How the Money Works on LIV Golf

An inside look at where the dollars go on golf’s most decadent tour

By Alan Shipnuck
July 1, 2022

NORTH PLAINS, Ore. — LIV Golf is about many things: disruption, sportswashing, vengeance (in the case of frontman Greg Norman) and, uh, golf. But more than anything, it’s about cold, hard cash. As with many other issues surrounding this upstart tour, the details around all the money are shadowy. In an effort to get more granular, the Fire Pit Collective spoke with four agents who represent LIV golfers; they were granted anonymity to facilitate candor.

“What you have to understand about professional golfers is that they are all whores,” Agent A says. “That is the starting point.”

Touched off by a recent Brandel Chamblee tweet in which he said prize money is being applied to signing bonuses, there has been discussion this week about how the money is distributed on the LIV tour. The lower-wattage players in the field at Pumpkin Ridge have to kill what they eat, guaranteed nothing beyond the last-place money of $120,000 in the 48-man field. The more established players who jumped to LIV from the PGA and European tours have received guaranteed money that, contrary to Chamblee’s tweet, is in addition to whatever the player claims from the tournament purses, which this week is $20 million plus an additional $5 million for the concurrent team competition. “The prize fund is the prize fund,” says Pat Perez, who is making his LIV debut this week. “Whatever you win you get to keep. That’s why guys are taking this seriously.”

As with team sports, the guaranteed money on LIV varies from player to player, based on age, starpower, current form and projected performance. “Every deal is different,” Ian Poulter says. “There hasn’t been a lot of talk about the money [among players] because that’s personal.” Some of the numbers that have been floated in media reports have been fantastical: $200 million for Phil Mickelson, $150 million for Dustin Johnson, $100 million for Bryson DeChambeau. “You have to take that with a grain of salt,” Agent B says. “Who does it benefit to inflate those numbers? LIV, obviously, because they’re trying to generate buzz and recruit more players. But it also benefits the agents who are trying to sign new players or nudge other clients to make the jump.”

Though it is subject to negotiation, the standard arrangement in professional golf is that players keep all of the money they win on the course but agents take 20 percent of appearance fees and endorsement deals. LIV’s upfront money is treated like the latter, and as a result, the player representatives are getting a fat cut. (Because there is no cut in the events and players are guaranteed a check, some agencies are taking a commission on the first $120,000 of a player’s winnings, treating it as a de facto appearance fee.) One veteran caddie to a top player who has remained loyal to the PGA Tour says in a text message, “I honestly think that one of the backstories to this LIV thing are agents who desperately want the biggest payday of their lives.”

A key player in the building of LIV Golf is GSE Worldwide, a New York-based outfit that represents seven players who have made the jump: DeChambeau, Sergio Garcia, Louis Oosthuizen, Brendan Grace, Abraham Ancer, Carlos Ortiz and Eugenio Chacarra (who just turned pro). On Thursday, Norman told me, “We still have some big announcements coming.” Speculation has centered around another GSE client, Sam Burns. (Andrew Witlieb, the head of the company’s golf division, did not respond to a request for comment for this story.) GSE’s aggressive business model dovetails nicely with LIV’s desperate need to sign players. “We call it pushing paper,” Agent A says. “Those guys buy clients. They go in and say, ‘We’ll guarantee you X millions of dollars in income to sign with us.’ That means if [GSE doesn’t] land some big deals, they get their ass handed to them.” But Agent C pushes back on the notion that he or any of his colleagues have steered their players to LIV despite the risks of being banned from what was their home tour, to say nothing of the blowback attached to LIV’s funding coming from Saudi Arabia. “Our job is to present all the options to the player, but they always make the final decision,” Agent C says. “If you push a player to do something that is not in his best interests long-term, you’re not going to be in this business very long.”

How are players taking care of the rest of their “team” in this era of inflated purses? Most caddies and swing coaches to LIV players are getting the same percentages as always, which means 10 percent of a victory this week is worth a cool $400,000 to the looper. “I’ve heard a little grumbling from the players,” Agent D says, “but there has been so much talk about quote unquote player greed that I think they are sensitive to not squeezing anyone right now. I do expect that at the end of this season some percentages will get adjusted.”

Perez has no such plans.  “The whole thing about this is I’m trying to take care of my family,” he says. “And H [caddie Michael Hartford] is family. Claude [swing coach Claude Harmon] is family. So I’m still going to take care of these guys the way we usually operate.” Each LIV player is given four plane tickets per tournament: one first class, one premium economy and two economy. He also gets four rooms in a luxury hotel. So caddies who used to have to pay their own way are now traveling for free. With no cut, they are also guaranteed a check every time out, and the 54-hole events reduce the wear and tear on their aching joints. “I have gotten calls from more than a dozen caddies dying for a bag,” Agent D says.

Perez signed with LIV for four years, which will take him to age 50, when he will be eligible for the Champions Tour … if golf’s warring bureaucracies ever make peace. Like other players with relatively modest upfront money, he received his haul in one chunk. “Mine is in,” he says. “I got it all. It’s fucking incredible.” According to Agent C, the contracts that run into high-eight and nine figures are paid in annual installment across the three-, four- or five-year deals. Every player with a long-term LIV deal is compelled to play every event on the schedule, even as it potentially expands from eight tournaments this year to 14 in coming years. There are clawback provisions should a player miss a significant amount of time for injury. Interestingly, there is also a “morals clause” by which LIV can cancel a contract and recoup the upfront money. This covers incidents of on-course cheating and legal troubles, and particular attention has been given to consorting with or being influenced by gamblers. “With so many guys getting guaranteed money,” Agent C says, “there is the concern that a player could be more tempted to do something during the competitive rounds, which might not mean as much to them. Where there is money there is always corruption. That’s just how humans are.”

The way LIV has quickly reshaped the landscape of professional golf has led to a lot of reflection on human nature. On Thursday, a couple of miles from Pumpkin Ridge, a dozen 9/11 families participated in a protest of LIV’s links to Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of 15 of the 19 9/11 hijackers. While fans, reporters, political commentators and a few professional golfers wrestle with these larger geopolitical issues, business is booming on the LIV tour. Says Agent A, “I was just talking with the guy doing all the deals for LIV, and he told me he is drinking from a fire hose right now. He is getting bombarded by agents. I think there was some initial apprehension about how this whole thing was going to play out, so a lot of people were on the sidelines, observing. Now the gold rush is on.”

Norman and LIV’s newest signee Brooks Koepka pressing flesh on Thursday with Majed Al Sorour, CEO of the Saudi Golf Federation.

28 thoughts on “How the Money Works on LIV Golf”

  1. With only 48 players what will happen to the no-names who make up a great deal of the current roster when they are replaced? Theoretically they can’t go back to the DP or PGA tours. It seems like this could also be true for guys like Mcdowell, Westwood, Poulter, etc. This also affects the requirement to play in LIV tournaments. How can you “require” them to play in tournaments when better players are brought into the fold? Does the “clawback” clause kick in under such a circumstance? It seems like some of the younger guys are taking a huge chance with 1) staying healthy, and 2) continuing to play well. Probably the biggest thing that has struck me so far is how the first thing so many players say is what a sweet deal LIV is and how much time they can take off. What is their incentive to practice? Their game can go south quickly as we have seen already from some like Sergio, Westwood, etc. With Koepka, Dechambeau, and others clearly not at the top of their game it looks like we will watch Dustin Johnson win every week for a while.

    1. “With only 48 players what will happen to the no-names who make up a great deal of the current roster when they are replaced?”
      They are independent contractors, they can do whatever they want.

      1. On the PGA Tour, yes, they’re independent contractors. They choose which events to play, with a requirement to play once in every Tour stop within five years.

        From what I’ve read, if you sign with LIV, you must play all tournaments. How independent is that?

          1. Don’t need permission to play because none of them received permission. Need permission to come back.

          2. That’s the whole stupid argument is they are independent contractors and can play wherever because freedom, even though everybody knows you have agreements with the tours

        1. Ellen,

          There is absolutely no requirement to play every Tour stop within five years. It is merely a suggestion. Rory, Phil, Brooks, etc have never played the JD Classic, for example.

    2. Oh, to read a few of these contracts. Would be great reading.

      And I’m pleased for the caddies. They stand to gain a lot. Shame on the Tour for not doing a better job supporting the caddies.

  2. The amount of story angles from the LIV tour must be a treasure trove for golf writers. Hearing that the caddies are treated and compensated better is a small positive against the bigger human rights issues. Also, very strange, but understandable, to not see or hear from Phil on social media after the last few years.
    I wonder if the strategy of the agents and golfers is to take the cash now, play a few years on the LIV tour (if it lasts that long), move to the Champions Tour (if they are allowed), and start the Forgiveness Tour by saying they regret what they did and as a sign of penance, donate a few million to a Human Rights group.

  3. These guys are in for a treat when they come to Bolton Ma for the ‘Boston’ stop. The International is in Bolton Ma, about 40 or so miles from. Boston and the roads from 495 to the course are 2 lane country roads. The closest ‘luxury hotel’ is a Best Western about 15 miles away in in Marlboro. This is gonna be a shit show

  4. It would appear as if the real guys cashing in are agents and caddies. The players may not be the brightest bulbs on the Christmas tree

  5. I missed who the charities are? other than Patrick Reeds wife. How inspired is the golf? How can OWGR possibly think this tournament golf?

  6. The OWGR for these players will drop quickly and dramatically with no points other than from the majors, if they qualify. Pretty soon it will be OWGR #437 vs #516 battling it out for $4,000,000…
    In a PGA event, approximately 60-70 make a cut. If LIV had a cut, that would only be about 20 or so….Phil can’t seem to break 75 anymore, Ian Poulter is shanking it all over the place, Sergio stinks….team golf is a joke. The guys that say they want yo provide for their families might try buying fewer Lamborghinis, or designer tennis shoes if they are really concerned about feeding Fido…

  7. Like it or not, there are three professional golf tournaments this week, and LIV has the strongest strength of field if you look at WGR. That can’t go unnoticed by the leadership at the PGA Tour. Sure, it’s a rest week for most of the PGA Tour’s top-ranked players, but in just two tournaments LIV has managed to recruit enough players to give them the most interesting field in the weekend.

    Some questions. Why play the final round on Saturday? Do they not want to compete with PGA final round Sundays? Also, why the shotgun start? I know it makes the total time for the broadcast shorter, but it does make it harder to follow. As a viewer it’s hard to get to know the course because you’re not watching the leaders play through the same holes together. Do the leaders start at the first hole so they finish on 18?

  8. It’s ’inévitable that liv or some other tour will come along in the future to compete with PGA. Who gave them monopolistic rights to almost the entire game? They should figure out a way to capitalize on this – there’s plenty of players and weeks to play in a year – and oh, you critics – make sure you don’t contribute to the Saudis by buying gas at just about any gas station or the 9/11 people will show up at your house !

  9. Terry Hutchens

    The simple question yet very complex answer to is this

    Does it matter in this world any longer who you take money from?

    Humans are so self absorbed – it appears the answer is no.

    I fear that answer doesn’t bode well for the world in general.

    And LIV golf is just one example of this. The situation itself is one that occurs many times in many other scenarios.

    Character matters – I believe we are too shallow as a people now to understand that and can’t see far enough into the future to understand how this one decision can suck the soul out of a people and a country.

    And once we do – it is probably going to be too late.

    It will take a concerted effort to find a place of peace and dignity amongst us again.

  10. People need to understand what an independent contractor is. An independent contractor is someone who works for themselves. It does not guarantee you will have work. I hope LIV makes them play every tournament. I hope in year 3 it goes up to 30 mandatory tournaments just to make them pay the price for blood money.

  11. Liv players can forget about their OWGR points… The Governing Board will not act on the league application until after this season. By then, their ranking will have plummeted…

  12. No agent in the business should be paid 20% of any form of income earned by a professional. That is a license to steal. This can’t end well.

  13. The Saturday LIV streaming was actually quite good. The commentators are much better than the Dottie Pepper drivel.

    The Golf Channel doesn’t even post the scores or winners – I wonder why ? NBC/PGA servants ?

    1. Brent McLendon

      Why take a shot at Dottie Pepper? I find her entertaining and knowledgeable. As far as Golf Channel, it is owned by NBC so what would you expect. I feel sorry for the lower echelon players that will be dropped and have nowhere to play as they have been banned from PGA and DP tours.

  14. “What you have to understand about professional golfers is that they are all whores,” Agent A says. “That is the starting point.”
    I’m not saying this isn’t true, but it sure sounds like what the head-shrinkers call “projection”.

    The Agents dodge brings to mind the (apocryphal) story about Colonel Parker, selling Elvis’s entire publishing catalog so he could better attend to his own gambling passion.

    So far LIV seems to have attracted the Whiners, the Losers and the Over-the-Hill gangers. Buh bye.

  15. I think the best way to describe LIV golf is a paid vacation. You get 8 golf vacations each year, luxury accommodations, a fat paycheck guaranteed (some a lot fatter than others) and you get to play 3 fun rounds of golf with your friends. That’s it, end of story.

  16. Nice story– does anybody know who won the Oregon tournament? I have not seen any coverage (other than LIV as disruptor stories like this) although I assume it happened. It seems so beside the point, the actual competition.

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