Here Are The PGA Tour Golfers Most Likely To Jump To LIV Next – Forbes
At No. 2 in the world, Cameron Smith would be the highest-ranked golfer to join LIV to date.
The PGA Tour will conclude its tumultuous 2021-22 season on Sunday when it crowns a FedEx Cup champion and pays out a record $75 million in bonuses, $18 million of which goes to the winner. But for tour commissioner Jay Monahan and his outfit, the celebration may not last long.
Rumors abound that LIV Golf, the upstart alternative Saudi Arabia-backed tour that has succeeded in disrupting the professional golf landscape, is preparing to announce another round of poachings in advance of its September 2 event in Boston.
“LIV will announce seven new signees, including one long-rumored superstar” on Monday, according to The Fire Pit Collective’s Alan Shipnuck, a longtime golf writer who recently wrote a Phil Mickelson biography. “This is not a collection of old-timers playing out the string or unknowns plucked from second-tier international tours,” Shipnuck said. All seven, he said, competed in the FedEx St. Jude Championship a few weeks ago.
Here are nine likely suspects to jump to LIV: Cameron Smith, Hideki Matsuyama, Harold Varner III, Marc Leishman, Cameron Tringale, Jason Day, Anirban Lahiri, Si Woo Kim and Jhonattan Vegas. (UPDATE: As Friday has unfolded, there has been increased speculation that Joaquin Niemann, Mito Pereira and Cameron Young could be possibilities as well.)
Forbes based this list on a variety of factors: ruling out the tour members who attended last week’s players-only meeting called by PGA stalwarts Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy to respond to the threat posed by LIV; comparing the top 100 players, according to the Official World Golf Rankings, with golfers who’ve already jumped to LIV and who’s appearing at this weekend’s Tour Championship at Atlanta’s East Lake Golf Club; previously published reports; and the opinions of several industry insiders. Another intriguing defection possibility is Adam Scott, even though he participated in the Woods-McIlroy meeting.
The PGA Tour has banned players who have officially departed for LIV, which a Mickelson-led contingent is contesting in antitrust court.
Some of the shortlisted golfers are far from household names, but bagging a superstar like Smith or Matsuyama could be a game changer for LIV, which to date has lured ten of the world’s top 50 golfers. With limited revenues, LIV is banking heavily on star power to land what would turn it into a sustainable business: a major U.S. broadcast deal. One strategy is putting together golfers from the same countries to compete on teams together. Smith, an Australian who’s the No. 2 golfer in the world, won the British Open in July and already has a $100 million deal in place to join the new tour, according to The Telegraph. Matsuyama elevated himself to folk-hero status in his native Japan after winning the Masters in 2021, a victory that experts speculated could unlock a nine-figure endorsement windfall. LIV’s guarantee to Matsuyama is rumored to be in the neighborhood of $400 million.
“The Latin American region and then South Korea, Japan and the Asian region are commercial drivers in broadcast and sponsorships,” LIV Golf chief media officer Will Staeger told Forbes in June. “So when you have fan affinity with your players in those regions, it’s very important to the long-term revenue.”
Spending has been no issue for LIV, which is backed by Saudi Arabia’s $620 billion sovereign wealth fund. Mickelson, Dustin Johnson, Bryson DeChambeau and Brooks Koepka reportedly all received guarantees north of $100 million, with half believed to be paid upfront. In total, Forbes estimates that LIV Golf has already boosted the earnings of the world’s ten highest-paid golfers by an astounding $370 million. Mickelson’s $138 million haul before taxes and agents’ fees over the last 12 months would have made him the highest-paid athlete in the world on Forbes’ annual list, ahead of soccer legend Lionel Messi at $130 million.
The PGA Tour has been forced to respond. Changes include doubling the Player Impact Program to 20 players and $100 million, allotting $500,000 in guaranteed earnings for fully exempt members and designating 12 “Elevated Events” that have average purses of $20 million for the 2023 FedEx Cup regular season. Woods and McIlroy this week also unveiled the Tech-Infused Golf League, a PGA Tour partner. It will debut in 2024, pitting teams of three against one another on virtual courses inside stadiums.
Regardless of changes, the quality of the PGA Tour’s field has already been dealt a blow. And this could be just the start. LIV has told Forbes that it intends to have 48 golfers signed for the 2023 season, the first in which it will lock in its team element.