Dustin Johnson to Star in Saudi-Backed LIV Golf Invitational Series Event

Dustin Johnson is among some of the biggest names in Golf who will be taking part in next week’s LIV Golf Invitational Series event.

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For decades, the PGA Tour has dominated the international golf scene. The true measure of an elite pro golfer is getting a “Tour card”, the official declaration that you’re proficient enough to compete on the Tour.

Unlike many sports that are popular around the world, such as soccer and basketball, the PGA Tour hasn’t needed to fend off outside competition in any serious manner.

That may be about to change.

The Saudi Golf League, officially known as the LIV Golf Invitation Series, tees off for the first time next week in London. Huge names in golf, like Dustin Johnson and Sergio Garcia, are set to compete.

Here is what we know so far.

What Is This Saudi Golf League, And Who Is Backing It?

Back in March, LIV Golf Investments announced the eight-event series would begin in June with an event at the Centurion Club.

But there was so much more. The announcement was made in part by CEO Greg Norman – yes, two-time British Open champion and the world’s number-one golfer for over six years. That Greg Norman.

Greg Norman Saudi Golf League

More details followed. The eight-event season would consist of seven ‘regular-season’ events, culminating in a championship event at Trump National Doral in Miami. Each event will consist of a total of 48 players, divided into teams of four players each (these teams will be re-drafted each week).

Events are three rounds each with no cuts. Players compete both individually and as part of a team, with a whopping $25 million on the line in each regular-season event and an astonishing $50 million purse for the season-ending championship event.

Who is LIV Golf Investments?

Founded just last year, LIV Golf Investments is a company whose stated purpose was to drive up interest in golf’s Asian Tour. So far, the Saudi Golf League has been by far their largest-scale venture.

The company has the backing of the Saudi Arabian Government’s public investment fund, which is its majority shareholder.

Money Talks

An initial investment of $200 million quickly grew to $300 million, and was then turned upside down by the formation of the LIV Invitation Series or Saudi Golf League. Now there’s $225 million committed to prize money for 2022 events alone, not to mention fees and offers out there to prolific golf personalities in order to entice them to join the league (we’ll come back to this soon).

Last week, LIV Golf announced a further investment of $2 billion, plus an expansion to ten invitational tournaments in 2023 followed by further growth to 14 tournaments in 2024 and 2025. 

Norman and other high-profile executives within LIV Golf Investments have repeatedly denied that they want to ‘steal’ golfers from the PGA Tour. Instead, they maintain that they wish to work side by side with the general purpose of growing the game of golf. This hasn’t stopped PGA Tour officials from publicly questioning or downplaying the Saudi League’s significance.

Other High-Profile Figures (Jack Nicklaus?)

When attempting to lure a big name in the world of gold to head your operation, you could do a whole lot worse than Greg Norman.

But the powers that be at LIV Golf Investments reportedly attempted to hook an even bigger fish prior to Norman’s involvement. Earlier this week, Jack Nicklaus revealed his rejection of a very lucrative offer from the group.

“I was offered something in excess of $100 million by the Saudis, to do the job probably similar to the one that Greg (Norman) is doing,” the Golden Bear said. “I turned it down. Once verbally, once in writing. I said, ‘Guys, I have to stay with the PGA Tour. I helped start the PGA Tour.’”

Jack Nicklaus LIV Golf Invitational Series

Indeed, it was Nicklaus, alongside Arnold Palmer and other big names who helped start the PGA Tour back in 1968 as a ‘breakaway’ from the PGA of America. The stated goal was to bring increased money to touring golf professionals. Sound familiar?

The Phil Mickelson Saga

Perhaps then, someday Phil Mickelson will be viewed as a founding father of the Saudi Golf League. For the past year, Mickelson has enjoyed something of a career resurgence starting with his PGA Championship victory last May. This made him the first golfer to win a major after his 50th birthday.

But early in 2022, “Lefty” gave an interview while competing at the Saudi International, an Asian Tour event that attracted numerous PGA Tour professionals. In the interview, Mickelson attacked the PGA Tour, referring to the Tour’s “obnoxious greed” and stating they’d “opened [his] eyes to opportunities elsewhere”. Given the location of the event, it wasn’t hard to decipher the opportunities Mickelson was considering.

Then…

Two weeks later, a writer working on an unauthorized biography of Mickelson shared details from a conversation with the superstar. Mickelson allegedly took credit for helping LIV Golf Investments draw up their new agreement. He allegedly made further comments in reference to some political happenings in Saudi Arabia while adding “the Saudi money has finally given us that leverage [against the PGA Tour.]”

Mickelson would quickly apologize for some of his comments, but not to the PGA Tour in particular. In what could only be interpreted as a response, PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan held a players-only meeting where he reportedly told PGA Tour members that competing in the Saudi League would disqualify them from further participation on the PGA Tour.

Phil Mickelson Saudi Golf League

For his part, Mickelson has not played since the Saudi Invitational. That included missing last month’s Masters at Augusta National for the first time since 1994. In late April, his agent confirmed Mickelson registered for the PGA Championship and the U.S. Open, but last Friday Mickelson confirmed he would not be defending his PGA Championship this coming weekend.

His status for future events – PGA Tour, Saudi Golf League, or otherwise – remains unconfirmed at this point. Despite not officially jumping on board, Phil Mickelson has become the unofficial face of PGA Tour players considering the Saudi Golf League.

So, Who IS Playing in the First Tournament of the Saudi Golf League?

The rumors have come and gone. And now we have a field of players ready to give the LIV Golf Invitational Series a shot next week in England.

Full List of Players for LIV Golf Invitational Series:

  • Oliver Bekker
  • Richard Bland
  • Laurie Canter
  • Ratchanon ‘TK’ Chantananuwat (Amateur)
  • Hennie Du Plessis
  • Oliver Fisher
  • Sergio Garcia
  • Talor Gooch
  • Branden Grace
  • Justin Harding
  • Sam Horsfield
  • Dustin Johnson
  • Matt Jones
  • Sadom Kaewkanjana
  • Martin Kaymer
  • Phachara Khongwatmai
  • Sihwan Kim
  • Ryosuke Kinoshita
  • Chase Koepka
  • Jinichiro Kosuma
  • Pablo Larrazabal
  • Graeme McDowell
  • Jediah Morgan
  • Kevin Na
  • Shaun Norris
  • Andy Ogletree
  • Louis Oosthuizen
  • Wade Ormsby
  • Adrian Otaegui
  • Turk Pettit
  • James Plot (Amateur)
  • Ian Poulter
  • David Puig
  • JC Ritche
  • Charl Schwartzel
  • Hudson Swafford
  • Hideto Tanihara
  • Peter Uihlein
  • Scott Vincent
  • Lee Westwood
  • Bernd Wiesberger
  • Blake Windred

Yes, that’s right. Dustin Johnson and Sergio Garcia, two of golf’s most successful individuals, will be there. In fact, DJ is 3rd in career earnings on the PGA Tour, and Garcia is 10th. Just shows you how much money is in it for them in the Saudi Golf League.

Will the Saudi Golf League Be Successful?

The tendency among American sports fans is to turn a cautious, dismissive eye towards any startup league.

We’ve seen a bunch of them – mainly in football – come and go with barely a whisper. Athletes, great teams, even styles of play come and go, but the leagues themselves – Major League Baseball, National Basketball Association, National Football League, and yes, the PGA Tour – are enduring.

Here is the chance for a different outcome this time, however – prize money. A $50 million season-ending purse, plus a $2.3 billion investment over the next few years? Play well for one weekend, you can be set for life. There aren’t too many players on the PGA Tour living paycheck to paycheck, but that’s life-changing money in one weekend.

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You will never convince Tom Brady, Christian McCaffrey, or Aaron Donald to jump ship to the XFL. It would be a career-killing move (well, except for Brady, who would somehow find success…) because of the drop in credibility, earnings potential, and exposure.

But more importantly, that league isn’t in a position to offer team sports athletes $115 million a season, which would be the rough equivalent of the difference in PGA Tour prize money and what the Saudi Golf League is putting up. If they could? This becomes an entirely different conversation.

Time Will Tell…

Until we see an upstart league – in any sport – compete and make progress against established competition, it will be hard to predict a successful outcome. But there is, at the very least, rumored interest from some of the world’s best golfers and when there’s this much smoke, there’s bound to be at least a small fire.

There are reasons to believe the Saudi Golf league has a chance – at least 2.3 billion reasons, for starters.

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