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Dustin Johnson is among a number of high-profile players who have signed up for the opening LIV Golf Invitational Series event. Photo: AFP

LIV Golf Invitational: major winners Johnson, Garcia defy PGA Tour, to headline field for inaugural Saudi-backed event

  • Former world No 1 Dustin Johnson, Sergio Garcia, Lee Westwood and Ian Poulter among high-profile golfers to play in England next week
  • Thailand’s teenage star Ratchanon ‘TK’ Chantananuwat also among list of 42 players named for event at Centurion Club
PGA Tour

Greg Norman has hailed the start of “free agency in golf” as it emerged that former world No 1 Dustin Johnson was one of several major winners who had agreed to play in the first LIV Golf Invitational Series event next week.

Johnson, Sergio Garcia, Graeme McDowell, Charl Schwartzel and Louis Oosthuizen were named on a list of 42 players for the first tournament of the Saudi-backed league at Centurion Club in England from June 9 to 11.

Their decision sets them on a potential collision course with the two main golf tours. The PGA Tour and DP World Tour have recently declined all requests from members who had asked for releases to compete at Centurion, where US$25 million is up for grabs, including US$4 million for the winner.

Thailand’s Ratchanon “TK” Chantananuwat has signed up for the opening LIV Golf Invitational Series event. Photo: Paul Lakatos/Asian Tour.

“Free agency has finally come to golf,” Norman, the LIV Golf CEO, said. “This is an opportunity to start a movement that will change the course of history by bringing new and open competition to the sport we all love.

“The desire shown by the players to participate in LIV Golf demonstrates their emphatic belief in our model and confidence in what we’re building for the future.”

While Phil Mickelson, whose comments over the breakaway circuit and its Saudi backers sparked a backlash in February, was conspicuous by his absence, there are still six spots up for grabs in the 48-man field, and LIV Golf said those would be announced at a later date.

Asian Tour seen “as a threat” by European, American rivals, says Westwood

Also among their number is Thailand’s teenage star Ratchanon ‘TK’ Chantananuwat, the 15-year-old who has been setting the Asian Tour alight this season and became the youngest male golfer to win a Tour event at the Trust Golf Asian Mixed Cup in April.

It is unknown whether those competing in the lucrative breakaway circuit’s first event, which is being held opposite the PGA Tour’s Canadian Open – where the winner will get $1.57 million from an $8.7 million purse – will face punishment.

The PGA Tour and DP World Tour did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Greg Norman, LIV Golf CEO, at a press conference at Centurion Club, in St Albans. Photo: Reuters

Johnson, who in February said he was “fully committed” to the PGA Tour, ultimately decided the opportunity was too good to pass up, his agent David Winkle told Golf Channel.

“Dustin’s been contemplating this for the past two years and decided it was in his and his family’s best interest to pursue it,” Winkle said.

“He’s never had any issue with the PGA Tour and is grateful for all it’s given him but in the end felt this was too compelling to pass up.”

The field currently includes 26 of the top 150 golfers in the world, and Norman said he “couldn’t be happier at the diversity” of golfers agreeing to take part.

“We can’t wait to start that journey at Centurion Club with this group of first movers who are committed to growing the game in new and exciting ways,” he said.

Among the other notables listed for the event are former world number ones Lee Westwood and Martin Kaymer, as well as European Ryder Cup veteran Ian Poulter.

American players who are chasing the Saudi riches are Talor Gooch, who won his first PGA Tour event last fall at the RSM Classic, and three-time tour winner Hudson Swafford.

Norman’s group also went after amateurs, adding US Amateur champion James Piot and David Puig, who is competing for Arizona State in the NCAA Championship this week.