Dustin Johnson, who in February pledged his loyalty to the U.S.-based PGA Tour, will probably be the top-ranked golfer within the inaugural event of a Saudi-backed rival tour next week on the Centurion Golf Club outside London. Phil Mickelson, who recently expressed some measure of support for the choice circuit, was not amongst those listed in the sphere for the tournament.
Mickelson’s absence is a gentle surprise, though there have been still six spots available on Tuesday, so he could change his mind. Johnson’s inclusion is a breach within the broad solidarity expressed by the PGA Tour’s elite men’s golfers over the past six months.
Johnson, 37 and ranked thirteenth on the earth, was certainly one of 42 players listed in the sphere for the primary event of the LIV Golf Invitational Series, whose major shareholder is the Public Investment Fund, the sovereign wealth fund of Saudi Arabia. The upstart league offers no-cut tournaments with $25 million in total prize money at each, and guarantees top players tens of millions in appearance fees no matter their performance.
Other players in the sphere were expected, with many — like Sergio Garcia, Lee Westwood, Richard Bland, Graeme McDowell and Ian Poulter — older than 40. Overall, while there are 16 players in next week’s LIV Golf field ranked in the highest 100, only two — Johnson and Louis Oosthuizen — are ranked in the highest 30.
The PGA Tour and the established European golf tour have denied releases for member golfers to play in LIV Golf, which is led by the retired major champion Greg Norman. PGA Tour officials have said that those playing in any of the breakaway circuit’s tournaments would risk punishment, which could include suspensions or a lack of tour membership.
The subsequent step within the clash could also be in court. PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan has insisted that the tour’s lawyers imagine any discipline handed to golfers who play for the rival tour will withstand legal scrutiny.
Johnson, a two-time major winner who has amassed greater than $74 million in profession earnings from the PGA Tour, said in February that he was “fully committed to the PGA Tour.” It was a sentiment echoed by every player in the highest 10, and every of the leading golfers in a younger cohort that has dominated the PGA Tour within the last two seasons.
Rory McIlroy, the four-time major champion, called the brand new rival league “dead within the water.”
Johnson’s agent, David Winkle, issued an announcement on Tuesday night: “Dustin has been contemplating this chance 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. Dustin has never had any issue with the PGA Tour and is grateful for all it has given him, but ultimately felt this was too compelling to pass up.”
“Free agency has finally come to golf.,” Norman said in his own statement. “That is a chance to begin a movement that can change the course of history by bringing latest and open competition to the game all of us love. The need shown by the players to take part in LIV Golf demonstrates their emphatic belief in our model and confidence in what we’re constructing for the longer term.”
The LIV Golf series includes eight events from June to October, including one in Thailand and five in the USA. In late July, the host site will probably be the Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, N.J.
Saudi Arabia’s role in the brand new tour has already caused controversy. Mickelson set off a hailstorm of criticism in February after he acknowledged Saudi Arabia had a “horrible record on human rights” — including the murder of a Washington Post journalist — but said he viewed the brand new tour as a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” to use pressure on the PGA Tour to extend player revenues. Mickelson later said his remarks had been “reckless.”