Sports | June 2, 2022 12:06 pm

Rory McIlroy Reacts to Dustin Johnson LIV Defection as Repercussions Begin

Golfers who appear at the first LIV Golf Invitational Series next week are putting their spot on the PGA Tour at risk

Rory McIlroy and Dustin Johnson prepare to play at Augusta National Golf Club in 2019
Rory McIlroy and Dustin Johnson prepare to play at Augusta National Golf Club in 2019.
Kevin C. Cox/Getty

Barring a late commitment from Phil Mickelson to head to the links at Centurion Club outside London next week, Dustin Johnson will be the biggest name to risk his place on the PGA Tour for a spot on the LIV Golf Invitational Series.

Johnson’s defection to the Saudi-backed LIV series was announced yesterday and the repercussions came quickly as his longtime sponsor Royal Bank of Canada dropped the 37-year-old like a bad habit. Graeme McDowell, the winner of the 2010 U.S. Open, was also dropped by the Canadian banking giant.

McDowell and Johnson are not the only golfers to lose lucrative deals over switching tours as Lee Westwood was dumped by his sponsor UPS following a 14-year relationship after he asked for a release to play in LIV’s first event. Leading equipment makers such as Callaway Golf, TaylorMade and Ping have remained silent thus far, but sides may need to be chosen if PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan follows through on his threat that players won’t be allowed to play on both the LIV Series and his circuit.

“As communicated to our membership on May 10, PGA Tour members have not been authorized to participate in the Saudi Golf League’s London event, under PGA Tour regulations,” the Tour said in a Wednesday statement. “Members who violate the tournament regulations are subject to disciplinary action.”

Speaking about the matter at the Memorial Tournament, Rory McIlroy addressed Johnson, McDowell, Westwood and other PGA pros such as Sergio Garcia and Ian Poulter putting their spots on the Tour at risk for a shot at a major payday.

“I have some very close friends that are playing in this event in London and I certainly wouldn’t want to stand in their way to do what they feel is right for themselves,” McIlroy said Wednesday at Muirfield Village Golf Club. “It’s not something that I would do personally. But I certainly understand why some of the guys have went, and it’s something that we are all just going to keep an eye on and see what happens over these next few weeks. I certainly don’t think the field is anything to jump up and down about. Look at the field this week. Look at the field next week in Canada. They are proper golf tournaments.”

While the first LIV event may not be a “proper” golf tournament in McIlroy’s mind, it will be a lucrative one as the 54-hole, no-cut event features a $25 million purse with $4 million going to the winner. Taking part in the Saudi-backed series will be an even larger cash cow for Johnson as he was reportedly paid $125 million by LIV CEO Greg Norman to commit to the series, according to The Telegraph. Aside from Tiger Woods ($120.9 million) and Mickelson ($95 million), no other player has taken home more in PGA career earnings than Johnson ($74.3 million).

“Free agency has finally come to golf,” Norman said “The desire shown by the players to participate in LIV Golf demonstrates their emphatic belief in our model and confidence in what we’re building for the future.” 

Three of the last 12 U.S. Open champions — Johnson, McDowell and Martin Kaymer — will be at Centurion Club from June 9-11 for the LIV event. Will they be at The Country Club in Massachusetts for the 2022 U.S. Open on June 16? If Monahan follows through on his promise to keep the Tour and LIV separate, the answer is no.