Column: Temptation of Saudi cash at LIV is in prize fund

(AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

By DOUG FERUSON

AP Golf Writer

Pat Perez said having a chance to be part of the Saudi-funded LIV Golf series was like winning the lottery. He wasn't far off.

Perez didn't mince words - he rarely does - when explaining his reason for joining. It was a chance to play less and get paid more. He even was seen at a welcome party in Oregon wearing a button-down shirt with prints of $100 bills, still not enough of them to reflect what he's making.

It wasn't the signing bonus, either.

Perez made his debut at Pumpkin Ridge last month. He shot 6-over 222 and tied for 29th in the 48-man field with no cut. And then on Sunday at Trump National in New Jersey, Perez posted a 5-over 218 to tie for 31st.

Those two events brought him $1.804 million. Perez played 21 years on the PGA Tour and only twice earned more than that for an entire season.

He made $304,000 on his own. The other $1.5 million came from being on the winning team, led by Dustin Johnson and Patrick Reed, which paid $750,000 per player. Now consider that Perez still has five more LIV tournaments left this year, and perhaps 14 cash grabs next year unless he gets relegated, however that works.

This is the real payoff for players who have defected from the PGA Tour, and especially those who have not made it to the big leagues - such as the younger brother of Brooks Koepka (Chase) and U.S. Amateur champion James Piot - and who probably never will.

The signing bonus is an attention-getter.

There have been unconfirmed reports of Phil Mickelson getting $200 million, Johnson receiving $150,000 and others like Koepka and Bryson DeChambeau also in the nine-figure range.

All of those figures are trumped by what Greg Norman said was "somewhere in that neighborhood" of $700 million to $800 million offered to Tiger Woods. The difference is that Woods turned it down. He also never entertained a $3 million appearance fee for the Saudi International when it was part of the European tour schedule three years ago.

The signing fees for the biggest names represent generational wealth, and it proved to be more valuable than their word.

It's why Koepka one week was trying to rally PGA Tour loyalists to come up with a strong message and the next week was the latest addition to LIV Golf. It's why Henrik Stenson signed a contract that pledged full support to the European tour as the next Ryder Cup captain and then changed his mind four months later to join the rival league.

Not to be overlooked is how prize money - $25 million for each event - can pile up quickly. After just three events, LIV Golf has produced 17 millionaires from earnings alone.

Branden Grace leads the way at nearly $6.7 million. In three events.

Along with a signing fee the Daily Telegraph reported at about $50 million, Stenson cashed in quickly inside the ropes. He won at Trump National, his team finished second and the Swede walked away with $4.375 million for one week.

And there's more of that to come.

As long as Saudi Arabia's sovereign wealth fund has money to burn - $405 million in prize money for 14 events next year, not to mention a signing bonus for players who are lucky to even get invited to the party - players will be cashing in.

Sure, a majority of the players are beyond their peak years - pre-Champions Tour is how Rory McIlroy adeptly phrased it -and it's reasonable to assume they won't be putting as much effort into their games because they've already been paid.

But then, just as fire can't get enough wood, those chasing money can't get enough. And there is money to be made, even for those who already have been paid handsomely.

Johnson went from a tie for 24th at the U.S. Open to a tie for third at LIV Golf-Portland. He went from a tie for sixth at the British Open to a runner-up finish at LIV Golf-Bedminster.

The two majors paid him $620,349.

The two LIV Golf events paid him nearly $3.1 million. Including his two team wins, Johnson already has pulled in $5.212 million in his three appearances at LIV Golf events. In his 12 starts on the PGA Tour, he made $2.3 million.

It's like that lower on the food chain, too.

Carlos Ortiz of Mexico has played two LIV Golf events. He was runner-up to Grace in Portland and finished fourth on Sunday at Bedminster. His team finished third both times, and that adds to $3.425 million for two weeks - 108 holes - of work.

That's nearly $1 million more than his best season on tour. It also is 44% of his career PGA Tour earnings from 160 tournaments Ortiz has played (including 68 times he missed the cut and received nothing but free golf balls, a courtesy car and access to player dining).

Talor Gooch has played all three LIV Golf events and joins Johnson as the only players to finish in the top 10 at all of them (Gooch's best finish is a tie for sixth). He has walked off with $2.823 million - that's $17,425 for each hole - including his contributions to the winning team.

The LIV earnings - signing bonus excluded - amount to 31% of his career PGA Tour earnings from 118 tournaments over the last five years.

As long as the money is there - regardless of the source or the purpose - temptation won't be too far behind. Still to be determined is whether money can buy respect and admiration, if that even matters any more.

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Updated August 2, 2022

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