Now that the curtain has been lifted on the inaugural LIV Golf Invitational Series field – Dustin Johnson is a moderately surprising participant, Phil Mickelson is a conspicuous absence at least to this point – the question changes from Who? to What now?
After weeks of speculation and several days of delayed announcements, LIV Golf announced 42 of the 48 players who will tee it up at the Centurion Club near London on June 9-11 in the first of what could be a landscape-altering shift in the professional game.
Johnson, who has been linked to the Saudi-backed group for months despite his February statement in which he said he was “fully committed to the PGA Tour,” is the highest-profile player in the first event and one of three former No. 1 players – Lee Westwood and Martin Kaymer are the others – in the first event.
The first event will be played opposite the PGA Tour’s RBC Canadian Open, and Johnson has been RBC’s highest-profile ambassador since 2018 (RBC ambassador Graeme McDowell is also in the LIV field). The company released a statement about Johnson to Golf Channel on Tuesday night saying, in part, “While we are extremely disappointed in his decision, we wish him well.”
David Winkle, Johnson’s long-time manager, offered a brief statement on behalf of his client.
“Dustin has been contemplating the opportunity off and on the past couple of years. Ultimately, he decided it was in his and his family’s best interest to pursue it,” Winkle said.
“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.”
Johnson’s decision – along with those of other PGA Tour members in the field – sets up a showdown with the tour, which denied players waivers to play in the event. Commissioner Jay Monahan has made it clear that players who violate the tour’s policy about participating in outside events will face disciplinary action including suspensions and fines.
It is uncertain how severe the tour penalties will be, and it is expected to lead to a court battle over players’ rights. Players and LIV Golf will argue that golfers are independent contractors free to pick and choose where they play, while the Tour will argue its members signed agreements to abide by the organization’s rules, which limit where they can play without permission.
It is also unclear how the major championships will react to players in the new league, which will play an eight-tournament schedule this year, featuring 54-hole no-cut tournaments with 48 players and shotgun starts.
The Mickelson question also remains murky. He was among the players who requested – and was denied – a waiver from the tour to play in the London event. Even before his inflammatory comments about the Saudi-backed initiative in February, Mickelson had been linked to the new initiative.
“This is an opportunity to start a movement that will change the course of history by bringing new and open competition to the sport we all love.” – Greg Norman
Some viewed the tournament next week as Mickelson’s opportunity to return to competitive golf and the public arena. It’s still possible that he could be added to the field should he choose to play.
After audacious early claims about attracting many of the game’s top stars to the new organization, the first tournament will have just 26 of the top 150 players in the world rankings.
Only four players – No. 13 Johnson, No. 20 Louis Oosthuizen, No. 33 Kevin Na and No. 35 Talor Gooch – are among the top 50 in the world. Sergio Garcia, No. 54, also will play the first event.
There were few surprises. Ian Poulter, Charl Schwartzel, Branden Grace, Kaymer, Oosthuizen and Westwood were among the players expected to join the new league.
Six open spots remain for the first event and, according to the group’s press release, they will be awarded through commissioner invites and berths earned at the Asian Tour International Series event being played in England this week.
“Free agency has finally come to golf. This is an opportunity to start a movement that will change the course of history by bringing new and open competition to the sport we all love. The desire shown by the players to participate in LIV Golf demonstrates their emphatic belief in our model and confidence in what we’re building for the future,” said Greg Norman, LIV Golf’s CEO and commissioner.
“We couldn’t be happier at the diversity of our field, featuring players from around the world including major champions and those making their debut with us competing in their first professional event. We can’t wait to start our journey at Centurion Club with this group of first movers who are committed to growing the game in new and exciting ways.”
Barely a week before its first tournament, LIV Golf had come under increasing scrutiny to announce its player field. An announcement was expected last week, and skepticism grew with each passing day.
In the past month, Norman was roundly criticized for what were perceived to be insensitive comments regarding Saudi Arabia’s human-rights issues; top executive Sean Bratches resigned; and, unable to secure a major broadcast partner, the group announced the first event would be streamed over YouTube.
Earlier Tuesday, Jack Nicklaus confirmed that he had been approached about becoming CEO of LIV Golf – with an offer reported to be worth at least $100 million – but took the meeting out of courtesy because his company is building a golf course in Saudi Arabia.
“I’ve got zero interest in wanting to do something like that,” Nicklaus said.
“I don’t care what kind of money they would have thrown at me. My allegiance has been to the PGA Tour. I grew up on the PGA Tour. I helped found the PGA Tour as it is today. My allegiance is there, and it’s going to stay there.”
Following is the 42-player list for LIV Golf’s inaugural event, with six players to be named (a-amateur):
- Oliver Bekker (South Africa)
- Richard Bland (England)
- Laurie Canter (England)
- a-Ratchanon “T.K.” Chantananuwat (Thailand)
- Hennie Du Plessis (South Africa)
- Oliver Fisher (England)
- Sergio Garcia (Spain)
- Talor Gooch (U.S.)
- Branden Grace (South Africa)
- Justin Harding (South Africa)
- Sam Horsfield (England)
- Dustin Johnson (U.S.)
- Matt Jones (Australia)
- Sadom Kaewkanjana (Thailand)
- Martin Kaymer (Germany)
- Phachara Khongwatmai (Thailand)
- Sihwan Kim (U.S.)
- Ryosuke Kinoshita (Japan)
- Chase Koepka (U.S.)
- Jinichiro Kozuma (Japan)
- Pablo Larrazabal (Spain)
- Graeme McDowell (Northern Ireland)
- Jediah Morgan (Australia)
- Kevin Na (U.S.)
- Shaun Norris (South Africa)
- Andy Ogletree (U.S.)
- Louis Oosthuizen (South Africa)
- Wade Ormsby (Australia)
- Adrian Otaegui (Spain)
- Turk Pettit (U.S.)
- a-James Piot (U.S.)
- Ian Poulter (England)
- a-David Puig (Spain)
- J.C. Ritchie (South Africa)
- Charl Schwartzel (South Africa)
- Hudson Swafford (U.S.)
- Hideto Tanihara (Japan)
- Peter Uihlein (U.S.)
- Scott Vincent (Zimbabwe)
- Lee Westwood (England)
- Bernd Wiesberger (Austria)
- Blake Windred (Australia)
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