There were four big winners at the trophy ceremony at the LIV Golf team championships on Sunday night, but one stood out.
There, at the center of the stage, shirt untucked, holding an oversized bottle of Champagne, was Pat Perez. Dustin Johnson, Talor Gooch and Patrick Reed — Perez’s three LIV teammates — loitered nearby but out of view.
With a DJ blaring house music behind him, Perez began to dance for the crowd assembled before him. It was strange to watch a middle-aged man exude such youthful enthusiasm — strange enough for a member of LIV’s social media team to grab a video of the moment. The party was only beginning.
For the fifth time this year (sixth if you include Perez’s initial signing bonus), LIV Golf was about to present the 46-year-old journeyman with a massive paycheck. But unlike some of the final rounds Perez had played this year, this time he had contributed to the effort.
“He better have felt some pressure,” Johnson, Perez’s team captain (and anchor), said with a chuckle post-round. “We had to count his score.”
It has been that sort of season for Perez, who has proudly served as the fourth wheel of LIV’s powerhouse team, the Four Aces, en route to victories in five of the upstart league’s first eight events. As a result, Perez won about $8 million in prize money in a season in which he finished no better than 16th in the 48-player, no-cut events — and in which his scores were only occasionally used as part of the league’s team competition.
To some, Perez’s performance was a clear repudiation of LIV’s team format, in which only the low two scorers count toward the team score for the first two rounds, while the low three scores count for the final round. How, the critics wonder, can a league with only 48 players suffer from a freeloader problem? Wasn’t this same dilemma a significant part of the reason why LIV appealed to top PGA Tour players in the first place?
Perhaps not surprisingly, Perez was unworried by the existential implications of his year.
“Yeah, all the push-back, all the negative comments, everything we’ve gotten, at this point I really don’t care,” he said. “I mean, I don’t care. I’m paid. I don’t give a damn.”
That much is inarguable. In addition to his $8 million on-course earnings, Perez collected a reported $10 million in additional signing bonus money. At $18ish million, Perez’s earnings from just one year of LIV are close to 60 percent of his career earnings on the PGA Tour, where he won three times.
But the bigger question remains, is Perez’s performance a reflection of LIV’s successes, or of its failures?
It’s clear that money isn’t the only benefit of LIV’s team-focused concept (“I feel like I’m really part of something that I’ve never been part of,” Perez said Sunday.) But it’s equally obvious that for those on the winning side of the ledger, the money sure doesn’t hurt, either, even if it means riding some coattails to get there.
“Dustin, $35 million season, how do you sum up this year?” a member of the press asked a short while after the trophy ceremony ended.
Before Johnson could respond, his teammate interrupted.
“That’s split four ways, by the way.”
Perez was, of course, joking. Johnson’s $35 million in earnings are fully his. But Perez might not have been kidding about his debt of gratitude owed to Johnson, the captain who changed Perez’s life (and bank account) by drafting him to the Four Aces.
“[His photo is] right over my side of the bed,” Perez said. “He’ll be right over me, so I can thank him every night again.”