Phil Mickelson has defended and explained his decision to join LIV Golf at a lengthy and sometimes uncomfortable news conference for the six-time major champion.
After months of speculation and back-and-forth between LIV Golf and the PGA Tour, the new Saudi-backed series is to get underway on the outskirts of London on Thursday. Here’s all you need to know about who is taking part, what is the format, and why the new league has been so controversial …
Who is going to play?
The event is not being recognized by the Official Golf World Ranking (OWGR), meaning no world ranking points will be on offer during the tournament, although that has not stopped a number of high-profile names agreeing to play at the Centurion Club.
Ian Poulter and Lee Westwood refuse to answer questions on whether there is anywhere they would not play at the LIV golf press conference.
Former world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and Ryder Cup legends Sergio Garcia, Ian Poulter and Lee Westwood were among the most notable names to commit, with major champions Martin Kaymer, Graeme McDowell and Louis Oosthuizen also involved. Phil Mickelson was added to that list on Monday evening after months of controversial surrounding comments he made about the breakaway series.
Former British Masters champion Richard Bland and PGA Tour veteran Kevin Na also signed up, while reigning US Amateur winner James Piot is among the young players featuring in England.
Dustin Johnson, Graeme McDowell and Louis Oosthuizen had to field difficult questions at the press conference for the opening LIV tour event.
Some 42 players were initially named in the field for the inaugural event, with five more added after the Asian Tour event at Slaley Hall on Sunday.
How did the idea come around?
Reports first began to surface of a rival league to the PGA Tour as far back as 2019, but it was only in late 2021 that the proposal truly began to take shape with the formation of LIV Golf Investments.
Dustin Johnson has confirmed his resignation from the PGA Tour in order to compete in the Saudi-backed LIV Golf Invitational Series.
This new entity, with Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) – owners of Newcastle United – as its majority shareholder, made an initial $ 200million commitment to the Asian Tour, later increased to $ 300m, and appointed former world No 1 and Open champion Greg Norman as its CEO.
In March, despite the PGA Tour threatening to hand out lifetime bans to players who defect to a rival league, LIV Golf announced the schedule for an eight-event, $ 225million invitational series beginning at Centurion Club in St Albans on Thursday.
Author and golf journalist Alan Shipnuck explains how the Saudi golf league can change golf as we know it and how it threatens the PGA tour.
LIV is the Roman numeral for 54, which is the number of holes to be played in each event. It also refers to the lowest score a player can shoot were they to birdie every hole on a par-72 course.
Why is it so controversial?
Due to the PIF’s links to the Saudi government, with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman serving as chairman, LIV Golf has faced accusations of sports washing.
Greg Norman tells Sky Sports News’ Jamie Weir that LIV Golf Investments is independent and will not answer to the Saudi government or Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud.
Norman has adamantly denied such claims, telling Sky Sports in May that Saudi Arabia is “changing their culture within their country” and insisting “I do not answer to Saudi Arabia. I do not answer to their government or MBS”.
Comments from a Mickelson interview with author Alan Shipnuck, who is writing an unauthorized biography of the six-time major winner, came to light in February, in which the 51-year-old questioned Saudi Arabia’s human rights record and called the regime “scary “.
Paul McGinley says Dustin Johnson’s decision to take part in the opening of the Saudi-backed LIV Golf Invitational Series event could prove to be an ‘historic moment in the game’.
Mickelson has since apologized for his “reckless” comments.
What is the format?
All 48 players compete against each other in a traditional stroke play format, with the lowest 54-hole total from the no-cut event being the winner, while a draft will help allocate players into the team format.
Each team will have a LIV appointed team captain who will select their three open team positions via a snake draft format, similar to those used on the Ladies European Tour in the Aramco Team Series.
For the first two rounds, the best two stroke play scores will count for each team. For the third and final round, the best three scores will count, with the lowest overall team score after 54 holes being named the team winner.
The format changes in the Team Championship, which is a seeded four-day, four-round, match play knock-out tournament. The top four seeds automatically receive a bye through the first round, with the remaining eight teams playing against each other to see who reaches the quarter-finals.
Team names and captains
Captains in bold, with the 48-strong field divided into 12 teams
4 ACES – Dustin JohnsonShaun Norris, Oliver Bekker, Kevin Yuan
HY FLYERS – Phil MickelsonJustin Harding, TK Chantananuwat (a), Chase Koepka
PUNCH – Wade OrmsbyMatt Jones, Ryosuke Kinoshita, Blake Windred
CLEEKS – Martin KaymerPablo Larrazabal, JC Ritchie, Ian Snyman
IRON HEADS – Kevin NaSadom Kaewkanjana, Hideto Tanihara, Viraj Madappa
SMASH – Sihwan KimScott Vincent, Jinichiro Kozuma, Itthipat Buranatanyarat
CRUSHERS – Peter UihleinRichard Bland, Phachara Khongwatmai, Travis Smyth
MAJESTICKS – Ian PoulterLee Westwood, Sam Horsfield, Laurie Canter
STINGER – Louis OosthuizenHennie du Plessis, Charl Schwartzel, Branden Grace
FIREBALLS – Sergio GarciaDavid Puig (a), James Piot (a), Jediah Morgan
NIBLICKS – Graeme McDowellBernd Wiesberger, Turk Pettit, Oliver Fisher
TORQUE – Talor GoochHudson Swafford, Adrian Otaegui, Andy Ogletree
How much money will players earn?
The first seven events all have a prize purse of $ 25million, with $ 20m being distributed between the 48-man field and the remaining $ 5m being shared between the top three teams at the end of each week.
Rich Beem believes that more players are likely to compete in the next six Saudi Golf League events due to the money they could make.
The winner will receive $ 4m (£ 3.2m), considerably more than the $ 2.7m awarded to Scottie Scheffler for his victory at The Masters and Justin Thomas secured for his PGA Championship success, while each player is guaranteed at least $ 120,000 just for completing 54 holes.
An Individual Champion will be crowned at the end of those events, with a $ 30m fund distributed for the top three players of the season, ensuring they have played in a minimum of four tournaments.
The prize purse doubles for the season finale in Miami and sees $ 50m allocated between each of the 12 four-man teams. Each player receives a 25 per cent cut of team earnings, with $ 16m awarded to the winning team and $ 1million for the team finishing 12th.
Where are future events taking place?
The inaugural event in London is the first of eight tournaments due to take place over the next few months, including five in the United States and two in Asia, with an expanded schedule then planned in the coming years.
Pumpkin Ridge GC in Portland from June 30-July 2 and Trump National Golf Club Bedminster from July 29-31 are the next two events, with further US-based tournaments take place in Boston from September 2-4 and Chicago from September 16-18 .
Stonehill Golf Club in Bangkok is the venue from October 7-9 and Royal Greens Golf Club – the site of the Saudi International in recent years – hosts the following week, with the season-ending Team Championship then hosted at Trump National Doral Miami from October 27-30.
LIV Golf plans to have 10 events in its 2023 calendar before expanding to 14 tournaments from 2024, although dates and locations for those have not yet been confirmed.
“We have a long-term vision and we’re here to stay,” said Norman, the CEO and commissioner of LIV Golf, via a release. “We’re going to grow the game, give more opportunities to players, and create a more entertaining product for fans.”
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