Two-time Masters champion Bubba Watson isn’t sure why LIV Golf players are being heavily criticized by some PGA Tour players for taking guaranteed money from the new circuit.
Watson, 43, told ESPN that he received guaranteed appearance money from sponsors and tournament organizers while playing on the PGA Tour, which wasn’t allowed under the Tour’s rules.
“It makes me laugh because on the PGA Tour, I got paid behind closed doors to show up at tournaments, many tournaments,” Watson told ESPN. “And if Bubba Watson’s not the best, that means the best were getting paid better than me and more than me. And so it’s guaranteed money. I miss the cut, I still make money. I make the cut, I make extra money.”
In a statement to ESPN on Wednesday, the PGA Tour said it “prohibits the payment of appearance money to players as an inducement to play in a particular tournament.”
“We are aware that certain tournament sponsors may contract with a player to perform a sponsor-related activity during tournament week for which they receive nominal compensation,” the PGA Tour statement said. “This is permissible under our guidelines.”
Tiger Woods, among other PGA Tour players, have criticized players for accepting guaranteed, multiyear contracts from LIV Golf, which is being funded by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund. Former world No. 1 golfer Dustin Johnson reportedly received more than $125 million to defect to the new circuit and then won another $35 million in prize money and bonuses in its inaugural season.
Six-time major champion Phil Mickelson, who helped recruit players to LIV Golf, reportedly signed a $200 million deal.
“What these players are doing for guaranteed money, what is the incentive to practice?” Woods told reporters at the 150th Open at St. Andrews in July. “What is the incentive to go out there and earn it in the dirt? You’re just getting paid a lot of money upfront and playing a few events and playing 54 holes.”
Watson didn’t specify how much under-the-table money he received during his PGA Tour career, in which he won 12 times, including the Masters in 2012 and 2014.
“I’d laugh at [criticism] because we all had some guaranteed money to show up at places,” Watson said. “Win, lose, quit, whatever it is, you still got the money. We’ve all been doing that. We’ve all been playing for guaranteed money. The critics, it just makes me laugh because that’s what we’re doing. We don’t want to talk about it on tour, but we are getting it.”
Kevin Kisner, a member of the PGA Tour player advisory council, told ESPN that the money players receive at PGA Tour tournaments is different from what LIV Golf is doling out.
“I would not say that it’s an appearance fee as much as a relationship between the player and the title sponsor or the host organization,” Kisner said. “They’re trying to get more money in players’ hands through contracted appearances for tent visits or pro-ams away from the regular PGA Tour. It’s been going on forever.
“If Travelers wants to pay Bubba Watson to go do a tent visit, that has nothing to do with the PGA Tour. You don’t think Zurich in New Orleans is pressuring guys to play because they’re sponsoring them on their sleeves? That’s not an appearance fee. That’s an off-course endorsement that’s under contract. How many players does RBC have?”
LIV Golf CEO Greg Norman said he wasn’t allowed to accept appearance fees when he played on the PGA Tour.
“I’ve been away from the PGA Tour for so long,” Norman said. “I have heard those rumors and opinions out there. I can only say that if Bubba is saying that, it’s got to be factual and it wouldn’t surprise me at all. Back in my day, we were not allowed to take appearance money, we were not allowed to get our hotels paid or any expenses paid for. We had to go just play golf and we earned what we earned and we spent what we had to spend to go earn that money. It might be different now.”