Phil Mickelson claims more players want to jump to Saudi-backed LIV Golf

Captain Phil Mickelson of HyFlyers GC hits his shot from the 17th tee during the first round of LIV Golf Jeddah at the Royal Greens Golf & Country Club on Friday, Oct. 13, 2023, in King Abdullah Economic City, Saudi Arabia. (Jon Ferrey/LIV Golf via AP) (Jon Ferrey/Liv Golf, AP)

Phil Mickelson sounded confident as ever Wednesday that more PGA Tour and European tour players would jump to Saudi-funded LIV Golf next year, even as the league was denied in its bid to get world ranking points.

“Do I think that? No. I know that’s going to happen,” Mickelson said at Trump Doral near Miami, site of the season-ending team championship.

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“When players look at LIV, they are wanting to be a part of it,” he said. “Everybody here is happy and enjoying what we are doing and enjoying the team aspect of it and enjoying each other and the camaraderie and enjoying playing golf globally and all the benefits that come with playing this tour.”

Mickelson was viewed as the chief recruiter even before LIV Golf began in June 2022.

LIV picked up several premier players for its inaugural season, such as Dustin Johnson and Brooks Koepka, Bryson DeChambeau and eventually Cameron Smith a month after he won the British Open.

The rebel league this year added Brendan Steele, Danny Lee, Sebastian Munoz, Mito Pereira and Thomas Pieters.

LIV always expected to be playing in 2024 amid an agreement by its Saudi Arabian backers, the PGA Tour and the European tour for a commercial enterprise. That stunning agreement, announced on June 6, has not been finalized.

Key to the agreement was dropping all lawsuits. Below that section was a non-solicitation clause that said the Saudi Public Investment Fund and both tours would no longer recruit players to join their leagues.

The Justice Department, which is conducting an antitrust review, recommended that clause be removed. The tour agreed, saying it was unnecessary because all sides were negotiating the agreement in good faith.

There has been no indication of top players wanting to leave the PGA Tour, which next year will feature eight “signature events” with $20 million in prize money and limited fields, most of them without a cut.

Mickelson said the number of newcomers would be tied to how many spots were available. LIV relegated four players because they finished at the bottom of the points standings. They face a “promotions” event.

“The reality is I’ve been fielding calls, as we all have, from players that are free agents to PGA Tour players to DP World Tour players that want to come over,” Mickelson said, using the commercial name of the European tour.

One of the obstacles in reaching an agreement on the new business deal is how to integrate team golf and what penalty players would face if they want to return to the PGA Tour or European tour.

The Official World Golf Ranking board last week rejected LIV's bid to be recognized because it operates differently from the other two dozen tours in the system. At issue was LIV having a closed field for the entire season with limited chances to join, along with the team component potentially affecting the integrity of individual play.

LIV now has only two players in the top 50 — Koepka and Smith — and four others who are among the top 100. The majors rely on the world ranking as one of their criteria for granting exemptions to players. Executives from the four majors were the only ones on the OWGR board voting on the LIV application.

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AP golf: https://apnews.com/hub/golf