that leave to play with LIV Golf. But if such sanctions don’t apply to the four majors, it frankly weakens the Tour’s leverage.
This week, the USGA indicated that players who have qualified for next week’s U.S. Open would be able to play, regardless of their potential relationship with LIV Golf. Should the rest of the majors follow that lead, players could see the LIV Golf model — roughly 12 events for the league plus four major weekends — as an ideal schedule.
Several of the LIV players have already given up their Tour cards voluntarily, attempting to potentially leave themselves the option to earn it back free of repercussion at a later date.
If things continue trending in this direction, the PGA Tour might want to start getting creative with how they plan to combat LIV Golf, and fast.
There’s still a lot we don’t know, but a lot of answers should be coming this week
For months, LIV Golf has existed more as a specter than an actual threat to the PGA Tour.
But with a growing roster of players and an actual event teeing off, fans will finally get to see what exactly the new league looks like from a sporting perspective.
LIV Golf still doesn’t have an American television broadcast partner, and will be available to be streamed online through YouTube, Facebook, and its own website.
As McIlroy stated, the field for this week’s London event is not all that impressive, but it feels likely that each of the subsequent seven events could see better and better fields.
Further, there is enough money behind the project that it can continue as long as the Saudi Public Investment Fund decides it’s a worthwhile cause.
For now, there’s a tournament with the richest prize in golf history set to be played with nearly none of the top golfers in the world in attendance. Where things go from there is anyone’s guess.
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