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Golf Sponsors Dump PGA Tour Players Defecting To Rival LIV

  • RBC and UPS cut ties with Dustin Johnson, Graeme McDowell, Lee Westwood.
  • Equipment makers mum on whether they’ll continue relationships.
Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

Golfers defying the PGA Tour to join upstart LIV Golf are suffering expensive defections by their corporate sponsors. Just ask Dustin Johnson.

Shortly after Johnson surprised the industry by joining the new Saudi-backed LIV, sponsor RBC (Royal Bank of Canada) ended its relationship with him and Graeme McDowell, winner of the 2010 U.S. Open.

“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,” said RBC spokeswoman Elynn Wareham in a statement Wednesday. “We wish them well in their future endeavors.”

Noting that it was a “proud partner” of the PGA Tour, RBC previously stated it was “extremely disappointed” by Johnson’s decision to tee it up at the inaugural LIV Golf Invitational from June 9-11.

Johnson and McDowell might not be the only golfers to lose lucrative deals over switching tours. 

The PGA Tour has made it clear there could be suspensions and other financial repercussions for players that defect to Greg Norman’s rival LIV.

After Lee Westwood asked for a release to play in LIV’s first event, sponsor UPS dumped him despite a 14-year relationship. The global courier requested the former World No. 1 golfer remove its brown-and-gold logo from his shirt and golf bag at the PGA Championship. 

UPS is not even a PGA Tour sponsor. But it has served as an international partner of The Masters tournament since 2014. It also partners with the Ryder Cup.

“We value the relationship we’ve had but make decisions based on what is best for our business,” UPS spokeswoman Kara Ross told SI via email. “We will continue to focus on sponsorship initiatives that are important for UPS and consistent with our business priorities.”

More financial fallout could be on the way.

The golf industry’s leading equipment makers such as Callaway Golf, TaylorMade, and Ping were conspicuously silent Wednesday about their relationships with endorsers bolting to LIV. These giants provide equipment, gear, and funding to the biggest stars. If they remain loyal to the PGA Tour, they won’t be easy to replace.

More than a dozen PGA Tour players are challenging Commissioner Jay Monahan by committing to LIV’s first event outside London.

They include the 37-year old Johnson, 42-year-olds McDowell and Sergio Garcia and, likely, embattled 51-year-old Phil Mickelson. 

Many of the golfers committing to LIV are Europeans such as McDowell, Westwood, Garcia, and Ian Poulter, in addition to South Africans like Charl Schwartzel and Louis Oosthuizen. 

But so far the biggest American stars have passed on LIV, including current money leader Scottie Scheffler, PGA Champion Justin Thomas, and Tiger Woods.

With PGA career earnings of $74.3 million, Johnson ranks behind only Woods ($120.9 million) and Mickelson ($95 million).

Norman’s rebel golf league is paying the two-time major winner an estimated $125 million to commit to the series, according to The Telegraph.

The total prize money for eight LIV events will be $255 million, with seven regular-season tournaments featuring $25 million purses. After the seven regular-season events, the top three finishers will share a $30 million bonus. The final match-play championship will offer $50 million in payouts.

The PGA Tour again threatened to drop the hammer on defectors Wednesday.

“As communicated to our membership on May 10, PGA Tour members have not been authorized to participate in the Saudi Golf League’s London event, under PGA Tour regulations,” it said in a statement. “Members who violate the tournament regulations are subject to disciplinary action.”