LIV Golf: Big boys like Dustin Johnson make call and will have to live with consequences

We were expecting one big name when LIV Golf finally showed its hand for next week’s inaugural $25 million Invitational event in England, but it certainly wasn’t Dustin Johnson.

While all eyes were on Phil Mickelson, his fellow American has effectively blind-sided the PGA Tour by committing to the first of Greg Norman’s Saudi-backed tournaments at Centurion Club near St Albans.

Like Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm, Collin Morikawa and most of the other current leading players in the game, Johnson had said earlier in the year that he was sticking with the PGA Tour. In fact, the double major champion and former world No 1 declared he was “fully committed” to the US circuit.

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How hollow that has proved to be as he now prepares to join the likes of Lee Westwood, Sergio Garcia, Louis Oosthuizen, Charl Schwartzel, Ian Poulter, Martin Kaymer and Graeme McDowell in breaking ranks.

Ian Poulter and Lee Westwood, pictured during the 2020 Scottish Open at The Renaissance Club, are among the players set to play in next week's inaugural LIV Golf event in England. Picture: Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images.

“Dustin has been contemplating the opportunity off-and-on for the past couple of years,” said Johnson’s agent, David Winkle, in a statement. “Ultimately, he decided it was in his and his family’s best interest to pursue it.

“Dustin has never had any issue with the PGA Tour and is grateful for all it has given him, but, in the end, felt this was too compelling to pass up.”

In other words, the Saudis asked Johnson, who has career earnings of more than $74 million on the PGA Tour, to name his price and they threw money at him.

Johnson’s presence next week is undoubtedly a significant boost for the event, but what about the others now confirmed for a 54-hole event that has no cut and will see the winner pocket $4 million?

On the one hand, the overall strength of the field is nowhere near what Norman had in mind when he came up with a plan for a breakaway circuit. On the other, though, it’s a bit better than some had expected.

Austrian Bernd Wiesberger, the 2019 Scottish Open champion, is another surprise name on the list, as, perhaps, are Spaniards Pablo Larrazabal and Adrian Otaegui and Englishman Sam Horsfield.

Most of the rest are players that non-golfers won’t have even heard of and that’s going to make tickets costing £67.39 on all three days difficult to sell.

While six spots have yet to be filled, it’s almost certain that next week’s event will be Scot-free. It would surely have been a feather in Norman’s cap to have a player from the game’s cradle involved, but none of the 12 current DP World Tour members requested a release.

The big question now, of course, is what, if any, sanctions will be imposed by the DP World Tour and PGA Tour as they certainly won’t agree with Norman talking about “free agency finally coming to golf”.

Only time will tell if the likes of Westwood, Garcia, Poulter, Kaymer and McDowell live to regret this decision as far as the Ryder Cup captaincy is concerned, but, at the same time, they are all well aware of what the consequences might be.

They are all big boys and, if they feel comfortable about cashing in at this stage of their careers, that’s their call to make.

To be attractive going forward, though, LIV Golf needs to add current top players to its cast list.

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