2 rumored LIV defections offer noticeably different denials

tyrrell hatton grimaces after bad drive in black shirt; tommy fleetwood stares down drive in black shirt

Tyrrell Hatton (left) and Tommy Fleetwood (right) have both been tied to LIV Golf since Jon Rahm's departure.

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When Jon Rahm stunned the golf world and defected to LIV for a massive signing bonus at the beginning of December, golf fans began asking a familiar question.

Who’s next?

In the twoish years since LIV’s creation, defections to the rival league have been as much a matter of money as they are of momentum — and Rahm’s signing appeared to give LIV a critical dose of it. You see, the problem for any upstart league is legitimacy, and the best way to earn legitimacy is to show the world your league has not only the most interesting product but also the most interesting players. Besides the Saudi Funny Money component of the league’s existence, this is why LIV has been so willing to line up to pay relatively average PGA Tour golfers three times their career earnings in a signing bonus: it’s the fuel for a virtuous cycle. The more players who join, the more legitimacy LIV earns — and the more legitimacy LIV earns, the more players will be willing to join.

Over the last two years, we’ve learned that one or two big names can be enough to jettison three or four others to the rivals. And, when Rahm went in December — by far the biggest coup for the Saudis since Phil Mickelson — rumors began to swirl that twice that number were in discussions to join the league. It seemed LIV had a breakthrough, and the names who would soon be joining the league were considerable.

So far, those defections haven’t materialized. Lucas Herbert, a 28-year-old Australian pro, joined the league in January. And for a few days, it seemed beloved PGA Tour lifer Tony Finau might join him — but then Finau released a statement pledging his allegiance to the big Tour. As the days have ticked by after Rahm’s Legion XIII team was announced, the three players joining him on the roster have remained a mystery.

This weekend’s Dubai Desert Classic seemed poised to present us with some answers. For the first time since the golf “offseason” began right before Rahm’s announcement, many of the players rumored to be in discussions with LIV would tee it up in an event, giving them the chance to comment on the rumors. Two players in particular — Tommy Fleetwood and Tyrrell Hatton — seemed to draw the most attention. The two Brits were Ryder Cup teammates of Rahm’s in Rome, and their names had appeared in rumors almost immediately following Rahm’s exit to LIV. Could they be playing in Dubai on the brink of a jump before the start of the LIV season in Mexico next month?

Fleetwood went first.

“I think it comes at that time of the year where there are always rumors flying around,” Fleetwood told The Scotsman‘s Martin Dempster. “It’s nothing, really. There’s nothing going on. I’ve been playing here for the last two years and I’m still playing here now. You know, I’m pretty boring news-wise, so that’s just what it is (laughing).”

Fleets said he has been getting approached by the rival league “for a long, long time,” but that he didn’t take the latest round of offers to mean anything more than any of the previous rounds — all of which had resulted in his remaining on the PGA and DP World Tours.

“You know, some people will go and some people won’t,” he said. “And then at some point we’ll either all play together or we won’t. Like everybody else, I’ll wait to find out.”

For his part, Hatton seemed to agree with Fleetwood’s general assessment that conversations with LIV are simply a piece of the golf landscape in 2024.

“I’d say there’s several people who have had conversations,” he said. “I think that’s part and parcel of golf at the moment, but I’m quite happy playing the PGA Tour and DP World Tour.”

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But as he spoke for longer, Hatton seemed less committal on his PGA Tour future.

“I’ve just said that [I’ve had conversations with LIV],” Hatton said. “There’s a lot of people who have and I don’t think there is anything to shy away from.”

When pressured to state for the record whether he was staying with the PGA Tour, Hatton avoided a declarative answer.

“As of right now, yeah,” he said.

Of course, it’s wise to avoid reading too deep into Hatton’s non-denial denial. The truth is that it’s entirely plausible that Hatton could remain with the PGA Tour, as he said, just as it’s entirely plausible that he could join the ranks on LIV in a few weeks’ time. That Hatton would welcome some level of uncertainty shows his vantage point is less ironclad than Fleetwood’s, but as Fleetwood, Patrick Cantlay and others have showed us, having conversations with LIV is not a guaranteed predictor of a future defection.

In many ways, that’s sorta the point: nobody knows the truth until the balls start flying and the players are forced to pick sides. The shapeshifting world of professional golf — and the endless adjustments of its three predominant tours — have proved that the only foolish ones are the players unwilling to keep an open mind.

All we know today is that LIV has three spots to fill before the shotgun start on Friday, February 2 in Mayakoba, Mexico — and a whole bunch of PGA Tour players to try and pick off. Now the fun part begins: figuring out who they are.

James Colgan

Golf.com Editor

James Colgan is a news and features editor at GOLF, writing stories for the website and magazine. He manages the Hot Mic, GOLF’s media vertical, and utilizes his on-camera experience across the brand’s platforms. Prior to joining GOLF, James graduated from Syracuse University, during which time he was a caddie scholarship recipient (and astute looper) on Long Island, where he is from. He can be reached at james.colgan@golf.com.