The biggest name in Greg Norman’s new stable of players has been dumped after making a decision in his family’s best interests.
The Royal Bank of Canada ended its sponsorship of golfers Dustin Johnson and Graeme McDowell on Wednesday after they were included in the field for the first event of the Saudi-backed LIV Golf Invitational Series event in England.
The 54-hole tournament starts on June 9 in England, the same day that the RBC Canadian Open begins in Toronto.
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A day after the RBC Open issued a statement saying officials were “disappointed” former world number one Johnson had made the decision to play the LIV circuit, RBC itself confirmed it had severed ties with both Johnson and 2010 US Open winner McDowell of Northern Ireland.
“As a result of the decisions made by professional golfers Dustin Johnson and Graeme McDowell to play the LIV Golf Invitational Series opener, RBC is terminating its sponsorship agreement with both players,” RBC said in the statement. “We wish them well in their future endeavours.”
Johnson’s agent David Wrinkle issued a statement about his client’s decision to play in the LIV event, saying “he decided it was in his and his family’s best interest to pursue it”.
Johnson’s family includes Paulina Gretzky, the daughter of ice hockey legend Wayne Gretzky, who recently married the superstar golfer.
According to reports, Johnson was paid approximately $175 million to join the LIV Series.
The move from RBC to cut ties with Johnson came as the US PGA Tour confirmed that it would pursue disciplinary action against tour members who play in the money-spinning LIV series — which is being spearheaded by Aussie legend Greg Norman — without authorisation.
“As communicated to our entire membership on May 10, PGA TOUR members have not been authorised to participate in the Saudi Golf League’s London event, under PGA TOUR Tournament Regulations,” the PGA Tour said in a statement.
“Members who violate the Tournament Regulations are subject to disciplinary action.”
In the past, PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan has warned that anyone joining a rival venture could be excluded from Tour events and face a possible lifetime ban.
While two-time major winner Johnson was the biggest name revealed on Tuesday, other players included two-time major winner Martin Kaymer, and major champions Sergio Garcia, Charl Schwartzel, Louis Oosthuizen and Graeme McDowell.
European Ryder Cup stars Ian Poulter and Lee Westwood were also named in the field.
Norman had hinted previously there would be some big names to join his venture, despite public scepticism about who would choose him over the PGA. But his ability to lure Johnson and other high-profile players over proves The Shark wasn’t just talking the talk, he’s also walking the walk.
The PGA Tour declined to grant releases to any players for the London tournament.
Johnson, a two-time major champion, said in February he would stay loyal to the US Tour, but when 42-strong field for next week’s tournament was released he headed the list of players who will vie for a $35 million purse.
RBC isn’t the first sponsor to drop golfers over LIV Golf. International shipping company UPS dropped Westwood last month and six-time major winner Phil Mickelson lost a string of sponsors after his comments in February on the controversial tour and its Saudi financial backers.
As the golf world digested the news, four-time major winner Rory McIlroy, a close friend of McDowell, said he did not want his colleagues to face stiff penalties over joining LIV.
“I certainly don’t think they should drop the hammer,” McIlroy replied when asked if he thought authorities should get tough.
“Look, (authorities) are well within their rights to enforce the rules and regulations that have been set.
“But it’s going to end up being an argument about what those rules and regulations are.
“I have some very close friends that are playing in this event in London, and I certainly wouldn’t want to stand in their way to, for them to do what they feel is right for themselves.
“It’s not something that I would do personally. But I certainly understand why some of the guys have went, and it’s something that we are all just going to keep an eye on and see what happens over these next few weeks.”
McIlroy expressed sympathy for those players reaching the tail-end of their careers opting to join LIV for the chance to earn big money.
Next week’s opening LIV event at Centurion Club in St. Albans, north of London, will have the largest purse in golf history at $35 million — almost double that of any major, with $5.5 million going to the winner.
“You know, you have some guys in a position where like they are literally not guaranteed a job next year,” McIlroy said.
“So someone that isn’t guaranteed their tour card next year, another entity comes along and says, ‘We’ll guarantee you this amount for three years, plus you’re playing for a ton more prize money, and you’re playing less events, you can spend more time with your family.’
“Whenever you sit down and look at some of those things, it’s very appealing to some of those guys that are in that position.”