It has been discussed ad nauseam for the past four months, and on Tuesday, the field for the first LIV Golf Invitational Series event was finally made public. Dustin Johnson, the 13th-ranked golfer in the world, leads the list players who will participate in the 48-man, 12-team event at the Centurion Club in London from June 9-11 opposite the PGA Tour’s Canadian Open and the DP World Tour’s Scandinavian Mixed.
Martin Kaymer and Lee Westwood were presumed to be the only former world No. 1s to be involved, but the addition of Johnson comes as a major surprise. The 37-year-old has won 24 times on the PGA Tour — including the 2016 U.S. Open and 2020 Masters — and he has been an integral part of the United States side for recent Presidents Cups and Ryder Cups.
“Dustin has been contemplating the opportunity off-and-on for the past couple of years. Ultimately, he decided it was in his and his family’s best interest to pursue it,” said agent David Winkle in a reversal of a stance Johnson took on Feb. 20 that indicated he was “fully-committed” to the PGA Tour. “Dustin has never had any issue with the PGA Tour and is grateful for all it has given him, but in the end, felt this was too compelling to pass up.”
Other notable names set to play include Louis Oosthuizen (OWGR No. 20), Kevin Na (33), Talor Gooch (35) and Sergio Garcia (54). There were 42 names released with five of the remaining spots reserved for players from the Asian Tour and the other presumed to be for Phil Mickelson.
Hennie Du Plessis
With names of PGA Tour and DP World Tour players coming to light, one has to wonder what will happen next in terms of potential disciplinary measures. The PGA Tour is expected to announce punishments for those who choose to play for LIV Golf in the near future with the assumption that participants will face suspension or possibly even a lifetime ban from the PGA Tour.
Not only will the two predominant men’s tours have to establish their long-term stance, but the four governing bodies in charge of the major championships will have to make one of their own. The United States Golf Association (USGA) is thrown into the less than enviable situation as the U.S. Open is scheduled for June 16-19, a week after the first LIV Golf Series Invitational, and their decision to include or exclude competitors could have ramifications.
A few weeks ago, the PGA Tour denied all player requests for the Saudi Arabian-backed event. While some believed players would be granted waivers for the inaugural tournament, it proved to not be the case, and the DP World Tour quickly followed in the PGA Tour’s footsteps by giving their members the same verdict.
Run by CEO Greg Norman, LIV Golf is set to kick off its eight-tournament series starting in London with astronomical purses: $20 million in individual prizes, plus a $5 million team payout. These are funded by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, which recently put up an additional $2 billion in funding for future iterations of the league that are expected to include more events as this eight-tournament series is thought to be only the beginning. The goal is to expand to 10 tournaments in 2023 and 14 tournaments the following two years.
Beyond the simple goal of arranging tournaments is supplying them with some of the top players in the world. The first event in London lacks depth in terms of talent, but how long will it take before a young star like a Joaquin Niemann sees Richard Bland winning $10 million in only three tournaments’ worth of work and asks himself, “I am so much better than him, why am I not playing for that type of money?”
There has been plenty of debate leading up to the first LIV Golf event, but now that the field is set, how will the actual product stack up next to the PGA Tour and DP World Tour?
Ticket prices are sky high and broadcast distribution has hit a snag; the first event will be streamed on YouTube. If the quality of play is poor, there may not be much, if any, allure for the casual fan. However, as it has been for the past 120 days or so, we will just have to wait and see for the first tee shot to be struck to confirm anything further.