Report: DeChambeau, Reed to join Saudi-funded league in US
Major champions Bryson DeChambeau and Patrick Reed plan to sign up with the Saudi-funded LIV Golf Invitational series in time for the rival circuit to start playing in U.S. cities, a British newspaper reported Wednesday.
The Daily Telegraph says Greg Norman and his staff that runs LIV Golf Investments plan to announce the latest two defections from the PGA Tour on Friday.
The inaugural LIV Golf Invitational at Centurion Golf Club, which features Dustin Johnson, Phil Mickelson and Sergio Garcia, is set to begin Thursday.
DeChambeau was among the early recruits to the Saudi league in January. That changed when Mickelson brought unwanted attention on the nascent league with interviews that disparaged the PGA Tour and the Saudis who are funding the LIV Golf Investments.
Johnson was the biggest name to announce his support for the PGA Tour in February, and DeChambeau followed suit.
“While there has been a lot of speculation surrounding my support for another tour, I want to make it very clear that as long as the best players in the world are playing the PGA Tour, so will I,” DeChambeau said in a February statement.
Asked about his interest last week at the Memorial, DeChambeau said, “I personally don’t think that at this point in time I’m in a place in my career where I can risk things like that.”
“I’m loyal to my family that I’ve created around me with sponsors and everything. And as of right now, the golf world is probably going to change in some capacity. I don’t know what that is. Not my job to do so. I’m just going to keep playing professional golf and enjoy it wherever it takes me, play with the best players in the world.”
His agent said Wednesday in a statement that “Bryson has always been an innovator.”
“Having the opportunity to get in on the ground floor of something unique has always been intriguing to him. Professional golf as we know it is changing and it’s happening quickly,” said Brett Falkoff of GSE Worldwide.
DeChambeau won the U.S. Open at Winged Foot in 2020 at a time when he captivated golf with his out-of-the-box thinking that more speed and more power would change the game. He added 40 pounds of muscle and mass and his ball speed off the driver hit 200 mph. He also competed in long drive exhibitions.
Reed won the 2018 Masters for his only major. Along with being known for his grit and short game, he was a prime source of heckling in U.S. galleries for moving sand away from his golf ball in the Bahamas in 2019, a clear violation of the rules.
Players are getting massive signing bonuses to join Norman’s league. The Telegraph reports Johnson getting $150 million even before competing for $25 million funds at each of the eight LIV events on the schedule.
Mickelson was asked about reports he was getting $200 million.
“I feel that contract agreements should be private,” he said. “Doesn’t seem to be the case, but it should be.”
The first U.S. event for the LIV series is the weekend before the Fourth of July at Pumpkin Ridge in Oregon. The PGA Tour did not grant releases for its players to compete outside London this week, and some of them have resigned their memberships.
Oregon is different because the PGA Tour does not allow for releases for tournaments held in North America. Still to be determined is whether the players to take the Saudi money can return to the PGA Tour.
The U.S. Open said Tuesday it will honor players who have qualified to compete next week at The Country Club outside Boston, and the British Open is expected to do the same.
The root of most of the controversy surrounding this PGA Tour alternative is the source of the financial backing.
LIV Golf Investments is backed by the Saudi Public Investment Fund. It has pledged more than $2 billion through 2025, an amount that includes tournament operations, prize money and other efforts to entice high-end golfers. Roughly $400 million has been pledged for the inaugural season, with more than a quarter billion earmarked strictly for prize money.
Most consider this a form of “sportswashing” — akin to what Qatar has done with the World Cup and what Russia did with past Olympic Games — when countries with poor reputations try to repair them, or divert attention away from it, through sports.
Phelan M. Ebenhack
Tiger Woods has spent more weeks at No. 1 in the world than any other golfer, active or retired. No. 2 on that list belongs to Greg Norman, the eccentric 67-year old Australian who has served as the public face of LIV Golf, at least among non-competitors.
Norman has not been shy about going toe-to-toe with the PGA Tour and commissioner Jay Monahan, calling them “monopolists” and saying LIV Golf is entering the golf space to better serve professional golfers, who aren’t given ample opportunities via the PGA Tour.
This is not Norman’s first attempt and going toe-to-toe with the PGA Tour, either. Almost 30 years ago, he tried to set up a super league that would consist of smaller, 40-player fields that would compete for massive purses. The concept, which he called the World Golf Tour, was so far along that he had secured a 10-year, $250 million commitment from Fox for broadcast rights.
That league never got off the ground, though, as then-PGA Commissioner Tim Finchem convinced members of the tour to stick with the PGA. He later started up the World Golf Championship, which still exists to this day, and runs as part of the PGA Tour calendar.
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images North America/TNS
A major part of the recent LIV Golf buzz is the number of big-name commitments Norman has secured as it inches closer to its debut. The two biggest names on the marquee: Phil Mickelson, whose flirtation with LIV Golf was very public and controversial, and ultimately led to him stepping away from the public limelight for multiple months after comments made about the Saudis, and Dustin Johnson, one of the most successful players on the PGA Tour.
Johnson, who reportedly received more than $100 million to jump ship to LIV, resigned from the PGA Tour on Tuesday. RBC, his top sponsor, has already dropped him.
Mickelson signed a contract worth approximately $200 million, according to the Golf Channel’s Brentley Romine. Both players intend to play in major championships, though that decision will ultimately be made by tournament organizers themselves.
Other notable names on board include past major winners Sergio Garcia, Louis Oosthuizen, Charl Schwartzel and Martin Kaymer, past World No. 1 Lee Westwood and Ryder Cup fixture Ian Poulter. All eight of the aforementioned players will be in the field for its first event, scheduled to start Thursday in London.
LIV Golf landed a few big fish, but it also encountered a lot of public rejection. Johnson (currently No. 15 in the Official World Golf Rankings), is the only top-20 player to shun the PGA Tour for LIV Golf. And the 37-year-old Johnson fits the profile of most who have been willing to make the jump: players whose golf prime is in their rear view mirrors.
Members of the PGA Tour have confirmed that just about everyone was approached to join LIV, but the vast majority rejected those overtures. Some were more outspoken than others, including Rory McIlroy, who called LIV “dead in the water” before it ever started.
It wasn’t just active 20-somethings turning down LIV. The two golfers who most frequently find themselves in discussion for golf’s GOAT were also heavily courted.
Eighteen-time major winner Nicklaus recently told reporters he was offered more than $100 million to be the public face of LIV. That’s a big number, but apparently not even close to what Norman called a “mind-blowingly enormous” offer made to Tiger Woods, which was “high nine digits.”
Smaller field sizes aren’t the only noticeable changes for LIV in comparison to the PGA Tour. Events will span over three days rather than four, meaning that will be 54 holes of competition instead of 72. The 54 is the inspiration for the tour’s name, which uses the L I V roman numerals to equal 54.
LIV events will not have cuts, and every participant will receive prize money. That’s not the case for the PGA Tour, where players who miss the cut do not receive any winnings. Players will compete for much larger purses, too. Each regular season event will have a $25 million purse, with at least $4 million guaranteed to each winner.
There will be team elements to the tour, too, with player-led drafts and a season-ending team championship worth $50 million.
Events will be streamed via Facebook and YouTube.
Bryson DeChambeau hits from the 18th tee during the second round of the Memorial golf tournament Friday, June 3, 2022, in Dublin, Ohio. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)