‘A pretty easy decision’: How LIV Golf courted one of golf’s top amateurs
On Friday afternoon in Chicago, David Puig will become a first of sorts for LIV Golf.
At noon local time, when the 20-year-old from La Garriga, Spain, tees off in his first professional event at LIV Golf Chicago, he will become the first major amateur golfer wrangled straight from the college ranks by the new league. That might not sound like big a deal for the deeply-funded, Saudi-backed upstart, particularly next to the nine-figure contracts awarded to the likes of Cameron Smith and Phil Mickelson, but for a tour scraping for legitimacy, Puig’s signing is significant.
Puig comes to LIV as the ninth-ranked amateur golfer in the world, a star player at one of the biggest college golf programs in the country, Arizona State. Despite his success at the collegiate level (including three individual wins and a successful Palmer Cup performance in ’21), Puig was not a household name for most golf fans when LIV announced his signing last week.
Puig is a different type of “get” for LIV — a projection who has the potential to develop into a homegrown star. Signing for a reported $4 million (a pittance compared to the deals of his more established competitors), Puig is a penny stock worth taking a chance on. To LIV, his signing also represents a small piece of the league’s bigger crusade in golf: turning the PGA Tour’s inequities into LIV’s gains.
As Puig explained in a press conference on Thursday afternoon, his decision to join LIV had as much to do with the money as it did with the opportunity. As an international player competing in the U.S., on-course success at Arizona State wasn’t enough to guarantee professional playing opportunities, which, Puig said, all too often went to better-connected, U.S.-born players. That was, until LIV came around.
“Why now?” Puig said. “You know, I actually think I had a pretty good amateur career, and I didn’t get a lot of — or basically just one opportunity — to play with pros before LIV even started. LIV was very supportive, and they gave me two exemptions as an amateur, which I really appreciated them a lot.”
After accepting invitations to play in LIV’s pro-ams before the events in Bedminster and Boston, Puig was intrigued. For the first time in his career, a pro golf outfit had showed interest in him — something he couldn’t say about the PGA Tour, even with the Phoenix Open held in his college team’s backyard.
“At least for what I know, getting into the Phoenix Open is pretty tough, especially when a guy is from Spain,” Puig said. “Preston [Summerhays], one of my teammates, he had the chance to play in the Phoenix Open, and he deserves it. He’s an awesome guy, awesome player, but I think when he was 10 years old he was already a member at TPC Scottsdale or helped with the tournament somehow or something like that.
“I think that’s how he got it, and as I said, he deserved it 100 percent, but it’s tough. Kevin Yu, he was a really great player at ASU, never had the chance, and I think the last amateur that competed there was Jon Rahm when he was playing awesome at ASU.”
Soon after Puig’s pro-am appearances, LIV called with an offer. When Puig saw the terms, he said, it felt like a no-brainer. He signed the next week. For all the (well-justified) chatter about money, Puig’s story is actually one of opportunity.
“It was obviously a tough decision to leave ASU, but it was a pretty easy decision to join LIV,” Puig said.