Dustin Johnson will headline the field for the inaugural LIV Golf Invitational Series next week, a last-minute change in thinking having occurred this week as the two-time major champion had originally said he was sticking with the PGA Tour.
Johnson, 37, who will be one of two top-20 ranked players in the world who participate in the 54-hole tournament to be played at the Centurion Golf Club outside of London, along with Louis Oosthuizen. There are 16 of the top 100-ranked players in the world.
Phil Mickelson’s name is not on the list of participants announced Tuesday, but the 51-year-old Hall of Famer who shook up the golf world due to his explosive comments about the PGA Tour and also the Saudi regime that is backing the LIV Golf circuit is believed to still be in play for the event to be played June 9-11 at Centurion Golf Club.
There were 42 players announced, leaving room for Mickelson and five players who will qualify via an International Series event this week being played in London.
Johnson came as a surprise after saying in February he would not be part of the new endeavor.
The tournament will have a purse of $25 million, with $20 million earmarked for the individual portion of the event and $4 million going to the winner.
Former Masters champion Sergio Garcia, who let his disdain for the PGA Tour come out several weeks ago at the Wells Fargo Championship when he got an unfavorable ruling, is among several former major winners to participate.
Johnson was asked about LIV Golf two weeks ago at the PGA Championship and said: “I think golf is in a good spot, and I think what they’re doing… could potentially be good for the game of golf. I’m excited to see what happens here in a few weeks.”
He later added that he’d “be watching,” but now will apparently be playing.
It is expected that players such as Johnson and Garcia are receiving hefty appearance fees or even contracts to compete in a specified number of events on top of the prize money.
Johnson’s agent, David Winkle, declined to comment. Johnson also has an endorsement with RBC, the Canadian financial services company, and will miss next week’s RBC Canadian Open although he is listed as being in the field.
Others who have joined the field are former Masters winner Charl Schwartzel, former British Open champion and world No. 20 Oosthuizen, former US Open champions Graeme McDowell and Martin Kaymer, who also won the PGA Championship and the Players Championship.
Englishmen Lee Westwood, Ian Poulter and Richard Bland are also participating, along with Americans Kevin Na, Hudson Swafford and Talor Gooch, who won earlier this year on the PGA Tour. Australian Matt Jones is also part of the field, as is South African Branden Grace.
Former US Amateur champions Peter Uihlein and Andy Ogletree are entered, as are three current amateurs: James Piot, the 2021 US Amateur champion, David Puig and Thailand’s Ratchanon Chantananuwat, who earlier this year at age 15 became the youngest player to win an Official World Golf Ranking event at the Trust Golf Asian Mixed Cup.
Among some DP World (formerly European) Tour players to enter are Laurie Canter, Oliver Fisher, Sam Horsfield, Pablo Larrazabal, Shaun Norris, Wayne Ormsby and Bernd Wiesberger.
The field of 48 will be completed with five players who qualify based on their finishes at this week’s International Series event in England that is sanctioned by the Asian as part of an agreement with LIV Golf Investments.
“The desire shown by the players to participate in LIV Golf demonstrates their emphatic believe in our model and confidence in what we’re building for the future,” LIV Golf Commissioner and CEO Greg Norman said.
“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 that journey at Centurion Club with this group of first movers who are committed to growing the game in new and exciting ways.”
The PGA Tour and commissioner Jay Monahan have denied conflicting-event releases to the tournament, which will likely lead to fines and possibility suspensions. Previously, Monahan had threatened PGA Tour bans for players who joined the new league.
But for now, LIV Golf is not a league. Norman pivoted in the wake of Mickelson’s February comments that painted the PGA Tour as “greedy” and reported that human rights issues of Saudi Arabia that have caused controversy for many involved.
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The backlash against Mickelson caused many to back off, including Johnson, who at the time said he felt “now is the time to put such speculation to rest. I am fully committed to the PGA Tour.”
Mickelson lost several sponsors in the wake of his comments, including long-time club endorser Callaway as well as Workday and KPMG.
Several other players were critical of Mickelson, including Rory McIlroy, who said the concept was “dead in the water” and added “who’s left? Who’s left to go? I just can’t see any reason why anyone would go.”
At the time, McIlroy’s views were shared by many. He was among the first to speak out against the concept. Jon Rahm and Brooks Koepka joined him, as did Bryson DeChambeau.
But Norman and LIV Golf regrouped, coming back with a new plan that would see eight events played this year, none required. The original concept was to be a 14-tournament league with 12 four-man teams competing each week alongside the individual competition.
While the new concept still calls for teams, they will change by the tournament, with an eight-event schedule this year – final tournament is a full team event with a $50 million purse – and 10 scheduled for 2023. Norman said the plan is for the League to launch in 2024. Five of the tournaments will be played in the United States, with next week’s in England, another in Thailand and the other in Saudi Arabia.
On May 10, SI.com/Morning Read reported that the first event expected to have 19 of the top 100 players in the world, with six that were ranked in the top 50 at that time. LIV Golf received 170 entries, with 36 ranked among the top 50 in the Official World Ranking.
Several amateurs were also expected to be in the field, working out NIL (name, image and likeness) deals.
But those numbers were bound to take a hit when the PGA Tour (and later DP World Tour) announced that they would not be granting their members conflicting-event releases to play.
“We have notified those who have applied that their request has been declined in accordance with the PGA Tour Tournament regulations,” said Tyler Dennis, PGA Tour senior vice president, in a memo to players. “As such, Tour members are not authorized to participate in the Saudi Golf League’s London event under our Regulations. As a membership organization, we believe this decision is in the best interest of the PGA Tour and its players.”
The Tour’s Saudi reference was to the funding of LIV Golf Investments, which is backed by the Public Investment Fund, Saudi Arabia’s autonomous sovereign wealth fund.
When the Saudi International tournament began in 2019, it was sanctioned by the European (now DP World) Tour, which was criticized for its involvement. The Tour dropped its alliance starting this year and that tournament is now an Asian Tour event.
The LIV Golf events will have $25 million purses, with $20 million going to individuals and $5 million paid out to a team portion. Each event will have 48 players, with 12 four-man teams.
The winner will receive $4 million and last place gets $120,000. There is no cut and the events are just 54 holes.
The first seven of these tournaments will operate in this manner, with the final tournament a team competition and a $5 million purse with the last place team guaranteed $1 million, or $250,000 each.
Norman was announced as CEO of LIV Golf Investments and commissioner of a league that was expected to begin play this year. A winner of two major championships and a member of the World Golf Hall of Fame, Norman has since said that there will be another series of 10 events next year followed by the launch of the league in 2024 – expected to be included of 14 tournaments.
While Norman will not have an abundance of top-ranked players as originally envisioned when attempting to put together a 14-tournament schedule for this year, the numbers are better than expected. LIV Golf organizers believe there are weak spots on the PGA Tour schedule that present an opportunity.
The recent Mexico Open, for example, had just 31 of the top 100 players in the world, with winner Rahm the only player ranked among the top 15. Rory McIlroy was the only top-10 player at the Wells Fargo Championship won by Max Homa .
The first LIV Golf event will be played opposite the RBC Canadian Open, which his expected to have a strong field as it is played for the first time in three years due to the coronavirus pandemic. It is the week prior to the US Open.
But Norman and LIV Golf organizers are banking on the fact that the enormous prize money, a 54-hole, no-cut concept with shotgun starts and only 48-player fields and an added team format will be enticing.
Mickelson, who won the PGA Championship last year for his sixth major title, has not played since early February and was severely criticized for his association with the sixth league. He skipped both the Masters and defense of his PGA Championship title and his return to golf remains unclear.
The Tour’s decision to not grant releases came as a mild surprise. It typically grants such permission for overseas events, usually up to three per season. The issue was going to become more acute when the first event is played in North America starting on July 1 outside of Portland.
By not granting any, the Tour is effectively pushing back on what it views as a threat. Players face fines or suspensions if they do participate but no sanctions will be levied until after a player competes.
(42 of 48 players announced)
Oliver Bekker, South Africa
Richard Bland, England
Laurie Canter, England
Ratchanon Chantananuwat (amateur), Thailand
Hennie Du Plessis, South Africa
Oliver Fisher, England
Sergio Garcia, Spain
Talor Gooch, USA
Branden Grace, South Africa
Justin Harding, South Africa
Sam Horsfield, England
Dustin Johnson, USA
Matt Jones, Australia
Sadom Kaewkanjana, Thailand
Martin Kaymer, Germany
Phachara Khongwatmai, Thailand
Sihwan Kim, USA
Ryosuke Kinoshita, Japan
Chase Koepka, USA
Jinichiro Kozuma, Japan
Pablo Larrazabal, Spain
Graeme McDowell, Northern Ireland
Jediah Morgan, Australia
Kevin Na, USA
Shaun Norris, South Africa
Andy Ogletree, USA
Louis Oosthuizen, South Africa
Wade Ormsby, Australia
Adrian Otaegui, Spain
Turk Pettit, USA
James Piot (amateur), USA
Ian Poulter, England
David Puig (amateur), Spain
JC Ritchie, South Africa
Charl Schwartzel, South Africa
Hudson Swafford, USA
Hideto Tanihara, Japan
Peter Uihlein, USA
Scott Vincent, Zimbabwe
Lee Westwood, England
Bernd Wiesberger, Austria
Blake Windred, Australia