Dustin Johnson has had a successful PGA Tour career. He’s managed several victories — including winning the 2016 U.S. Open and the 2020 Masters — and has made millions of dollars along the way.
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However, the 37-year-old apparently is looking for more. He’s among the golfers involved with the controversial LIV Golf league, the upstart league that’s setting out to compete with the PGA Tour. The league, fronted by Greg Norman, is backed by the Saudi government, which has not been shy about offering huge sums of money to pro golfers, hoping to lure them to compete.
The move has worked. Johnson, who previously expressed his commitment to the PGA Tour, is among the headliners for the inaugural LIV Golf event in London June 9-11. He’s received a reported $125 million to participate. This first event has a purse of $25 million, more than anything the PGA currently offers. In fact, Johnson is so onboard with LIV Golf that he announced his resignation from the PGA Tour.
The PGA Tour has been adamant that it won’t stand for players participating in LIV events, saying in a statement they’ll enact “disciplinary action.” While it’s unclear what action they will (or even legally can) take, we’re about to find out in the coming weeks. The PGA Tour hosts many of the events in the traditional golf season and can choose how those tournaments operate. Where things get tricky is with the majors — golf’s most popular events.
Each major is governed by different bodies outside of the PGA Tour’s control. For example, Augusta National Golf Club hosts the Masters, while The British Open is run by R&A. PGA of America (a different entity than the PGA Tour) controls the PGA championship.
Just one week after the LIV’s first tournament, the U.S. Open is scheduled to tee off. The United States Golf Association oversees the U.S. Open and will have to make some tough decisions about who’s allowed to play in this year’s event.
While we wait to see what happens with the PGA and its assorted governing bodies, other organizations are already making moves. RBC Bank, which had sponsored Johnson and Graeme McDowell (another expected LIV participant) has ended its relationships with both golfers.
The Saudi golf league first drew U.S. prominence when Phil Mickelson made comments about it earlier this year. Mickelson told his biographer Alan Shipnuck that the Saudi people have “a horrible record on human rights” and “execute people over there for being gay” while also making reference to assassinated Washington Post reporter Jamal Khashoggi. Mickelson also seemed to overlook these issues by saying the league was “a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reshape how the PGA Tour operates.”
Mickelson’s words drew harsh criticism, and he hasn’t participated in a PGA event since. But he recently joined the LIV playing field, receiving a reported $200 million to play.
The PGA Tour has spent months warning of the consequences of joining LIV. Now we’ll learn how they’ll put those promises into action.
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