The most lucrative and arguably most controversial golf tournament in the world is taking place on the outskirts of London this week.
Here’s everything you need to know about who’s playing, the prize money on offer and why it’s rocking the golf world.
Two-time major champion Dustin Johnson, ranked No. 15 in the world, is the highest-ranked player in the 48-man field. The next highest is South Africa’s former Open champion Louis Oosthuizen, ranked No. 21 in the world.
Phil Mickelson also joined. The American became the oldest major champion when he won the 2021 US PGA Championship – his sixth major – at the age of 50.
He last played for Saudi International in February before going into exile for four months after making “reckless” comments about the Saudi regime, for which he has since apologized.
Also in the field are stalwart representatives of the European Ryder Cup team, including England’s Lee Westwood and Ian Poulter, Northern Ireland’s Graeme McDowell and Spain’s Sergio Garcia.
What is LIV Golf?
LIV Golf is a start-up organization led by two-time Major winner and former world number one Greg Norman.
The 67-year-old Australian is Managing Director of LIV Golf Investments. At the end of 2021 it was announced that they would commit more than US$200m (£145m) towards 10 new Asian Tour events to be held annually over the next decade.
The Public Investment Fund (PIF) of Saudi Arabia, which helped fund the recent acquisition of Newcastle United, is the company’s controlling shareholder.
In March this year, LIV Golf announced a $250m invitational series of eight events and in May Norman told BBC Sport he had received an additional £1.6bn in funding from the PIF to take the series into a 14th season -Event converting league to 2024.
Why is it controversial?
In short, there are two reasons – the source of funding for LIV Golf Investments and the threat to the game’s status quo.
The head of the Saudi Arabian PIF is Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. A declassified US intelligence report released in February 2021 claimed that Bin Salman was complicit in the assassination of dissident Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi – a claim Bin Salman has denied.
The Gulf Kingdom is one of the states accused of investing in sports and taking advantage of high-profile events “sportswear” its reputation in other parts of the world.
Asked about the regime in Saudi Arabia and the assassination of Khashoggi, Norman said “we all make mistakes” but added that they are “changing their culture in their country”.
The PIF also provides money for many sporting events including Formula 1, boxing, soccer and golf.
On the player side, the dominant American PGA Tour has refused to allow its members waivers to attend the events and has threatened to ban participating players, though no official sanctions have been imposed.
Dustin Johnson, Sergio Garcia and Kevin Na are among the players resigning from the PGA Tour.
The Europe-based DP World Tour is also yet to announce sanctions – although both tours are expected to wait for players to tee off at 14:15 BST on Thursday before announcing a decision.
The DP World Tour, which has a strategic alliance with the PGA Tour, hosted the Saudi International event for three years before becoming the Asian Tour’s flagship event this year under LIV Investments’ funding deal.
What did the players say?
Dustin Johnson initially distanced himself from the new LIV golf series in February, saying he was “committed to the PGA Tour.” However, he has since resigned from his PGA Tour membership and signed with LIV Golf for a reported $150 million.
The 37-year-old said at Centurion Club on Tuesday: “I don’t want to play for the rest of my life, it gives me the opportunity to do what I want to do.”
In comments echoed by every other golfer, when asked about the killing of Khashoggi, Graeme McDowell replied: “We all agree that that was reprehensible.
He added: “No one will dispute that fact, but we are golfers. We are not politicians.
“If Saudi Arabia wants to use the game of golf as a way to get where they want to be, we’re proud to help them on that journey, using the game of golf and the skills we have to help them.” grow sports.”
Phil Mickelson said he needs “more balance on and off the pitch and that gives me the opportunity to find more balance”. Commenting on his lifetime membership in the PGA Tour, he added, “I don’t want to give up [my membership] but I don’t know what’s going to happen.”
Greg Norman said: “We have a long-term vision and we are here to stay. We will grow the game, give players more choices and create a more enjoyable product for fans.”
He also revealed that LIV Golf Investments had made a “staggeringly huge” offer to try and tempt 15-time Major winner Tiger Woods. “We’re talking about high nine-digit numbers.”
In May, Woods dismissed the LIV venture, saying, “I believe in legacies. I believe in big championships. I believe in great events, comparisons with historical figures of the past. There’s a lot of money out here.”
When asked if he considered himself a rebel or a trailblazer, Ian Poulter replied: “I consider myself a global golfer and have been for 24 years. I’ve played on numerous tours and events around the world and that’s who I am and I’ll keep going.”
Rory McIlroy, who has not played an event in Saudi Arabia due to “moral” issues, declared the LIV golf idea “dead in the water” in February. In early June, he said he was “indifferent” to this first tournament, adding: “I don’t think the field is something to jump up and down. Look at the field in Canada [the PGA Tour Canadian Open starts on Thursday]. These are real golf tournaments.”
What format and money is offered?
LIV stands for the Roman numeral 54 and ties in with the three-day, 54-hole stroke play format of the first seven of the eight planned events for 2022.
The first invitational event will take place at the Centurion Club, about 30 miles north of London.
The series will feature six more tournaments of this type in 2022 – four in the United States, one in Thailand and one in Saudi Arabia – each with the same $25 million prize pool, meaning each leg of the series is more lucrative as the richest tournament on the PGA Tour.
Each event will feature a team and individual competition, with 12 captains selecting three players in a draft format. Each day, players tee off from different holes at the same time, referred to as a “shotgun start.”
The individual winner of each event will take home $4 million – for comparison, the PGA Tour’s flagship event, the Players Championship, netted Cameron Smith $3.6 million for his win in March, while Collin Morikawa won $2 million for his Open Championship win in 2021.
There is no cut and the player who finishes last takes home $120,000.
There is $5 million to be split between the top three in the team competition.
The eighth and final event at Trump National Doral in Miami in October will be a four-day, $50 million, 12-team Team Championship matchplay KO tournament. The winning team will receive $16 million, with each of the four players receiving a 25% cut.