What happens to LIV golfers once they’re left off a roster?
In June of 2022, at the Centurion Club outside of London, LIV formed its first teams for its inaugural event. Twelve captains were selected; the initial concept involved a “draft” of players the week of the tournament. One of those captains? Australian pro Wade Ormsby. He was the leader of Punch GC and drafted countrymen Matt Jones and Blake Windred plus Japanese pro Ryosuke Kinoshita.
But this week, when team rosters were announced ahead of LIV’s second season, Ormsby’s name was nowhere to be found. Punch has been rebranded as Ripper GC, Cameron Smith has taken over as captain of the all-Aussie squad, and Ormsby is, at least for now, left without a spot. (Jones remains on the team alongside late-season LIV signee Marc Leishman and Jediah Morgan, who played LIV’s full schedule last year.)
Omissions like that of Ormsby were inevitable; they were part of the plan. LIV was always seeking better players with greater clout to replace its initial group. And they have: By my count only 23 of the 48 players who teed it up in LIV’s London event will play at Mayakoba this week.
Still, it raises an interesting question: What happens to the players left off LIV rosters? Suspensions and lawsuits have complicated their paths to other tours, and with the league remaining at 48 players, there’s not room for everyone to stick around. So what are they up to now?
Quite a few people. Sixty-eight players teed it up in at least one LIV event last season and there are only 48 spots available. But let’s start with the six pros who played every event last season but aren’t on full-time rosters. That list consists of Ormsby, Americans Turk Pettit and Hudson Swafford, English pro Laurie Canter and Thai pros Sadom Kaewkanjana and Prachara Khongwatmai. Let’s toss in South African Hennie du Plessis and Spaniard Adrian Otaegui, too, because they’re interesting.
Why aren’t these pros back? Reasons vary. Swafford is actually still a self-described LIV golfer, but announced on Instagram that he’s undergoing hip surgery and expects to miss the season. Some were replaced by their countrymen: du Plessis, despite finishing 17th on the 2022 money list, was booted for fellow South African Dean Burmester, while Ormsby (28th) was booted for fellow Aussie Jed Morgan. Canter played relatively well, too, finishing 32nd on the money list, at $2.9 million. But in general, those left off the list weren’t huge names and didn’t make a big splash in their first year. Khonwatmai was 38th, Pettit was 41st and Kaewkanjana was 46th. Otaegui certainly has the talent to play on LIV and also made a splash when he became the first LIV player to win on the DP World Tour when he took down the Andalucia Masters during an off-week for LIV.
Some are still connected to LIV, despite not making an opening-day squad. Speaking of which:
OK, back to our main character. Ormsby wasn’t on a roster — but on Wednesday, he posted a photo from Mayakoba, host course for this week’s LIV event. “The Reserve at Mayakoba,” read a sign in the background, the name of a residential development adjacent the course. It doubled as Ormsby’s descriptor for the week: He’s in Mexico as one of four “reserve” players, available to step in should a team need them.
The reserves vary week to week, but this week’s crop is headlined by Canter, who has been tapped into action as a replacement for Martin Kaymer, the captain of Cleeks GC, who’s out with an injury. Pettit and Andy Ogletree (more on him later) are there as reserves, too. Those pros could fill in for any team.
The International Series is open
Since the end of LIV’s season, most of the above players (plus other LIV cast-offs) have spent significant time playing International Series events. Those are held on the Asian Tour, but they’re LIV-adjacent; in February 2022 LIV commissioner Greg Norman announced a 10-year, $300 million commitment to the seven-event series. The tournaments have world ranking points, unlike LIV’s 54-hole no-cut events. They have also attracted a significant number of LIV players in their offseasons, who have teed it up at International Series events in Morocco, Oman, Qatar and more in recent months.
Kaewkanjana and Khongwatmai have each logged top finishes in the first two events of 2023, while Sergio Garcia and Joaquin Niemann had the top finishes of LIV pros. The International Series offers a direct line to LIV: Scott Vincent secured his place in the league after winning the Order of Merit in 2022.
That’s also where former U.S. Amateur champ Andy Ogletree finds himself. Ogletree received a berth into the first LIV event, finished in last place (at 24-over par, 31 shots behind winner Charl Schwartzel) and was suspended for the rest of the year by the PGA Tour. While he didn’t appear in another LIV event, he did receive an exemption into the International Series event in Egypt, which he won. Last week, he won the International Series event in Qatar, making him the current Order of Merit leader.
“It’s crazy to think about all that’s gone on the last year, it’s kind of been a roller coaster ride. I don’t know where to begin,” he said after his win.
LIV stars also showed up in droves at the Asian Tour’s Saudi International, no small coincidence given Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) backs that event as well as LIV. Abraham Ancer won, edging out PGA Tour players Cameron Young and Lucas Herbert, who finished second and third.
In summary, the International Series and Asian Tour remain friendly outlets for LIV players who aren’t among the 48.
The DP World Tour is open, sort of, for now
While the upcoming Masters is being billed as the first real showdown between LIV and PGA Tour players, there have already been plenty such clashes on the DP World Tour, which has been forced to allow LIV pros to continue participating while their legal battle proceeds.
That led to some discomfort at the BMW PGA Championship, a DP World Tour event shortly following the end of last year’s PGA Tour season. Otaegui’s win in Spain marked another noteworthy moment. Cameron Smith won the Australian PGA Championship in his home country, an event co-sanctioned by the DP World Tour. And Rory McIlroy and Patrick Reed had another memorable showdown that began with a tee flick and ended with a narrow McIlroy victory. For now, qualified players still have entry into those events and continue to play them.
Otaegui, for instance, has opted for a full DP schedule. He has already played seven DP events this season compared with zero International Series events and sits 15th in the circuit’s Race to Dubai standings. You don’t have to get much further down the list to reach LIV pros Richard Bland (27th), Ian Poulter (31st), Thomas Pieters (34th) and Henrik Stenson (36th).
South African Justin Harding, who made $1.3 million on LIV last year, has split time between the DP World Tour and the International Series early this season. His countryman Shaun Norris ($1 million on LIV) now seems committed to the DP World Tour and played a Challenge Tour event in February, too. Ditto Pablo Larrazabal, who has only played on the DP World Tour since his lone LIV appearance in London.
“I never wanted to leave the European Tour. I never had the chance to play any more LIV events. I never had a contract on the table from them. So there is nothing more to talk about,” he told Golf Digest last year.
Some other pros were actually released by the DP World Tour to play the initial London event because their status wouldn’t have gotten them into the competing event in Sweden the same week. Oliver Bekker and Oliver Fisher were among them; Bekker won $737,500 for a T6 finish at Centurion and then returned to a full schedule on the DP World and Sunshine Tours. “No fines, no sanctions,” Bekker wrote on Twitter.
As for those pros without any status? They’re unlikely to find a welcome mat at the doors of the DP World Tour and would have to work their way back in through qualifiers or Challenge Tour events.
The Japan Tour is allied with the PGA, DP World Tours
Some other pros who made LIV appearances, like the Japanese pros who comprised Torque GC (Yuki Inamori, Ryosuke Kinoshita, Jinichiro Kozuma and Hideto Tanihara) returned home to play the Japan Tour. While LIV was in active talks with Hideki Matsuyama’s team, that door closed when Matsuyama announced his commitment to the PGA Tour.
The Japan Golf Tour later solidified its relationship with the DP World and PGA Tours with an alliance that included a formal pathway from Japan to the DP World Tour, with the top three Japan Tour finishers earning their DP cards for the following season. The DP World Tour is also hosting its first-ever tournament in Japan come April. There are no Japanese players on rosters to begin the 2023 LIV season.
The PGA Tour is closed, for now
Unlike the DP World Tour, the PGA Tour has successfully barred LIV pros from participating in its events. And any pro who tees it up in a LIV event is suspended for at least a year, with additional appearances and violations adding time to that suspension. In other words, there’s no clear path back to the PGA Tour for those who have left.
That presents a real issue, according to LIV’s lawyers. They’ve been thinking about this larger question, too. Players are less likely to go to LIV if it means their entire future is uncertain, after all. In a motion filed in early February, LIV representatives cited Matt Jones and Peter Uihlein as two players whose contracts expire at the end of 2023 who would then have limited playing options.
“The prejudice to Plaintiffs Jones and Uihlein from delay is clear: they risk being unable to earn a living in their chosen profession during the prime of their careers,” the motion stated. “Mr Jones and Mr Uihlein have no secure ability to pursue their profession in 2024. Some Player Plaintiffs are not under contract with LIV past 2023, and are banned from the PGA Tour, the European Tour, and other tours around the world. Player Plaintiffs are denied playing opportunities they had earned and need resolution on the enforceability of the Tour’s Regulations, suspensions, and conduct.”
The motion addressed the idea of deterrence, too:
“And several other golfers in LIV and other professional and collegiate golfers who are considering playing in the Asian Tour or on LIV are making decisions about their future and need clarity from the Court. Plaintiffs need relief soon and certainly no later than the current January 2024 trial.”
The PGA Tour remains a one-way door for LIV pros. But no full-time Tour pro has left and then tried (in public, at least) to come back. We’ll see what happens if that’s ever the case.
The Majors are open — just tough to access
All four majors have now spoken; none of them will specifically bar LIV pros from playing. But if you’ve been left off LIV, you’re not likely exempt for majors, either. So the above pros face an uphill battle in qualifying for golf’s biggest events.
There are ways, of course. Former LIV pros aren’t barred from U.S. Open nor Open Championship Qualifying. And a pro could hypothetically win on the DP World Tour or all over the world, earning enough world ranking points in the process to get a spot in the field at the PGA Championship or even the Masters. It just isn’t likely to happen often.
So for now the goal is simple for players who have made it to LIV: Stay there.