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Why Further LIV Golf Defections Still Matter

By: | Mon 29 Jan 2024

Reacting to the news that Tyrrell Hatton has become the latest high-profile player to sign for LIV Golf, in his latest View From The Fairway, Golfshake's Derek Clements explains why these stories still matter as the professional game looks for a unified solution.

On and on goes the chatter. In the past week alone Tommy Fleetwood and Tyrrell Hatton have found themselves in the spotlight as rumours began to swirl that both Englishmen were about to join LIV Golf. They both said they were staying put but it is now being widely reported that Hatton is making the move after all.

And worse than that, stories have begun to circulate that Viktor Hovland is also about to jump ship although at the time of writing he remains in the field for the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am. If it turns out to be true, it would be a huge blow for the PGA Tour. Hovland insists the claims are not true but he would not be the first golfer to say that and then perform a U-turn.

It is also claimed that Nicolai Hojgaard has been approached by the breakaway tour but has opted to say no. For now at least.

Fleetwood was unequivocal in his comments. He said that he was living his dream by being able to compete on both the PGA and DP World Tours and that he still had much to achieve. He admitted that he had been approached by LIV but made it clear that there was much he still wanted to do.

He said: “People have been getting approached for a long time. Some people will go and some people won’t. And then at some point we will either all play together or we won’t. I will speak for myself as a professional golfer and someone who is still chasing my childhood dreams and still trying to be the best golfer I can be. Until I decide that I have had enough or retire, I will always be doing what I think is best for my golf game and that’s what I am doing. Who knows if that changes in the future. But for now this is where I feel I want to be.

"I want to continue to try to be the best golfer I can possibly be. Wherever the world of golf is going and whatever is happening, shooting 75s and 76s isn’t going to help anyone.

“Wherever the world of golf takes me and my game, I will go and play and continue to do the same things. Over the last few years, all my decisions have been about how I feel I can get the most out of my game. There is all this uncertainty and you can get caught up in it. There are a lot of people making decisions, golfers aren’t making those decisions. My job is to keep working and keep improving.” 

Hatton said that he had been approached but indicated that he was planning to stay put. He said: “I am quite happy playing the PGA Tour and DP World Tour.” Tellingly, he added: “As of right now, yeah.”

It now emerges that the Ryder Cup star has chosen to defect, along with Adrian Meronk

Tyrrell Hatton

(Image Credit: Kevin Diss Photography)

Xander Schauffele has repeatedly been linked with LIV and he has an interesting take on the whole thing. The American refuses point blank to say he that he will not be moving. Why? He says that he is growing tired of players pledging their futures to the PGA Tour and then, days later, defecting to LIV. That is exactly what happened with Jon Rahm. Schauffele said: “When I hear somebody saying they will be staying with the PGA Tour I feel like I know that is a guarantee they will be leaving."

Why does any of this matter? If you have been following the first few weeks of the PGA Tour then you will know how thrilling it has been. We saw Chris Kirk win the Sentry - he is a recovering alcoholic who had to take a break from golf to deal with his demons. The Sony Open the following week was won by Grayson Murray, another golfer who has plumbed the depths of despair. We then saw Nick Dunlap winning the American Express as an amateur, the first to do so since Phil Mickelson more than 30 years ago. And then we saw Matthieu Pavon become one of the most unlikely of victors at the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines. 

You simply will not get that kind of drama with LIV Golf. Ever.

And there is more.

Hatton, Meronk and possibly Hovland will be joining Rahm, who is the highest-profile LIV recruit and is being paid a fortune to play for the Saudi-backed league. 

And it matters because there are supposedly peace talks going on that are designed to bring the PGA Tour, DP World Tour and LIV together, and these ongoing defections do little to give us any reason to believe that a framework is going to be in place anytime soon. 

It also gives Luke Donald a huge headache. Sergio Garcia, Ian Poulter and Lee Westwood were told that their Ryder Cup careers were over when they moved to LIV. Under normal circumstances, Rahm, Hatton, Meronk and Hovland would surely be shoo-ins for Donald’s team to take on the USA next year and Rory McIlroy, who was bitterly critical of Garcia, Poulter and Westwood, has taken an entirely different stance over Rahm, saying that it is unthinkable that Donald’s team would not feature the Spaniard. And if an exception is to be made for Rahm - and, personally, I see no good reason why that should happen - then McIlroy will no doubt be looking for the same thing for Hatton, Hovland and Meronk. 

You can also be sure that LIV are not finished yet. We know that they have approached the likes of Tony Finau and Rickie Fowler because both men have told us it has happened. I am willing to wager a sizeable sum that they will be circling around Dunlap, the hugely gifted youngster who turned professional days after stunning the world of golf. The PGA Tour cannot afford to lose talented youngsters such as Dunlap, Tom Kim and Ludvig Aberg.

When LIV first arrived on the scene many of their recruits were golfers who were approaching the end of their careers - the likes of Mickelson, Poulter, Westwood and Paul Casey all spring to mind. 

But they have now moved the goalposts. Losing Rahm was a massive blow for both the PGA Tour and DP World Tour. Hatton plays much of his golf on the PGA Tour and Meronk had gained one of the 10 PGA cards on offer as a result of his play on the DP World Tour in 2023. The Pole was controversially left out of Europe’s Ryder Cup team last year, with Donald opting to give Aberg one of his six wild cards. 

Meronk had every reason to feel aggrieved and made it clear that he was extremely unhappy to be overlooked. He clearly feels that he owes the DP World Tour no loyalty and in many ways it is hard not feel some sympathy for him.  

Hovland is box office and that is why he is on LIV’s radar. He is also another who pledged his future to the PGA Tour. But so did Rahm, and we all know what happened there.

DP World Tour chief Keith Pelley is standing down in April and has said he is confident that by the time he departs a framework agreement will be in place. For the sake of our beloved game, I genuinely hope that he is correct because this simply cannot be allowed to continue.

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