Wu-Tang Clan said it best: “Cash rules everything around me.”
The LIV Golf tour has emerged as a rival to the U.S.-based PGA Tour, with several big names jumping the pond to join the startup golf league.
Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson, Bryson DeChambeau, Brooks Koepka and other heavy hitters formerly of the PGA Tour now find themselves members of the Saudi-backed golf circuit that’s making waves overseas (and soon in the U.S.). “Formerly” is the key word here.
PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan took no light steps in regards to the defections. In June, he announced that all players, current and future, who choose to join the LIV Golf Series will be suspended. That means Mickelson, Johnson and others won’t have the opportunity to play in PGA Tour events.
Here’s why so many of the game’s best are jumping to the new circuit:
Why are PGA Tour golfers going to LIV Golf?
In a word: Money. In several more words: Cash, moolah, green, dough, shekels.
LIV Golf is backed and funded by the Saudi Arabian government’s Public Investment Fund, hence the controversy. The nation has often been criticized for its handling of human rights over the years, including its assassination of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Some paint the money as “blood money,” and others accuse the Saudi government of “sportswashing” its image via its backing of LIV Golf.
Regardless of where the money is coming from, LIV offers something that the PGA Tour does not, by way of contracts for its players.
Phil Mickelson, the first and most notable player to join the LIV Golf Tour, was reportedly offered $200 million to make the jump. Mickelson has earned $94 million on the course during his PGA Tour career, per Spotrac.
Former world No. 1 golfer Dustin Johnson was another LIV Golf defector, and had earned $74,276,710 on the course in his career. LIV Golf signed Johnson to a four-year contract worth a reported $125 million.
In addition to the hefty sums of money going to former PGA players, players also face a less intensive schedule and earn a bigger paycheck for winning some tournaments. For example, the inaugural LIV Golf event in London paid out $4 million to the winner, Charl Schwartzel — a number that surpasses any major tournament winner.
Why Phil Mickelson joined LIV Golf tour
Aside from the large sum of money, “Lefty” feels like the jump to the new tour is a “fresh start.”
Phil Mickelson explained his decision to leave the PGA Tour in June:
After 32 years, this new path is a fresh start, one that is exciting for me at this stage of my career and is clearly transformative, not just for myself, but ideally for the game and my peers. I also love the progressive format and think it will be exciting for fans. Just as importantly, it will provide balance, allowing me to focus on a healthier approach to life on and off the course. I am incredibly grateful for what this game and the PGA Tour has given me. I would like to think that I have given back as well but now I am excited about this new opportunity.
Phil Mickelson had voiced his support of the new league in February, believing it was “a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reshape how the PGA Tour operates.”
“They’ve been able to get by with manipulative, coercive, strong-arm tactics because we, the players, had no recourse,” Mickelson said of the PGA Tour in February to Alan Shipnuck. “As nice a guy as [PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan] comes across as, unless you have leverage, he won’t do what’s right. And the Saudi money has finally given us that leverage. I’m not sure I even want [LIV Golf] to succeed, but just the idea of it is allowing us to get things done with the [PGA] Tour.”
Phil Mickelson’s reported deal with the new tour is worth $200 million.
Why Dustin Johnson joined LIV Golf tour
Dustin Johnson’s involvement with LIV Golf was something of a surprise, but the contract and money he received speaks to his decision. Johnson signed a four-year deal worth a reported $125 million.
He explained his decision to join LIV Golf after having a change of heart:
“At that time, I was committed to playing the PGA Tour,” Johnson said of his initial statement. “I’m very thankful for the PGA Tour and everything it’s done for me. I’ve done pretty well out there for the last 15 years. But this is something that was best for me and my family. It’s something exciting and something new.”
Johnson, former world No. 1 golfer, played on the PGA Tour between 2007 and 2022 and had 24 PGA tournament wins to his name.
Why Bryson DeChambeau joined LIV Golf tour
DeChambeau, 28, was one of LIV Golf’s first targets for their tour. After he turned down initial offerings to join the tour, he officially defected to the circuit in late June.
Simply put, DeChambeau’s decision was nothing personal, it was strictly business.
“It was a business decision, first and foremost,” he said on June 14. “That’s all there was to it. It’s given me a lot more opportunity outside of the game of golf and given me more time for my family and my future family. …
“There was a lot of financials to it, and also a lot of time.”
LIV Golf CEO and commissioner Greg Norman commented on his membership:
Bryson DeChambeau is an exciting addition to LIV Golf’s supercharged style of play. He is passionate about the sport, innovative in his approach and committed to pushing the boundaries in pursuit of excellence. He’s not afraid to think outside the box and supports our mission of doing things differently to grow our game. The power and energy he brings to the course will deliver added electricity to our competition in Portland and beyond.
Why Brooks Koepka joined LIV Golf tour
Koepka is the latest heavy hitter to join LIV Golf following the U.S. Open.
The four-time major winner dodged LIV Golf questions during media availability in the days leading up to the major, opting to decline questions over potentially joining the tour.
Three days after the U.S. Open ended, and a day after Koepka withdrew from this week’s PGA Tour event in Connecticut, LIV officially welcomed Koepka to its ranks.
LIV Golf’s reduced schedule likely is part of the appeal for Koepka, who has made his own schedule on the PGA Tour.
LIV Golf players
Mickelson, Johnson, DeChambeau and Koepka aren’t the only former PGA Tour players to join LIV Golf. Here’s the current field (Official World Golf Ranking as of July 20):
Name (Country) OWGR ranking OWGR ranking (June 26) Change (+/-)
Dustin Johnson (USA) 16 17 +1
Abraham Ancer (ESP) 20 22 +2
Brooks Koepka (USA) 22 19 -3
Louis Oosthuizen (RSA) 25 21 -4
Bryson DeChambeau (USA) 29 31 +2
Kevin Na (USA) 33 33 —
Jason Kokrak (USA) 36 36 —
Talor Gooch (USA) 41 38 -3
Patrick Reed (USA) 42 39 -3
Sergio Garcia (ESP) 69 63 -6
Pablo Larrazabal (ESP) 76 68 -8
Matthew Wolff (USA) 79 77 -2
Matt Jones (AUS) 82 74 -8
Richard Bland (ENG) 83 71 -12
Shaun Norris (RSA) 87 79 -8
Sam Horsfield (ENG) 91 81 -10
Lee Westwood (ENG) 92 87 -5
Phil Mickelson (USA) 94 84 -10
Scott Vincent (ZIM) 95 94 -1
Sadom Kaewkanjana (THA) 96 120 +24
Oliver Bekker (RSA) 99 101 -2
Ryosuke Kinoshita (JPN) 100 95 -5
Ian Poulter (ENG) 103 96 -7
Hudson Swafford (USA) 105 97 -8
Bernd Wiesberger (AUT) 112 102 -10
Jinichiro Kozuma (JPN) 115 112 -3
Justin Harding (RSA) 120 116 -4
Charl Schwartzel (RSA) 123 125 +2
Carlos Ortiz (ESP) 131 119 -12
Branden Grace (RSA) 134 128 -6
Laurie Canter (ENG) 135 127 -8
Hennie Du Plessis (RSA) 145 135 -10
Phachara Khongwatmai (THA) 148 139 -9
Sihwan Kim (USA) 156 144 -12
Henrik Stenson 171 234 +63
Charles Howell III 173 173 —
Adrian Otaegui (ESP) 174 169 -5
JC Ritchie (RSA) 175 162 -13
Hideto Tanihara (JPN) 204 172 -32
Martin Kaymer (GER) 255 231 -24
Jediah Morgan (AUS) 271 258 -13
Ratchanaon “TK” Chantananuwat* (THA) 293 284 -9
Blake Windred (AUS) 298 278 -20
Wade Ormsby (AUS) 309 294 -15
Peter Uihlein (USA) 344 334 -10
Graeme McDowell (NIR) 389 379 -10
Ian Snyman (RSA) 396 386 -10
Travis Smyth (AUS) 423 411 -12
Viraj Madappa (IND) 530 513 -17
Itthipat Buranatanyarat (THA) 636 615 -21
Turk Pettit (USA) 643 623 -20
Kevin Yuan (AUS) 1,113 1,099 -14
Oliver Fisher (ENG) 1,155 1,110 -45
Andy Ogletree (USA) 1,574 1,500 -74
Chase Koepka (USA) 1,692 1,638 -55
James Piot* (USA) 1,1818 1,804 -14
David Puig* (ESP) 1,1818 1,804 -14
Eugenio Lopez-Chacarra (ESP) 1,1818 1,804 -14