The controversial Saudi-backed LIV Golf tour announced the field for its first event next week, and Phil Mickelson isn’t on the list. But Dustin Johnson is.
Johnson, the 13th-ranked golfer in the world and two-time major winner, is the boldest name among the 42 entrants announced late Tuesday for the LIV Golf Invitational Series’ first event at London’s Centurion Club, due to start June 9. Johnson had said in February that he was “fully committed to the PGA Tour.”
On Tuesday, the golfer’s agent issued a statement. “Dustin has been contemplating the opportunity off and on for the past couple of years. Ultimately, he decided it was in his and his family’s best interest to pursue it,” David Winkle, Johnson’s manager at Hambric Sports, told The Associated Press in a text message.
Other notables in the field, according to LIV, include Sergio Garcia, Louis Oosthuizen, Ian Poulter, Martin Kaymer and Lee Westwood, all of whom had reportedly shown interest in playing on the new tour.
The upstart tour said the tournament received 170 applications for the tournament’s 48 slots, the final six of which will be named by next Monday.
The LIV tour is fronted by former world No. 1 player Greg Norman and bills itself as a “free-agency” alternative to the PGA Tour, with a team format and 54-hole competitions. LIV Golf’s majority shareholder is the Saudi Arabia government’s sovereign wealth fund, the Public Investment Fund.
The new series has been beset by controversy since shortly after Norman first announced it was coming online last fall, starting with its courtship of Mickelson, who initially committed to the tour but has taken a leave of absence from the game after he made critical statements about the Saudis to a reporter, referring to multiple human rights violations.
The PGA Tour responded to the rival circuit by denying player requests to compete in LIV’s opening event, which is during the same week as the established tour’s Canadian Open, saying the denials were “in accordance with the PGA Tour Tournament regulations” and “in the best interest of the PGA Tour and its players.”
PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan said suspensions and bans could be in store for any player who competed in the new league.
Norman had previously said two former World No. 1 players signed up for LIV, and Kaymer subsequently admitted to being one of them. It now appears that Johnson is the other.
(This post has been updated in the third paragraph to correct the spelling of David Winkle’s name.)