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LIV Golf allows amateurs to turn pro early at expense of PGA Tour

LIV Golf allows amateurs to turn pro early at expense of PGA Tour
David Puig was a standout at Arizona State and the ninth-ranked amateur in the world prior to turning pro with LIV Golf. (Credit: Rob Schumacher/The Republic / USA TODAY NETWORK)

CHICAGO (BVM) – The emergence of LIV Golf continues to bring about plenty of drama and controversy within the professional golf realm. That was well documented before the new series kicked off, and now, five tournaments into its existence, things have gotten even uglier.

In August, nearly a dozen LIV golfers filed a lawsuit against the PGA Tour after their suspension from the tour due to leaving for LIV. In late September, the PGA Tour fired back by countersuing LIV Golf, accusing the new golf series of encouraging former PGA Tour golfers to breach their existing contracts with the promise of significant monetary prizes.

While the legal battle figures to go on for some time, LIV Golf’s creation has clearly brought about some other lasting effects. First and foremost, it has drawn some of the world’s best players away from the PGA Tour, including major champions like Cam Smith, Dustin Johnson, Phil Mickelson, Sergio Garcia, Louis Oosthuizen, Brooks Koepka and Bryson DeChambeau. 

Phil Mickelson LIV Golf Chicago Harvest Farms
Phil Mickelson remains one of the biggest names playing with LIV Golf. (Credit: Jamie Sabau-USA TODAY Sports)

With modifications such as a 54-hole format, team competition and music and entertainment taking place at the tournaments, LIV has changed golf while also distracting people away from the PGA Tour. Just five events in, it seems to be a success for the Greg Norman-led series. They are also reportedly close to a contract with Fox Sports which would allow them to air their tournaments on television, one of the final remaining hurdles to really become a true competitor in professional golf.

LIV has clearly forced the PGA Tour’s hand, and they have had to respond with some changes. In August, Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and several other members of the PGA Tour met to decide what they could do to perhaps spice up PGA Tour golf. The answer: a new primetime team-formatted event called TGL that will take place on a virtual course in partnership with Woods’ and McIlroy’s new company, TMRW Sports.

While plenty of things are changing due to LIV Golf, one of the most important, and perhaps overlooked differences, is amateur golfers being able to pursue their pro dreams much earlier than expected. Rather than continually competing in amateur or college events, and taking the multiple steps of having to go to Q-School and earn your PGA Tour card through the Korn Ferry Tour, golfers are finding the opportunity to turn pro right away through the Saudi-backed league.

One golfer who did just that recently is David Puig. Hailing from Spain, Puig has long been a star on the links, evidenced by his play in the Junior Golf World Cup and Junior Ryder Cup. In 2019, he enrolled at Arizona State University, following in the footsteps of fellow Spaniard Jon Rahm and other pro golfers like Paul Casey and Mickelson.

In just his fifth tournament at ASU, Puig showed his potential, winning the Southwestern Invitational by a record nine strokes. He defended that title in 2022, helped the Sun Devils to the NCAA championships and has twice been named an All-American by GolfWeek. The ninth-ranked amateur in the world at the time, Puig was invited to play in LIV Golf’s first event in London in June, finishing 40th.

In LIV’s most recent event in Chicago, Puig finished in a similar spot, ending in 39th place. However, this tournament came as a pro. Prior to the event at Harvest Farms, the 20-year-old announced the decision to forgo his senior season at ASU and turn pro, reportedly signing a contract with LIV worth $4 million

“I actually think I had a pretty good amateur career, and I didn’t get a lot of — or basically just one opportunity — to play with pros before LIV even started,” Puig said in a press conference prior to his first event as a pro at Harvest Farms. “LIV was very supportive, and they gave me two exemptions as an amateur, which I really appreciated them a lot. They also gave me the opportunity to play against the best players in the world. So, it was obviously a tough decision to leave ASU, but it was a pretty easy decision to join LIV.”

Playing a couple of events as an amateur prior, Puig was not able to accept the over $250,000 he would have made as a pro. Now, he will be able to cash in for his LIV performances.

Eugenio Lopez-Chacarra LIV Golf Oklahoma State Cowboys golf
Former Oklahoma State golfer Eugenio Lopez-Chacarra turned pro with LIV Golf in June. (Credit: Rob Schumacher / USA TODAY NETWORK)

Puig is not the only one to make this move, and in fact, isn’t even the first to do so from his own country. In June, another one of the world’s top amateurs, Eugenio Lopez-Chacarra, surprised many in the golf world by deciding to turn pro to join LIV Golf. He had previously announced he would return to continue his college golf career at Oklahoma State, but the potential opportunity LIV offered him was too good to pass up.

“I love what LIV Golf is doing for golf,” Lopez-Chacarra said during a press conference following his first LIV event. “I love the format. It’s kind of the same as college, and I felt I was ready to make my debut — turn pro, and I was talking to my team and Oklahoma State, obviously, and I thought it was the best decision for me and just to play with these guys and get experience and get my game better.”

Lopez-Chacarra is another golfer who starred in college, most recently taking home three wins and finishing runner-up at the NCAA Championship last season. The former Oklahoma State golfer made his LIV debut in Portland in late June, finishing 27th at the event. The 22-year-old Spaniard has placed 24th, 25th and tied for 35th in the other three LIV events he has played this season.

The golf world has also seen some of its other top amateur players make a similar move. Prior to LIV Golf’s season, 2021 U.S. Amateur champion James Piot decided to turn pro. While he had completed his college tenure already at Michigan State, Piot was looked at as a potential PGA Tour fixture down the road, but instead, he took advantage of the option to make money immediately with LIV.

Now, the question becomes who is next? Could LIV Golf also lure away some of the world’s other top amateur golfers and college players such as Ludvig Aberg, Austin Greaser or reigning U.S. Amateur champion Sam Bennett? Time will tell, but it seems more likely than not that additional amateurs will take advantage of the opportunity to turn pro with the new tour.

LIV Golf has just three remaining events in 2022, as the tour will first head to Stonehill in Bangkok Oct. 7-9, then to Royal Greens Golf & Country Club in Jeddah the following weekend. The season will conclude Oct. 27-30 at Trump National Doral in Miami, where golfers will compete for a $50 million purse – the richest in sports history.

Ultimately, the issue of amateurs essentially being able to take a shortcut to become pro is perhaps one of the biggest LIV Golf has created for the PGA Tour. While the PGA loses potential future stars, LIV Golf is bringing in an exciting combination of some of the best young players in the world to combine with some of the big-named veterans they have also drawn in over the last several months. 

The opportunity to play for large sums of money and tee it up against some of golf’s biggest stars is too good to pass up for many of these young players, and rightfully so. It’s a problem that likely won’t be going away anytime soon for the PGA Tour, while it only continues to solidify LIV as a true threat to golf’s main tour.