LIV Golf, a new Saudi-backed pro league, hosts its first golf event from June 9-11 in London. In the days and weeks leading up to the event, several PGA Tour golfers have decided to head to London to participate with LIV.
In some cases, players have abandoned the PGA Tour altogether. Dustin Johnson announced his resignation earlier this week, and though he hasn’t officially left the PGA Tour, Phil Mickelson has been one of the most vocal critics of the organization in recent weeks. Other big names participating in the debut LIV event include Sergio Garcia, Louis Oosthuizen, Lee Westwood, and Ian Poulter.
Why is this fast becoming a trend? Why are so many players deciding to leave the PGA Tour — if not officially, then at risk of facing disciplinary action from the organization?
As you may have guessed, money is a major factor.
The Saudi-backed league, which comes with extremely deep pockets, hasn’t been afraid to offer mind-blowing paydays to attract top talent. Phil Mickelson reportedly signed a $200 million contract to play in LIV events. Dustin Johnson got $125 million. Jack Nicklaus said he was offered at least $100 million to serve as league commissioner, a role that Greg Norman now holds.
But it’s not just the one-off massive paydays that’s attracting top talent. Additionally, the purse for the initial event is larger than anything the PGA Tour has ever offered. Players will be competing for a share of $25 million through individual and team scores.
The structure of the league is also intriguing for these players. In a typical PGA event, players play two rounds on Thursday and Friday. The event has a cut line; players who score higher (i.e. worse) than that line are “cut” from the field and don’t participate on Saturday and Sunday. Because of that, they’re ineligible for any sort of prize money at all. They’ve just played 36 holes and made zero dollars on the course.
In LIV Golf events, players compete over three days and 54 holes. There are no cuts, and golfers all play at once with a shotgun start. Beyond the individual stroke-play format, golfers will be divided into 12 teams of four. The top three teams will split a $5 million pot.
Even the last-place finisher will receive six figures (a $120,000 prize). For players that often toe the cut line, that’s an enticing reason to join.
But for players such as Mickelson, LIV Golf is an opportunity to change the PGA Tour for the better. Mickelson has called the PGA Tour’s greed “beyond obnoxious” and thinks it can operate in a way that’s fairer to golfers. He believes using LIV as leverage can help bring some improvements to the game stateside.
Of course, there’s controversy tied to the league, too. LIV is funded by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF), which has had a hand in numerous human rights violations, notably the alleged assassination of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018. Khashoggi was a Washington Post reporter who expressed criticism toward the Saudi government.
In choosing to play LIV Golf events, these players risk damaging their legacy by appearing to support — or at least be willing to overlook — some major atrocities.
For them, it’s a risk worth taking, one that could prove very lucrative.