By Doug Ferguson, AP Golf Writer
RIDGELAND, S.C. (AP) — No matter how anyone spins it, LIV Golf is about money.
That’s why 13 major champions — all but four of them still under 40 — signed up for the Saudi-funded league. It offers 54 holes with no cut for a 48-man field, a limited schedule and a team competition these guys haven’t enjoyed since they were amateurs — none of which is appealing without the money.
Silly money, sure, but now it is starting to look very real with seven individual LIV Golf events in the inaugural year. Forget the signing bonuses for a moment, which were reported to be in the $150 million range for the biggest names.
Dustin Johnson — the biggest attraction from the start — has topped $31 million in just five months, with $18 million of that from a bonus for winning the season points list. That’s not a big surprise.
“I really regret my decision to come here. It’s just so terrible,” Johnson said, the sarcasm meter registering higher than his pulse ever does.
— LIV Golf Latest (@LIVGolfLatest) October 12, 2022
More alarming is Peter Uihlein, the former U.S. Amateur champion who began his career on the Challenge Tour in Europe. In his last five years on the PGA Tour, Uihlein had just over $4 million in earnings. He got that much alone in a bonus for finishing third in the points race, bringing his total for seven events to over $11.3 million.
Branden Grace clocked in at just over $15.6 million, which compares with the $12.2 million he made in his eight full seasons on the PGA Tour.
The money is real, and it gets attention.
“I knew it was going to happen,” Jordan Spieth said Tuesday. “When you see those purses ($25 million per event) and then bonuses ($30 million for the top three players), someone was going to get to the $30 million to $40 million on the course.”
What he does not know is if that money counts against the signing bonus. LIV Golf has said it does not. One of its lawyers suggested otherwise in a court hearing.
Either way, there’s a lot of money out there. The temptation won’t go away, and there’s reason for the PGA Tour to remain on edge.
The eight players who have made at least $6 million since June — there’s still the $50 million prize fund in the team championship next week — include Eugenio Chacarra of Spain, who left Oklahoma State after three years to join LIV Golf.
He won in Thailand and picked up $4 million. Throw in team results, and Chacarra has earned $6,182,000.
“I don’t care because I’m happy. I don’t think the numbers you’re mentioning would make me happier,” Spieth said. “But what I care about is the impact that might have on some of the young guys on the PGA Tour.
“If you’re talking about Chacarra, guys like him coming out, that’s a real threat when you see the total number and realize they haven’t had a full season yet.”
LIV Golf is planning a 14-tournament schedule for 2023.
Spieth also mentioned world ranking points, whether LIV Golf ever gets them and how much they would be worth if it does. For now, ranking points are a big part of the criteria for major championships.
Money or majors?
It’s an easy answer for Jon Rahm, who said he cared only about being the best in the world when he left the Basque region of Spain for Arizona State. As a U.S. Open champion who has reached No. 1 in the world, who has earned some $50 million with his 15 wins on two tours, he said it would take more than a 54-hole event with no cut to entice him to change paths.
But he thinks about Chacarra, and perhaps others like him.
“This is what you wonder,” Rahm said. “He won a tournament. He’s won ($6 million) and he won’t be in any of the majors and he won’t be eligible for the Ryder Cup next year. Is that what you grew up wanting, just playing golf to make money? Or did you grow up to win majors and play Ryder Cups?
“I’m not going to lie. If you asked me in 2016 and offered me $50 million to play LIV, I don’t know if I could go to my dad and say, ‘We’re going to turn this down.’ I don’t know if I can tell you I wouldn’t have taken it. And a lot of players are going to do the same thing when you have nothing and get offered that as a guarantee.”
Rahm once faced temptation on a smaller scale. He was a junior at Arizona State when he tied for fifth at the Phoenix Open in 2015, turning down nearly $250,000 to stay amateur and get his college degree.
“The one thing we loved was a late Jack-in-the-Box run for those two-for-$1 tacos. At that point, we translated everything into tacos,” Rahm said. “One of my roommates said, ‘You gave up a half-million tacos, man.’ You could have eaten for the rest of your life.'”
One observation when LIV Golf signed its first batch of players was that while the PGA Tour was still the ultimate destination, it lost market shares that day.
The trick is to replenish the pipeline. Cameron Young, Will Zalatoris and Tom Kim emerged this year. Rahm said it was imperative the PGA Tour not wait for stars to develop and to pay attention to the burgeoning college game.
“I think they need to create a better path,” Rahm said. “Right now it’s really, really difficult. There’s a lot of lost talent out there in Canada and Latinoamerica. Every other major sport has a direct path to the major leagues from college except golf.”
Chacarra took a different path and has $6 million to show for it. It’s a lot of money for a college kid. It’s real. And there’s a lot more to come.