As more players are continuing to defect to the Saudi-backed LIV Golf Invitational Series, the PGA Tour is at a crossroads.
On one hand, a memorable US Open Championship saw just how much of a draw major championships can be. But with a massive budget, LIV Golf is attracting a list of golfers that could affect the way professional golf is run for years to come. The LIV Golf Invitational Series will also continue and have its first stop in the United States at the end of June, an event that could very well be a litmus test for domestic interest in the startup.
Still, because of claims of human rights violations carried out by the Saudi regime, the players who have joined the LIV Golf tour continue to face ethical and moral questions about their involvement.
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Here’s everything you need to know about the latest with the LIV Golf Invitational Series.
What is the LIV Golf Invitational Series?
LIV Golf is a Saudi-backed golf league in competition with the PGA Tour. Greg Norman was appointed the CEO of the league. On June 19, Norman said that LIV Golf was submitting its application to the Official World Golf Rankings to try to get its event to count for points, which would make it easier for players to qualify for major championships in the future.
Why is LIV Golf so controversial?
The Public Investment Fund (PIF), the sovereign investment fund of Saudi Arabia and one of the largest in the world, has backed and is financing LIV Golf Investments, the parent company of LIV Golf. As the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman is the head of the PIF. According to a declassified US intelligence report released in February 2021, Salman approved an operation “to capture or kill” Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi inside a Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2, 2018.
The Saudi government is accused of other human rights and has invested in Western athletic opportunities in an apparent attempt to improve its image, a practice known as “sportswashing.”
Who are the latest players to join LIV Golf?
According to multiple reports, four-time major winner Brooks Koepka is the latest player to defect from the PGA Tour. Koepka currently sits at 19th in the Official World Golf Rankings.
He joins the likes of Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson, Louis Oosthuizen, Charl Schwartzel and others. According to other reports, Abraham Ancer, the 20th ranked golfer in the world, will also join LIV Golf.
Collin Morikawa, the No. 4 player in the world, was a player who had been rumored to be the PGA Tour as well leaving. On Tuesday, he ended speculation he would join LIV Golf and reaffirmed his commitment to the PGA.
As the final round of the first LIV Golf Invitational was being played earlier in June, reports emerged that Bryson DeChambeau (30) and Patrick Reed (38) would also be joining LIV Golf, potentially as soon as the second event in Portland, Oregon.
What has been the reaction to players leaving the PGA Tour to join LIV Golf?
Almost universally, the players who have defected to LIV Golf have faced harsh criticism. Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson and the more high-profile players have been the focus of the criticism.
Because the US Open took place June 16-19, which was the weekend following the inaugural LIV Golf Invitational, the USGA released a statement June 7 saying it would not penalize any player invited to the US Open who had played in the LIV Golf Invitational in London.
The PGA Tour, however, has threatened serious penalties for those PGA Tour members who play in the LIV Golf Series events. The PGA Tour announced indefinite suspensions for at least 17 players who participated in the LIV Golf event, with more potential coming in the future. Some players, like Dustin Johnson, have resigned their membership with the PGA Tour to join LIV. Others, like Phil Mickelson, have said they intend to play in major championships.
Hatice Cengiz, the fiancée of Jamal Khashoggi at the time of his murder, told USA TODAY Sports’ Josh Peter that the players who participated in the LIV Golf Invitational Series should be barred from competing in majors.
“If they still carry on and play as if everything is normal, then they should be banned from playing in the world’s major tournaments,” Cengiz told USA TODAY Sports via email. “This will show that there are consequences for supporting murderers, and it will show the murderers that they are not escaping justice.”
How did prominent LIV Golf players fare in the recent US Open?
Here are the finishing scores at the US Open in Brookline, Mass., of some of the big names who have agreed to join LIV Golf, are reported to have agreed to join, or played in the LIV Golf Invitational in London.
Dustin Johnson: +4; tied for 24th
Patrick Reed: +10; tied for 49th
Brooks Koepka: +12; 55th
Bryson DeCahmbeau: +13; tied for 56th
Missed the cut: Sergio García (+4); Talor Gooch (+5); Kevin Na (+5); Louis Oosthuizen (+6); Phil Mickelson (+11)
What happened in the first LIV Golf Invitational?
The first LIV Golf event was held June 9-11 at the Centurion Club in Hemel Hempstead, United Kingdom, which is about 25 miles northwest of London. Charl Schwartzel managed a one-stroke victory over his Stingers teammate Hennie du Plessis to take home the first-place prize of $4 million. With the Stingers also placing first in the team competition, Schwartzel brought in an extra $750,000 to bring his net earnings for the event to $4.75 million, making the London event the richest golf tournament in history.
“Honestly, I’m relieved,” said Schwartzel, who hadn’t won an event on either the PGA Tour or the European Tour since 2016. “… I’m just proud and it’s a great feeling.”
When is the next LIV Golf Invitational?
The second event on the schedule will be the first American stop on the calendar. It will be held June 30-July 2 at Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club in North Plains, Oregon, which is about 20 miles northwest of Portland.
What will be the format of play for the first LIV Golf season?
There will be six more regular season events in different cities on three continents — Portland (Oregon), Bedminster (New Jersey), Boston, Chicago, Bangkok, Jeddah. The season will culminate in a team championship in Florida at the Trump National Doral Miami course.
The first regular season event in London was held June 9-11.
Each event will be a 54-hole, three-round, no-cut competition. The league will incorporate shotgun starts to expedite play. A 48-person field was announced and players will be split into four-person teams.
The team championship will be a four-day, four-round event in which the teams will be seeded in a knock-out playoff bracket.