Bryson DeChambeau has been announced as the latest star attraction of the Saudi-funded LIV Golf series, with Patrick Reed and Rickie Fowler set to join him in a huge boost for the new rebel tour.
The American trio have been lured away from the PGA Tour by huge sign-up fees thought to be worth as much as $100m each, risking suspension or even expulsion from future PGA events and the prestigious Ryder Cup.
The new LIV series begins at Centurion Golf Club in Hertfordshire on Thursday with Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson and Sergio Garcia among the headline acts. DeChambeau, Reed and Fowler will join for the second event in Portland, Oregon at the end of June.
Organizers had already lured six-time major winner Mickelson for a reported $200m fee, as well as two-time major winner Johnson and 2017 Masters champion Garcia. The addition of the big-hitting DeChambeau, the colorful 2018 Masters champion Reed and the widely popular Fowler is likely to significantly add to the appeal and legitmacy of the event, and could help persuade more high-profile names to join.
The tournament is bankrolled by PIF, the Saudi government’s Public Investment Fund, which is investing almost £2bn into the project fronted by former Open champion Greg Norman. It has proven hugely controversial both inside the world of golf, where rival tours see LIV as an existential threat to the way they have operated for decades, and beyond golf, where the players have been accused of abetting “sportswashing”, referring to the efforts of Saudi Arabia to use sport’s popularity to enhance the nation’s reputation in the face of grevious human rights violations.
Sacha Deshmukh, Amnesty International UK’s chief executive, criticized players for “sidestepping the real gravity of Saudi Arabia’s appalling human rights record”, saying: “Platitudes about golf being a ‘force for change’ mean very little if players are acting as unofficial arms of the Saudi government’s PR machine.”
British players Ian Poulter and Lee Westwood refused to answer “hypothetical” questions about whether or not they would join a Russian tour funded by Vladimir Putin, and where they would draw a moral line when it came to playing golf.
They also said they were unsure about the consequences of their decision. Poulter and Westwood’s Ryder Cup eligibility is tied to their membership of the DP World Tour (formerly European Tour), whose chief executive Keith Pelley could opt to ban players who compete in the LIV Golf events, despite having been refused permission.
Asked if they were putting future Ryder Cup appearances in jeopardy, Poulter said: “We don’t know. I’d like to think it wouldn’t. It’s an unknown risk, we don’t know how the DP World Tour will view it.”
Westwood added: “It’s something I have to take into account. I’m not sure about the playing days, I’m 50 next April. Captaincy could be in jeopardy as well, but Ian pretty much covered it all. What I will say is myself and Ian have been members of the PGA Tour while we’ve been on the European Tour and that’s had no effect in the past on whether people have been captains. LIV Golf is another tour so why should it be any different?”
“LIV is there and they’ve made the statement not to try and be a threat to these other tours. I don’t see any reason why all the tours can’t co-exist, they’re not there as a direct threat, although the other tours seem to perceive it that way and not want to work with us.”
Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm and Tiger Woods have all committed themselves to the PGA Tour, but Poulter believes more top players may join the LIV Series in the future.
“I definitely see other top players watching this week and wanting to be a part of it,” Westwood added. “I feel there’s a huge investment coming into the game of golf and I think other players will want to come and see what it’s all about.”