From LIV…back to the PGA Tour? One pro’s quest for reverse defection
In the fall of 2022, Turk Pettit was enjoying life on and off the course as a full-time member of the fledgling LIV Golf tour. On the eve of LIV’s Saudia Arabia event, the penultimate tournament on the 2022 LIV calendar, Pettit, then 23, proposed to his college sweetheart, MaKenzie Floyd, over beachside sushi by the Red Sea.
“I was pretty positive she was going to say yes,” Pettit told reporters at the LIV event the following day. (He was right.)
Pettit, a former star on the Clemson University golf team, had plenty of other reasons to feel positive. In 2021, he had won the individual title at the NCAA Div. I Golf Championships and was named a first-team All-American. Later that year he’d won his first professional title, at a mini-tour event in Indiana, and made two PGA Tour cuts, at the Mexico Open and Wells Fargo Championship. His fine play caught the attention of Graeme McDowell, who was then captain of the Niblicks (now called the RangeGoats), one of LIV’s 12 teams. McDowell offered Pettit a spot on his squad, and Pettit accepted, joining a wave of so-called defectors shaking up the landscape of professional golf.
By the fourth LIV event that season, though, in Boston, the team looked very different, with a new non-playing captain (Bubba Watson) and three new players (Harold Varner, Hudson Swafford and James Piot). Pettit was the only remaining OG Niblick, and he didn’t take that for granted. During a year in which he made nearly $1.7 million in tournament earnings, he soaked up the opportunity to travel the globe and compete.
“To get through a full season has been second-to-none,” he said in Jeddah. “No experience can replace it.”
A second season, though, wasn’t to be. After a woeful year during which the Niblicks finished last in points and not once finished in the money, Watson retooled his squad, and Pettit was out of a job. Next stop: LIV’s feeder circuit, the Asian Tour, where, in 2023, Pettit has managed just one top-10 finish in 14 starts and banked less than six figures in earnings.
Given Pettit’s form, another LIV invite doesn’t appear to be in his immediate future, but he is trying to blaze a trail back to bigger purses and better competition through another channel: the PGA Tour’s qualifying school. In fact, Pettit already has advanced through the first of three stages, with a 10-under 8th-place finish at the Montgomery, Tex., qualifier last month.
A former LIV player vying for a PGA Tour card might give golf fans pause, and rightfully so given the Tour rule, enacted after LIV’s establishment, that states “any player who has participated in an unauthorized tournament is ineligible to compete in any event sanctioned by the PGA Tour for a period of one year from the final round of competition of the unauthorized tournament in which he participated.”
Pettit’s last start at an unauthorized event came at LIV’s 2022 season-capping tournament in Miami. The dates of competition: Oct. 28-30, 2022. This is where things get a bit murky, because the dates of the Tour’s Stage 1 qualifying in Montgomery were Oct. 24-27, 2023, meaning there was nearly a year between the last day of play in Miami and the first day of play in Montgomery — but not quite a year. If you’re keeping score at home, that period marked a stretch of 362 days, whereas as the generally accepted definition of a year is 365 days.
“The vagaries of the calendar year,” Amanda Herrington, senior director of communications for the Tour, told GOLF.com Friday. “There are a couple differences in a calendar from year to year, and because that week [in Montgomery] fell so close to a tournament-week span on the Tour, basically his time was served.”
In effect, Pettit didn’t technically serve a 365-day suspension, but close enough.
Should Pettit survive two more rounds of Q School — and, to be clear, that’s a big if — he would make history as the first former LIV full-timer to resume playing on the PGA Tour. The second stage of qualifying will be played across five sites from Nov. 14-Dec. 1, and the final stage is Dec. 14-17 at Dye’s Valley Course at TPC Sawgrass and Sawgrass Country Club, where the top five finishers and ties will earn Tour cards for 2024.
For what’s it worth, that week butts up against another key date on the golf calendar: Dec. 31, the deadline the PGA Tour and LIV’s backer, the Saudi Public Investment Fund, announced as the target for deciding their proposed partnership.