DUBLIN, Ohio – The first Saudi-funded LIV Golf Invitational has Dustin Johnson and 12 other PGA Tour members as part of its 48-man field next week outside London. The next move falls to the PGA Tour, which must decide whether to allow them to come back.
The first fallout after the rival league released the names of players who will compete at its inaugural event came Wednesday when the Royal Bank of Canada said it was dropping Johnson and Graeme McDowell as corporate sponsors. Both are playing the LIV event, the same week as the RBC Canadian Open on the PGA Tour.
The PGA Tour's only comment was to mention a May 10 memo to players in which it denied releases for them to play the first LIV event. “Members who violate the tournament regulations are subject to disciplinary action,” the statement said.
Matt Jones and Hudson Swafford were among the 42 players named on the field list (six other spots are being held for a special invitation and from an Asian Tour series). Neither ever had more attention from media as they practiced Wednesday before and after the pro-am at the Memorial.
Jones confirmed he received a signing bonus and is obligated to play multiple times among the eight LIV events, each with $25 million in prize money and $4 million to the individual winner. Five of the tournaments are in the United States.
The 41-year-old Australian, who is No. 68 in the world, said it was a “good choice for me" for business and family and what he hopes will grow the game.
But he hasn't given up on keeping his PGA Tour membership.
“My next tour stop is ... I don’t know when it is, to be honest with you. We’ll see. We’ll find out what happens,” Jones said. “I don’t think banning players from playing on the PGA Tour as independent contractors is very good for golf. It’s not a good look for anyone. I understand the tour wants to protect their players and the product they have out here, but I don’t think that’s a good way to go about it.”
The Daily Telegraph reported Wednesday that Johnson was offered more than $100 million just to sign up for the league Greg Norman is running. Johnson has been heavily recruited, and it was thought the courtship was over when he said in February he was “fully committed” to the PGA Tour. He was the biggest star on the list of 42 players.
Phil Mickelson, the chief recruiter of players until his inflammatory remarks about the Saudis and the PGA Tour caused him to step away from golf, was not on the list. He still could be added to the field.
Swafford, a 34-year-old from Florida who has two young children and is ranked No. 91 in the world, mentioned the appeal of team golf as part of the new league and less travel. He also wanted to stay part of the PGA Tour.
“Suspending players? That’s not growing the game of golf. That’s what LIV is trying to do — give more opportunities to more golfers,” Swafford said. “I think it’s going to be a great thing. There’s going to be a lot of eyes on it. I’m excited to play.”
Also in the field at Centurion Club on June 9-11 is U.S. Amateur champion James Piot, who turned pro last week at Colonial. Piot has received exemptions to PGA Tour events from his U.S. Amateur win. Joining the LIV circuit provides instant cash — there was no mention how much they received — that would not be available in the early days of trying to make it on the PGA Tour.
“It's just an opportunity to play golf, a big stage and travel the world. For me, it's a cool opportunity as a 23-year-old to do what you love to do,” Piot said, referring to it as a “golden ticket this summer.”
Arizona State's David Puig is playing in the LIV Golf Invitational as an amateur and plans to return to school for his senior season. The Spaniard tied for 34th at the Spanish Open last year and is looking for more opportunities to compete against professionals.
“You see other players, they had the opportunity,” he said after Arizona State finished second at the NCAA championships. "I got this invitation to London to play and I want to keep learning and playing against some of the best in the world. That’s it. There’s no money, there’s nothing in between. It’s just me and playing with these guys and trying to win."
The LIV field currently has four of the top 50 in the world — Johnson (13), Louis Oosthuizen (20), Kevin Na (33) and Talor Gooch (35) — and 16 of the top 100.
Rory McIlroy described the field as not “anything to jump up and down about,” particularly compared with the Memorial or the Canadian Open, which he called “proper tournaments."
But he also showed a softer side for those wanting to chase the big money.
“I certainly don’t think they should drop the hammer,” McIlroy said. “Look, they are well within their rights to enforce the rules and regulations that have been set. It's going to end up being an argument about what those rules and regulations are.”
The regulations require a conflicting event release to play outside the PGA Tour. The next LIV event is the first week in July in Oregon. The PGA Tour does not grant releases for any tournament held in North America.
“Look, I have some very close friends that are playing in this event in London, and I certainly wouldn’t want to stand in their way to, for them to do what they feel is right for themselves,” McIlroy said. “I certainly understand why some of the guys have went, and it’s something that we are all just going to keep an eye on and see what happens over these next few weeks.”
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