Never before in the history of sports has a rival league emerged that’s been capable of offering what LIV Golf is giving its players.
Across all major sports, there have been a number of leagues created to challenge the status quo. Most famously, the United States Football League (USFL) in the 1980s posed a threat to the NFL. The upstart league was able to pull superstar players like Steve Young, Herschel Walker, and Jim Kelly before eventually folding after a few years. It has since reemerged but doesn’t pose nearly the same level of threat it once did.
Update: In a letter to its members Thursday, the PGA Tour announced the players competing in the Saudi Golf League’s event in London this week are “being notified that they are suspended or otherwise no longer eligible to participate in PGA Tour tournament play, including the Presidents Cup.” To be clear, the four majors and the Ryder Cup are not PGA Tour-run events, and the USGA said earlier this week the players will be allowed to compete in the U.S. Open next week.
BREAKING: The PGA Tour has suspended any current or future participants in LIV Golf. pic.twitter.com/LadjBmyEr5
— Front Office Sports (@FOS) June 9, 2022
The NFL wasn’t the only league to face competitors. Major League Baseball has fended off several rivals over the years. There was the Challenge League, the Continental League, the Federal League, and a few others. In basketball, the NBA ended up merging with its main rival, the ABA, and formed the league we know today. The NHL used a similar strategy when incorporating teams from the World Hockey Association in 1979. Even the UFC is currently facing pressure from competitors like Bellator, PFL, and a number of others.
But what’s happening between the PGA Tour and LIV Golf is truly unprecedented. And for one simple reason.
Or, more accurately, MORE money. A LOT more money.
Also read: LIV Golf odds
LIV Golf Making Offers Players Can’t Refuse
The sheer amount of dollars being offered to players who jump ship from the PGA Tour is staggering. Dustin Johnson reportedly signed a deal worth $125 million dollars. Phil Mickelson? $200 million dollars. Recently announced names like Bryson DeChambeau and Patrick Reed will almost certainly sign for amounts within a $100 million range, and Rickie Fowler is also rumored to be joining the rival golf league.
It can be easy to balk at such lofty numbers when discussing professional athletes’ compensation. As a whole, the public has become a little numb to the insane salaries of the highest regarded players. Athletes routinely sign for hundred million dollars deals in other leagues, so what’s all the fuss about?
For starters, guaranteed money doesn’t exist in the golf world.
For all its quirks, the PGA Tour has always been the most meritocratic of the professional sports leagues. Golfers need to show up, play well, and beat the other guys before seeing a dime. And while yes, endorsement deals do provide big-name players with juicy contracts, athletes do not get guaranteed money in the same way you see with a basketball, football, or soccer contract.
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How Much Money Are We Talking About?
Take Dustin Johnson, for example. He’s arguably been the best golfer on the PGA Tour over the past 10 years. He’s won two majors (US Open 2016 and Masters 2020), a FedEx Cup, has been a set piece in both the Ryder Cup and President Cup lineups, and has won another 20 PGA Tour Titles since 2008.
His lifetime PGA Tour Earnings? About $90 million dollars.
His guaranteed money from LIV Golf before he takes a single swing? $125 million dollars.
Like I said, this is unprecedented.
LIV Golf has been able to lure a number of top-flight players away from the PGA Tour for ridiculous sums of money. I’m not talking about past-their-prime guys like Phil Mickelson, Sergio Garcia, Lee Westwood, Martin Kaymer, Kevin Na, and a number of other golfers on the back nine of their careers. I mean very specifically guys in their prime like the above-mentioned Bryson DeChambeau, Dustin Johnson, and Patrick Reed.
You can argue “in their prime” may be a stretch. After all, DJ is 38, Reed is struggling, and DeChambeau just underwent wrist surgery. But these guys are multiple-tournament winners still inside the Top 50 in the Official World Golf Rankings. Sure, their best days might be behind them, but to see them leave so quickly has sent a shockwave through the golf world.
These are guys with impressive resumes. Each of them is a major champion and can compete on any course with the best in the world. Most importantly? Love ’em or hate ’em, they bring a ton of eyeballs to the PGA Tour.
It’s no longer “if” the big names will leave the PGA Tour. It’s now “Who”, “How Many”, and “How Soon.”
So What Happens Next?
It’s certainly the wildest story to hit the golf world in … maybe ever? And what many assumed would be a flash in the pan non-event is already showing tremendous staying power. Players’ indifference to the source of this Saudi-funded league was vastly underestimated.
I’ve been waiting for a quiet moment to write a piece about the LIV Golf Tour, and it’s been impossible. Breaking news is happening daily. Big-name guys are leaving. It’s clear the floodgates have opened, and LIV Golf hasn’t even played its first tournament yet.
How does the PGA Tour respond? What can it do in order to retain its best and brightest stars? The Tour has been pretty quiet in the lead-up to the first LIV Golf Event in London. Perhaps Tour executives are employing the wait-and-see approach before making their next move. And with recent announcements from Johnson and Na regarding not only their inclusion in the upcoming LIV Series but their outright resignation from the PGA Tour? They can’t afford to wait too long.
If anything, the PGA Tour needs to respond immediately. And forcefully. Because the Saudi-backed LIV Golf reportedly has access to a war chest containing more than half a trillion dollars.