12 months ago what was to come from the LIV Golf Series remained relatively unknown. Many of its critics were quick to play down its chances, but a year on the breakaway circuit has gained more momentum than initially predicted.
Even LIV’s bullish CEO Greg Norman will have been left fairly surprised with the progress LIV has made. In recent months the Saudi-funded circuit has made its biggest strides yet, bringing in record crowds and even holding a major champion in recent PGA Championship winner Brooks Koepka.
Arguably LIV’s biggest chapter came earlier this week though after it shocked the world of golf by merging with its great rivals the PGA Tour and DP World Tour after a year of squabbling.
It what proved to be one of the darkest periods in golf, the PGA Tour and LIV Golf locked horns in a bid to become the sport’s leading circuit. Now this battle is over, but a whole host of question marks are still to be answered. One of the biggest is what lies ahead for the LIV roster, after they were all suspended from the PGA Tour after making the switch.
Amid the controversy surrounding the rebel league in its build-up a number of these now banned players initially wrote of their chances the LIV roster, before signing the dotted line with Norman and Co. From major champions to rising stars, here is a look at a group who decided to go back on their word
Last October Johnson announced himself as LIV’s inaugural champion, having dominated season one to win both the individual prize, and the team title by captaining the 4Aces to victory. The idea of the American being LIV’s 2022 golden boy was unthinkable seven months prior though.
In February Johnson was a name heavily linked to joining Norman and co later that summer, but shut down the idea after claiming in a statement he was ‘fully committed’ to the PGA Tour. Four months later though the American became arguably LIV’s biggest signing after appearing in the breakaway league’s first event at LIV London.
Speaking honestly after his Saudi switch, Johnson told Netflix’s ‘Full Swing’: “The decision to join LIV came down to the offer they made me. For me it was playing less, making more money, pretty simple.”
Koepka has seemingly become the face of LIV Golf in recent weeks having become the first rebel player to become a major champion since the circuit’s inception after winning last month’s PGA Championship. The four-time major winner has not always been on board with the idea though.
Amid the build-up to LIV’s first event last year, he claimed at the Waste Management Phoenix Open: “It’s been pretty clear for a long time now that I’m with the PGA Tour, it’s where I’m staying. I’m very happy.” Of course this was not the case though, as his soon made a u-turn to join the breakaway league.
“My opinion changed. That was it,” he admitted. “You guys will never believe me, but we didn’t have the conversation till everything was done at the U.S. Open and figured it out and just said I was going to go one way or another. Here I am. Like I said, opinions change. And I feel very comfortable with the decision I made. I’m happy, and I did what’s best for me.”
Once Koepka’s fierce rival, but now his ally, Bryson DeChambeau is another to go back on his word. Like Johnson, DeChambeau was heavily linked with a move, and followed his Ryder Cup teammate in releasing a statement distancing himself away from the Saudi-backed circuit.
He wrote: “While there has been a lot of speculation surrounding my support for another tour, I want to make it very clear that as long as the best players in the world are playing the PGA Tour, so will I.” Following in Johnson’s footsteps once more though, he decided to join LIV Golf and made his debut at the breakaway circuit’s second ever event in Portland.
One man who was a surprise signing by LIV Golf was Englishman Paul Casey, having slammed Saudi Arabia’s involvement in professional golf back in 2019. As a UNICEF ambassador he said: “Signing a deal and being paid to be down there, I would be a hypocrite if I did that. Anyone who says sport isn’t political, that’s rubbish.
“I’m glad I took a stance, more so if it highlighted the issues within the region.”
His point of view clearly changed three years later though after making the decision to join the Saudi-funded league three years later.
Next on the list is one of professional golf’s hottest prospects in Joaquin Niemann. The youngster broke onto the PGA Tour in 2019, and seemed keen to forge a career on the American-based circuit after being questioned on whether he would join LIV Golf at last year’s US Open.
He said: “Nothing to tell from me [on LIV Golf]. I want to do my best to beat all these guys. They’re still here and as long as they’re here [PGA Tour], I’m not going anywhere. No chance.” Just weeks later Niemann went back on his word, and has since been named captain of the LIV Golf setup Torque GC.
Harold Varner III
Harold Varner III initially pledged his loyalties to the PGA Tour thanks to the help of NBA legend Michael Jordan. Speaking last year, Varner admitted: “It helps because I’m sure he’s [Jordan] had decisions like this long before I was even born.
“I’m obviously not going [to LIV Golf]. I’ve spoken with Jay [Monahan], I’ve spoken with a lot of people I look up to and it just wasn’t worth it to me for what it was worth.”
Jordan’s influence soon wore off though and Varner joined LIV last August, before winning his first title on the breakaway circuit in Washington DC late last month.