‘They have been ostracized:’ LIV Golf pro praises players for ‘massive risk’
Top collegiate golfers usually had their road map set for professional golf after leaving school. Try to make it to the PGA Tour, whether it be through Q-School, the Korn Ferry Tour, other feeder and mini tours, etc.
However, since LIV Golf’s launch, the new league has offered a new path forward for aspiring pros, and a few have jumped at the opportunity.
Spaniards Eugenio Lopez-Chacarra and David Puig both bailed on plans to play additional years of college golf to join LIV Golf in 2022. James Piot, the 2021 U.S. Amateur winner, also went straight from the college ranks to LIV Golf.
Lopez-Chacarra shocked the golf world when he turned down likely Korn Ferry Tour status in announcing he would return to Oklahoma State for a fifth year before making an about-face and joining LIV Golf two months later.
Puig competed in LIV’s inaugural London event in June 2022 as an amateur before leaving Arizona State in September of that year to turn professional and officially join the league.
In an interview with the Asian Tour, early LIV adopter Graeme McDowell praised Lopez-Chacarra and Puig for their decisions to join the Saudi-backed PGA Tour rival.
“It is interesting for these young guys, you look at Chacarra and Puig in particular, they have chosen the LIV path, and we are not really familiar with that path,” McDowell said. “They have taken a massive risk in a way but they have both kicked on and I’m really happy with these guys.”
Last year in the runup to LIV’s inaugural event, McDowell also reached out to Turk Pettit, the 2021 NCAA Championship winner, and offered him a spot on his team for LIV’s first season. Andy Ogletree, the 2019 U.S. Amateur champion, also signed up for LIV’s first event.
All five players were suspended from PGA Tour-affiliated events as a result of their choice to play LIV events. While neither Ogletree, Piot or Pettit had membership on the Korn Ferry Tour, Lopez-Chacarra and Puig, were likely to gain at least that status upon finishing college.
In the fall of 2022, the PGA Tour made changes to the PGA Tour University program, giving full PGA Tour membership to the top finisher for the next year and a half after the end of their senior season, and Nos. 2-5 earning full Korn Ferry memberships.
Ludvig Aberg took advantage of the changes to become the first player to graduate college and go straight to the PGA Tour through the program. Already this season, Vanderbilt junior Gordon Sargent locked up PGA Tour membership at the end of the NCAA season through the PGA Tour U Accelerated program.
Lopez-Chacarra was likely to gain Korn Ferry Tour status as he was third in the ranking when he announced he would use his fifth year of eligibility at OSU. Puig, meanwhile, made himself ineligible for the ranking when he played in the LIV London event. In a likely effort to dissuade players from joining LIV in early 2022, the PGA Tour told college players they would be ineligible for benefits from the PGA Tour University program if they played in any professional event that did not earn Official World Golf Ranking points.
LIV Golf did not earn OWGR points at the time and its request to be recognized by the ranking body was recently denied.
“They have been ostracised a little bit from the young golfing world, but they have used the LIV Golf League as a platform and taken things to the next level,” McDowell said. “I’m happy to see them kick on the way they are – they are going to be great young players. I hope the world opens up for them and they get the opportunity to try and win Majors as well.”
That scenario, however, looks unlikely, with LIV Golf not earning world ranking points anytime soon, two major championships recently announcing they would not alter their entry criteria in 2024 to account for LIV golfers.
And while Lopez-Chacarra and Puig have had success on LIV, earning $3,284,583 and $3,903,333, respectively, in 2023 with Lopex-Chacarra won an event in 2022, the other three golfers have had a tougher time.
Ogletree didn’t play another LIV event in 2022, but will rejoin the league full-time in 2024 after winning the Asian Tour Order of Merit.
Pettit, meanwhile was dropped by his team after the 2022 season and joined the Asian Tour. However, he recently made it through the first stage of Q-School after his one-year ban for playing in the LIV Golf Team Championship last October lapsed (or lapsed enough). He’s seeking to become the first former LIV Golfer to earn PGA Tour status.
Piot has played in every LIV event in 2023, but he finished 47th in the standings, meaning he was relegated and will have to re-earn a spot in the league by finishing in the top three of the LIV Promotions event.