PGA Tour heads to Memphis with some key golfers gone for LIV

Published: Aug. 2, 2022 at 4:47 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - The top 125 players on the PGA Tour are headed to Memphis to play their skills in the very lucrative FedEx Cup Playoffs.

But some big names will not be in town after leaving the PGA for LIV Golf, a new league backed by the ultra-deep pockets of the Royal Family of Saudi Arabia.

Dustin Johnson holed a 9-iron to win the FedEx St. Jude Classic and return to number 1 in the world back on June 10, 2018.

Johnson is now one of the top golfers who will not be at Southwind this week.

After a grand total of $74 million in winnings during his 15-year PGA Tour career, Johnson reportedly signed a four-year contract for $125 million to join LIV.

“They already had tens of millions of dollars. They went to the comfort of guaranteed money without having to compete for it,” Dwight Drinkard said.

Drinkard served as the director of the FedEx St. Jude Classic from 1987 to 1999, an era when the Memphis tournament scrambled to assemble a quality field of tour players--a far cry from the elite FedEx Cup Playoffs top 125 who will be in town this year.

“It puts it on the map with the quality of field that we didn’t have back then. Memphis can be very proud that they’re among the elite now because of FedEx,” Drinkard said.

But the super affluent LIV Tour has hooked big names with its 3-day, 54-hole no-cut tournaments where winners collect as much as $4 million and the guy in last place can pocket six figures.

Those who’ve opted for LIV and will miss Memphis this year also include a Bluff City favorite Phil Mickelson, who won $94 million on the PGA Tour.

“Lefty” reportedly signed a $200 million deal with LIV.

Also LIV bound is Lee Westwood, who won the FedEx St. Jude Classic in 2010, as well as 1997 FedEx St. Jude winner Greg Norman, who’s now commissioner of the LIV Tour.

Norman recently roped in 2013 FedEx Cup Playoffs Champion Henrik Stetson, who abandoned his captaincy of the European Ryder Cup Team to move to LIV.

“It’s sad what happening to me with the LIV Tour. No matter what they say, it’s not good for the ecosystem of international golf. Don’t know where that’s going. It’ll be settled in courts,” Drinkard said. “Me personally, I’m from a different era.

Loren Roberts, who’s won the most PGA Tournaments playing from his Memphis home base since the likes of Dr. Cary Middlecoff, is now 67 years old.

“It’s tough. Golf technically we have a league with the PGA Tour but technically we are independent contractors. The team doesn’t own me so guys can make their own decisions about things,” Roberts said.

Roberts celebrates what the PGA Tour did for him and charities like St. Jude but wonders how the LIV Tour will impact international competitions.

“My concern though is what’s going to happen with the Ryder Cup and President’s Cup when you have to play for your country because that requires the team room to be a very cohesive atmosphere,” Roberts said.

The FedEx Cup Playoffs are here, but it remains to be seen what elite golfers will be back in Memphis next year as the deep pockets of an oil-rich kingdom entice the pros from half a world away.

As sponsor of the FedEx Cup with so many hundreds of millions of dollars invested by Memphis’ number one employer since 2007 when Tiger Woods won the inaugural FedEx Cup, all kinds of conversations are happening at the highest levels to keep elite golfers on the PGA Tour and to maintain the integrity of the FedEx Cup Playoffs.

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