Dustin Johnson, a two-time major golf champion, surrendered his PGA Tour status on Tuesday and said that for the immediate future he planned only to play in major tournaments and events sponsored by the Saudi-backed LIV Golf circuit.
Appearing at a news conference in advance of the first of eight LIV Golf events in 2022 that will begin Thursday at the Centurion Club outside London, Johnson also occasionally used terms like “right now” and “for now” when describing his decision to bolt from the PGA Tour.
“For right now, I’ve resigned my membership on the tour,” said Johnson, who joined the PGA Tour in 2008 and is ranked 15th in the world. He added that he would play the LIV tour, “for now, that’s the plan.”
The breakaway tour headlined by Greg Norman has promised hefty appearance fees and a format that guarantees every entrant six-figure payouts, with 48 players competing for $25 million in prize money in a 54-hole format with no cut. A report last week in The Telegraph said Johnson was paid $125 million to join LIV Golf, whose major shareholder is the Public Investment Fund, the sovereign wealth fund of Saudi Arabia worth more than $600 billion.
Johnson’s PGA Tour resignation could help him avoid a suspension or a lifetime ban from the tour’s commissioner, Jay Monahan, who has indicated that punishment on that level was a possibility. But so far, the United States-based PGA Tour has remained quiet as Johnson and others, such as Phil Mickelson, the six-time major champion who has earned more than $94 million at tour events, have signaled that they will play in this week’s LIV Golf tournament. Monahan’s lack of response may just be a bit of institutional timing. PGA Tour players are not in violation of any of the tour’s regulations until they actually play in a rival event without permission — and the tour has not given its consent for any players requesting to play this week in England.
One thing is certain: Under current guidelines, if Johnson is not a member of the PGA Tour, he cannot play in the biennial Ryder Cup, a ballyhooed competition between top golfers from the United States and Europe with a history that dates to 1927. Johnson has played in the Ryder Cup five times, including last year when he was undefeated in five matches and helped lead the United States to a dominating victory.
But on Tuesday, at least in his mind, the door was still open to play in the upcoming Ryder Cups.
“Obviously all things are subject to change,” Johnson said. “Hopefully at some point, it will change and I’ll be able to participate. If it doesn’t, well, it was another thing I really had to think long and hard about. Ultimately, I decided to come to this and play out here.
“The Ryder Cup is unbelievable and something that has definitely meant a lot to me. I’m proud to say I’ve represented my country, and hopefully I’ll get a chance to do that again. But I don’t make the rules.”
Johnson’s eligibility for major golf championships is not a certainty, although there has been no indication that he would be barred from playing in next week’s U.S. Open. He qualifies for a spot in the field in multiple ways, not the least of which being that he won the championship in 2016. He has also qualified for next month’s British Open because of his 2020 Masters victory. The Masters title would normally make him welcome at the Masters for many years to come, as well as at a fourth major, the P.G.A. Championship, for the next five years.
But the Masters is run by Augusta National Golf Club, which has proved in the past that it would make decisions independently. The P.G.A. Championship is governed by the PGA of America. Before that event was held last month, the organization’s chief executive, Seth Waugh, pledged his loyalty to the established PGA Tour, which he referred to as part of golf’s existing ecosystem.
“Our bylaws do say that you have to be a recognized member of a recognized tour in order to be a PGA member somewhere, and therefore eligible to play,” Waugh said, speaking of the P.G.A. Championship.
Asked about the alternative LIV Golf tour, Waugh answered: “We think the structure of — I don’t know if it’s a league, it’s not a league at this point — but the league structure is somewhat flawed.”