Briefing

The new golf league challenging the PGA, explained

What you need to know about LIV Golf

Dustin Johnson, one of golf's biggest winners, announced this week that he's joining an exodus from the PGA to play in the new LIV Golf league that begins this week. Here's everything you need to know:

What is LIV Golf?

The LIV Golf International Series is "meant to challenge the longstanding reign of the PGA Tour," Torrey Hart writes at The Athletic. The new league "is controversial for multiple reasons, including that it's backed by Saudi financing and plans to make stops at two Donald Trump-owned courses." The first event is being held starting Thursday at the Centurion Club in London. 

Aside from the politics, two factors set LIV apart from the PGA. One is money, and lots of it: "Each of the regular-season events will have a $25 million purse — $20 million for individual prizes and $5 million for the top three teams," Hart writes. The other is format: There will still be individual play, of course — though tournaments will feature "shotgun starts" in which every player starts at the same time, from a different hole — but LIV will emphasize team play as well. Each tournament's 48 players will be split into 12 four-person teams that compete over the tournament's four days.

One other oddity: The tournaments will be decided over 54 holes — thus the "LIV" Roman numerals of the new competition's name — instead of the standard 72 used at major tournaments.

What does the PGA make of all this?

The PGA is naturally unhappy to be facing a new rival and has said it will punish any players who compete for LIV. "Members who violate the tournament regulations are subject to disciplinary action," the league said in a statement. The punishments will probably be meted out on a "sliding scale," reports ESPN's Mark Schlabach, which means that "players who were actively involved in creating the league or recruiting tour players to LIV Golf would face stiffer punishment than those who simply play." That could include fines, suspensions, or even outright bans from the PGA. But any attempts at discipline might end up in court.

Are there any big names playing in the new league? 

More than a dozen PGA players have been listed in the field for the first event, and Johnson is one of the highest-profile defectors; his "24 PGA Tour victories are the fourth most among active players, trailing Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, and Vijay Singh," notes ESPN's Kevin Van Valkenburg. And of course, the new league's CEO is Greg Norman — a.k.a. "The Shark" — who won 89 professional tournaments during his Hall of Fame career.

But Phil Mickelson is probably the best-known active player to jump to LIV. He has 45 wins, including six majors — and thrilled golf fans last year when he won the PGA Championship at the age of 50. Mickelson's enthusiasm for the new league got him in big trouble earlier this year, however. He lost sponsors and made a public apology after the publication of an interview in which he called the league's Saudi backers "scary motherf--kers" but said it was worth dealing with them anyway. "We know they killed [Jamal] Khashoggi and have a horrible record on human rights. They execute people over there for being gay. Knowing all of this, why would I even consider it? Because this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reshape how the PGA Tour operates," Mickelson said. After the comments stirred outrage, he took a break from golf, even skipping the opportunity to defend his PGA Championship title. He emerged this week, though, to announce he'll be playing LIV's inaugural event.

Some of golf's most famous players are sticking with the PGA, however. Norman this week said Tiger Woods turned down an "enormous" sum of money — "we're talking about high nine digits" — to join LIV. And some are trying to straddle the line: Johnson resigned outright from the PGA, but Mickelson said he has not done the same, even though he plans to play in the new league.

What do the defections mean for our favorite traditional events?

"Among the most severe consequences that Johnson and others are expected to face is ineligibility for future Ryder Cups," Zach Coons reports at Sports Illustrated. The Ryder Cup pits teams of golfers from Europe and the United States against each other every two years, but the players must be part of the PGA in order to participate. Johnson has played in five Ryder Cup tournaments for the USA, and now it's possible that era is over now that he has resigned from the PGA. "The Ryder Cup is unbelievable and something that has definitely meant a lot to me," the golfer said while announcing his move to the LIV. "I'm proud to say I've represented my country and hopefully I'll get a chance to do that again. But I don't make the rules."

What's more uncertain at the moment is whether LIV players will continue to be welcome at "majors" like the Masters and U.S. Open tournaments. "This is one of the most important questions right now," Josh Berhow writes at Golf. The people who run those tournaments seem willing to let that question stand open for the moment. To take one example: Augusta National Chairman Fred Ridley, who runs the Masters, said in April "our mission is always to act in the best interests of the game in whatever form that may take. I think that golf's in a good place right now."

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