Expanded LIV Golf Season Opening
Reigning British Open champion Cameron Smith and two-time big winner Dustin Johnson are among the big names as the controversial Saudi-backed LIV Golf League opens its 2023 campaign on Friday.
The 54-hole event series offering record purses of $25 million spans 14 stages in seven countries, starting in the Mexican resort town of Mayakoba.
Several big names have been lured to LIV Golf from the US PGA Tour, prompting a PGA ban that set up a legal battle set to begin in January 2024.
Jon Rahm, Rory McIlroy, Tiger Woods and top-ranked Masters champion Scottie Scheffler were among those who stayed with the PGA as a split in the sport wreaked havoc, but so far players de LIV remain capable of playing in the majors if they qualify.
LIV Golf continues to fight to earn world ranking points, but with new players making the leap, the 2023 season could see the best talent from LIV and older circuits only meet in the four major tournaments, adding to the tension surrounding the April Masters showdown at Augusta National.
Johnson won the individual LIV Golf crown last year after winning a title in Boston with an eagle on the first playoff hole and led an all-American team of 4Aces to the team title.
Australian Smith, the 2022 PGA Player of the Year, won his first major title at St. Andrews but made the jump to LIV Golf after the US PGA Tour championship.
Smith won the title from Chicago in September in his second LIV start and in November earned his third Australian PGA Championship triumph as LIV players remain eligible for DP World Tour events amid an ongoing legal battle.
Critics brand LIV Golf as a bid by Saudi Arabia, which backs the circuit through its state investment fund, to “sportswash” its human rights record.
But LIV Golf commissioner Greg Norman sees the league bringing the sport to a younger audience with fast starts, live gigs and increased interaction between stars and fans.
“In less than a year, LIV Golf has reinvigorated the professional game and laid the foundation for the future of the sport,” Norman said.
“Our league format has already begun to connect with new audiences around the world. Major champions, current and future Hall of Famers and rising stars have all committed to creating this new platform. for world-class competition as a sport evolves for the next generation.”
PGA officials have made changes to combat defections, including the creation of high events with prize money increased to $20 million across nine tournaments and $25 million in the Players Championship.
LIV Golf, however, boasts 13 big winners, including Johnson, Smith, Phil Mickelson, Bryson DeChambeau, Brooks Koepka, Patrick Reed, Sergio Garcia, Louis Oosthuizen, Martin Kaymer, Graeme McDowell, Henrik Stenson, Bubba Watson and Charl Schwartzel.
The series includes April stops in Adelaide and Singapore, back-to-back weekend events in early July at Spain’s Valderrama and Centurion courses in England, and a November season finale in Saudi Arabia.
US events include three courses owned by former US President Donald Trump – May at Trump National near Washington, August at Trump National in Bedminster, New Jersey and Doral in October.
Other US stops include Tucson and Orlando in late March and early April, Tulsa in May, Greenbrier in August, and Chicago in September.