Earlier this month, a major announcement sent shockwaves throughout the golf world. The PGA Tour, which, for the past two years, had vehemently and publicly opposed the Saudi-sponsored LIV Golf circuit, said the two companies were merging. The new entity, which has yet to be named, will also include the DP World Tour.
Ever since the creation of LIV, the PGA Tour had warned players about participating. Players who jumped ship were not welcome to participate in PGA Tour events, and there was a growing rift between PGA and LIV golfers. LIV was backed by the Saudi Public Investment Fund, which spent more than $2 billion on the new golf league. The Saudis played a role in the 9/11 attacks, were involved in the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, and have been accused of numerous human rights violations.
That type of history didn’t sway dozens of golfers from accepting massive salaries to join LIV. Phil Mickelson claimed it was a great opportunity to reshape the foundation of golf and improve its future. Graeme McDowell said, “We are not politicians” as he joined the league in 2022, a sentiment Bryson DeChambeau recently echoed during an interview after the merger was announced.
While many players did join LIV, several big names remained loyal to the PGA Tour. Now, it looks like their loyalty has cost them millions of dollars. Here’s a look at some of the players who turned down offers from LIV.
Tiger Woods — $700-800 million
Even as injuries have caused him to miss time and his play to sharply decline, Tiger Woods is still one of the biggest names in golf. He’s a huge draw to any event, and the Saudis fully understand that. Greg Norman, who served as LIV CEO, said last year that Woods was offered a whopping $700 to $800 million to come play for LIV but turned them down. It’s a ton of money, though Woods still reached billionaire status even without the additional payday from a rival golf league.
Hideki Matsuyama — $300 million
In 2021, Hideki Matsuyama became the first-ever Japanese professional golfer to win a men’s major golf championship. He took home the Masters Tournament championship, which remains his only major victory. LIV recognized him as a budding star in the golf world and reportedly offered him about $300 million to join the circuit. Instead, Matsuyama, who was “torn between the money and his legacy,” remained with the PGA Tour, where he’s earned a little less than $50 million since turning pro in 2013.
Jon Rahm — $200 million
Like Matsuyama, Jon Rahm is also a Masters champion. The two-time major winner reportedly was offered $200 million to join LIV. Rahm had consistently defended the PGA Tour and wanted to build his legacy, though Golf Monthly noted that he may have actually been considering a move to LIV. Once the merger was announced, those talks became moot.
Scottie Scheffler — $150 million
As of this writing, Scottie Scheffler is the number-one ranked golfer in the world. Naturally, LIV made an offer to him, though Scheffler told golf writer Jason Sobel that no amount of money would cause him to leave—he was already grateful to earn what he’s made with the PGA Tour. “I never dreamed about playing for this much money,” Scheffler said. “I don’t know how much I’ve made this year, but it’s definitely too much for hitting a little white ball around.”
Will Zalatoris — $130 million
Will Zalatoris didn’t receive as big an offer as some other golfers, but he still could have made a pretty penny if he joined LIV. Fellow golfer Fred Couples said the league initially offered Zalatoris $35 million, which he quickly turned down. The Saudis countered with a $130 million deal — that may have been harder to decline, but Zalatoris stuck with the PGA Tour. He earned his first PGA Tour win in 2022 at the FedEx St. Jude Championship and has finished in second place in three majors over the past two seasons. This April, Zalatoris announced he had back surgery and will miss the remainder of the season. If that injury slows down his career, he might regret passing up that $130 million.
Jack Nicklaus — $100 million
Jack Nicklaus is perhaps the most decorated player in golf history. He won 117 tournaments over his career, including 18 major championships, which remains a world record. Despite his last professional appearance coming in 2005, LIV knew his name would draw attention. They initially went after him to be their CEO, not Greg Norman. LIV was set to offer him “in excess of $100 million” to help head the league. As Nicklaus explained, “I turned it down. Once verbally, once in writing. I said, ‘Guys, I have to stay with the PGA Tour. I helped start the PGA Tour.'”
Patrick Cantlay and Xander Schauffele — $100 million
Americans Patrick Cantlay and Xander Schauffele both reportedly received $100 million offers from LIV. They’re both top ten golfers in the world rankings and would bring some additional talent to the new league. But each player chose to remain loyal to the PGA. Cantlay said he’s never had plans to join LIV, while Schauffele said he enjoys that PGA Tour events have a cut, which he believes adds excitement to the game.
Rory McIlroy was among the staunchest defenders of the PGA Tour. He publicly criticized some of the LIV players and their decisions. After the merger was announced, McIlroy said that he “learned about it pretty much at the same time everyone else did” and that he felt “somewhat like a sacrificial lamb.” He also said that LIV never offered him a single cent to play for them. Perhaps his outspoken nature caused them to focus on other targets.
But the stress of serving as a “figurehead” for the PGA Tour negatively affected McIlroy’s play. He missed cuts at The Players Championship and The Masters. And after skipping the RBC Masters, he lost $3 million of his Player Impact Program money because it was the second “designated” event he missed this season. So, while McIlroy may not have received a LIV offer, he still lost out on potential earnings by fighting against the league.
However, these players might still receive some compensation after all. PGA Tour board member Jimmy Dunne said that Tour golfers could receive equity shares in the new company. The offer would only be for PGA golfers, many of whom turned down eight- and nine-figure offers from LIV to play in their tournament.
This new company has a delicate balancing act ahead of it. The PGA encouraged players to remain loyal and then very quickly did a 180 when the money became too much to turn down. No wonder so many PGA golfers feel hurt and betrayed.
It’s going to be a fascinating few months to see how everything unfolds.