Despite Phil Mickelson sticking his foot so far down his throat it almost came out the other end, LIV (read: Saudi-backed league) golf continues to press forward with their plan of an eight-event series that begins this June in London and includes five tournaments in America. The only problem? Mickelson and Greg Norman are the only big names they currently have publicly backing them, and they’ve both been crucified in the public discourse for their dismissive comments regarding human rights abuses in Saudi Arabia.
But come on, with the amount of money they have at their disposal, they’re not going to let Lefty’s backlash stop them. You throw enough around, eventually a few people are going to hop on the wagon. Norman did — but legendary golfer and majors record-holder Jack Nicklaus revealed in an article published yesterday that he turned down $100 million twice to flip from the PGA to LIV — “once verbally, once in writing.”
That amount of money is nothing to scoff at — while Nicklaus’ net worth is estimated in the hundreds of millions, the 82-year-old golfer is turning down quite the paycheck there to stay loyal to the organization that he helped to build and no longer plays for. While LIV Golf has seemingly infinite funds to spare on golfers, they’re having a hard time getting traction from well-known names in the sport. An endorsement from Nicklaus, perhaps second only to Tiger Woods in his influence on golf, would have added a certain level of legitimacy and even comfort to the new league. But he refused. (He’s also spending his free time complaining about “the cancel culture” and lamenting that the PGA Championship was moved from a Trump golf course to Southern Hills after January 6, so take that as you will.)
The big-name pros continue to back off despite lucrative offers, particularly wary after the PGA denied release waivers to golfers who requested to play in the LIV London tournament and then went even further and threatened PGA golfers who played on the Saudi tour with a lifetime ban from PGA events. The legality of this threat is questionable, because of golfers’ independent contractor status, but still — who wants to leave the comfort and security of the PGA for a risk they can never come back from with the Saudis? Who wants to take the first step?
While LIV isn’t afraid to shoot for the stars, the stars keep turning them down, afraid to be pariahs in the sport and to be banned from competing with the best of the best in the PGA. LIV keeps on pushing forward with almost too much money on their hands and nothing to do with it — unless someone takes the first step. And as of yesterday, it looks like that someone may be Rickie Fowler.
Fowler, one of the most well-liked golfers on the Tour, told ESPN: “To be straightforward with you guys, I haven’t necessarily made a decision one way or the other. I’ve mentioned in the past ... do I currently think that the PGA Tour is the best place to play? I do. Do I think it can be better? Yes. I’ve always looked at competition being a good thing. It’s the driving force of our game.”
The addition of a household name like Fowler, who has had the past successes that he has in the PGA, would be an enormously legitimizing step for the new league. He’s certainly not the first name to be connected with the league, and he’s not gone until he’s gone. He would have to say good-bye to his friends and colleagues on the Tour, never to return again unless he took the PGA to court. He did bring up golfers’ independent contractor status — as they are not employees of the PGA, and are not paid a salary, the lifetime ban and denied waivers may not hold up very well. It’s a sign of fear from the PGA, but also a sign of power —they know how big this threat is, but they also know that they can (mostly) stop it, at least for the time being.
Norman is insisting that LIV’s London kickoff in less than a month will have a full slate of golfers, but whether we’ll see any recognizable names on that roster has yet to be determined.