Here are the 10 PGA Tour golfers most likely to upgrade to LIV Next
The PGA Tour concludes its tumultuous 2021-2022 season on Sunday by crowning a FedEx Cup champion and paying out a record $75 million in bonuses, including $18 million to the winner. But for tour commissioner Jay Monahan and his outfit, the party may not last long.
Rumors abound that LIV Golf, the Saudi-backed alternative tour that has managed to disrupt the professional golf landscape, is preparing to announce another round of poaching ahead of its September 2 event in Boston.
“LIV will announce seven new signers, including a long-talked-about superstar” on Monday, according to Alan Shipnuck of the Fire Pit Collective, a longtime golf writer who recently penned a biography of Phil Mickelson. “It’s not a collection of oldies playing rope or unknowns ripped off from second-tier international tours,” Shipnuck said. All seven, he said, competed in the FedEx St. Jude Championship last week.
Here are nine suspects likely to move to LIV: Cameron Smith, Hideki Matsuyama, Harold Varner III, Marc Leishman, Cameron Tringale, Jason Day, Anirban Lahiri, Si Woo Kim and Jhonattan Vegas. Forbes based on a variety of factors: excluding tour members who attended last week’s players-only meeting called by PGA stalwarts Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy to address the threat posed by LIV; comparing the top 100 players, according to the Official World Golf Rankings, with golfers who have already jumped at LIV and are competing in this weekend’s Tour Championship at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta; previously published reports and the opinions of several industry insiders. Another intriguing defection possibility is Adam Scott, even though he took part in the Woods-McIlroy meeting. The PGA Tour has banned players who have officially left for LIV, which a contingent led by Mickelson is challenging in antitrust court.
Some of the named golfers are far from household names, but hiring a superstar like Smith or Matsuyama could be a game-changer for LIV, which to date has attracted ten of the top 50 golfers in the world. With limited income, LIV is banking heavily on star power to land what would make it a lasting business: a major broadcast deal in the United States. One strategy is to bring together golfers from the same countries to compete together in teams. Smith, an Australian who is the No. 2 golfer in the world, won the British Open in July and already has a $100million deal in place to join the new circuit, according to The Telegraph. Matsuyama rose to folk hero status in his native Japan after winning the Masters in 2021, a win that experts say could unlock a nine-figure windfall. LIV’s guarantee to Matsuyama is rumored to be around $400 million.
“The Latin American region, followed by South Korea, Japan and the Asian region, are commercial drivers of circulation and sponsorships,” said Will Staeger, Chief Media Officer of LIV Golf. Forbes in June. “So when you have fan affinity with your players in those regions, that’s very important for long-term revenue.”
Spending hasn’t been a problem for LIV, which is backed by Saudi Arabia’s $620 billion sovereign wealth fund. Mickelson, Dustin Johnson, Bryson DeChambeau and Brooks Koepka have all reportedly received guarantees north of $100 million, with half paid up front. In total, Forbes estimates that LIV Golf increased the earnings of the ten highest paid golfers in the world by $370 million. Mickelson’s earnings of $138 million, before taxes and agents’ fees over the past 12 months, makes him the highest-paid athlete in the world, ahead of soccer legend Lionel Messi with $130 million.
The PGA Tour was forced to react. Changes include doubling the Player Impact program to 20 players and $100 million, $500,000 in guaranteed revenue for fully exempt members, and 12 “high events” which have average purses of $20 million for the 2023 FedEx Cup regular season. Woods and McIlroy also unveiled the Tech-Infused Golf League, a PGA Tour partner, this week. It will debut in 2024, pitting teams of three against virtual courses inside stadiums.
Regardless of the changes, the quality of the PGA Tour field has already taken a hit. And that might just be the start. LIVE said Forbes that he intends to sign 48 golfers for the 2023 season, the first in which he will lock down his team element.