On Tuesday night, LIV Golf released the long-awaited list of players set to compete in its kickoff tournament next week. The list was comprised of 42 names committed to the 48-player field — more on the other six later. Some you’ve heard of, some you’ll vaguely recognize and some will send you to Google. But there’s no question as to Tuesday’s headliner: Mr. Dustin Johnson! Let’s get to DJ and five other surprises from the list:
Without Johnson, the Centurion field would look a whole lot different. But with him? Suddenly LIV has a golfer still in his prime years. Sure, Johnson might be 18 months removed from his peak, but he’s 37 years old and No. 13 in the world. He won the Masters in 2020. And the fact that LIV won his allegiance even after the PGA Tour released a statement in February declaring his allegiance there? That’s a significant reversal.
But this is hardly out of nowhere for Johnson. As his agent told Golf Channel on Tuesday evening, he has been thinking about this for multiple years. That complete 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. Dustin has never had any issue with the PGA Tour and is grateful for all it has given him, but in the end, felt this was too compelling to pass up.”
As for the rest of the surprises?
1. Talor Gooch
Easily the biggest shocker on the list was Gooch, a 30-year-old who seems (seemed?!) to really be finding his stride on the PGA Tour. He snagged his first victory at the end of 2021, currently sits at No. 35 in the world and seems to have the bulk of his career ahead of him. He also seems primed and ready for an extended stint on the PGA Tour. Most other pros in his position — young guys with cemented status — opted out. It’s intriguing that he opted in.
2. The names not on the list
Adam Scott made waves back in February when he said he was entertaining the league. Enough rumors swirled around Bryson DeChambeau that he, like Johnson, released a statement declaring his allegiance to the PGA Tour. Jason Kokrak has been sporting a Golf Saudi sponsorship and has discussed his interest in the league, too. And of course there’s Phil Mickelson, whose interest in LIV ultimately kicked off a bizarre string of events that resulted in his disappearance from the public eye these last several months. We’re also likely to see other big names at later events, of course, particularly if some pros don’t want to play in London the week before the U.S. Open and will wait to make the leap until the Portland event in July.
But here’s the other thing: This isn’t even the final list for the first tournament. Beneath the roster of players was included this note:
*Note: The final six players will include Commissioner’s invites and berths following the results of The Asian Tour International Series England tournament, June 2-5 at Slayley Hall. Announcements will be made by Monday, June 6.
That means the door is still open for some late RSVPs. I’ll let your imagination run wild…
3. The amateur contingent
Three ams grace the list: U.S. Amateur winner James Piot, Arizona State’s David Puig and Thailand’s Ratchanon “TK” Chantananuwat. This was always one path for LIV to potentially follow in chasing long-term success: Chase down young talented golfers before they’d secured millions in PGA Tour earnings and make it very much worth their while. It appears they’ve found some traction doing so. (Turk Pettit, who won the 2021 NCAA Championship, is now a pro but also deserves mention.)
The timing will be particularly interesting for Puig, who plays in the NCAA Championship final on Wednesday, and Piot, who tees it up at the Memorial Tournament on Thursday.
4. The European stalwarts
Before this all began, Sergio Garcia, Martin Kaymer, Graeme McDowell, Ian Poulter and Lee Westwood would sound like a list of future European Ryder Cup captains. Now all five are competing in the inaugural LIV event. This is down at No. 4 because their participation has been an open secret for months, but it’s still shocking to see it all in writing and to consider that their collective future with the PGA and European Tour is very much uncertain.
5. Chase Koepka
In many ways Chase Koepka is a perfect fit for this list; he’s a known professional golfer who hasn’t been able to play quite well enough to gain full-time status on golf’s biggest tours. Those pressures make LIV a logical landing spot, particularly if the purses prove to match the numbers they’ve claimed. Still, his presence is interesting given his brother Brooks has declared his own allegiance to the PGA Tour — and given Chase is just No. 1,543 in the world.
Koepka’s presence also brings me back to a quote from Norman to The Telegraph.
“Quite honestly, it doesn’t matter who plays, we’re going to put the event on,” he said. “There’s a $4 million first prize. I hope a kid who’s 350th in the world wins. It’ll change his life, his family’s life.
“And then a few of our events will go by and the top players will see someone winning $6 million, $8 million, and say, ‘enough is enough, I know I can beat these guys week in week out with my hands tied behind my back.’”
Chase Koepka is one of many pros on this list who have played against PGA Tour pros with mixed success, at best. If he starts winning millions of dollars in the coming weeks, there’s no question that Tour pros will start to take notice. We have an initial list. Pro golf’s future still has an air of uncertainty.
That means Chase Koepka also one of 42 people who currently share the same question: