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Why top PGA Tour players are fleeing to Saudi-backed LIV Golf

Yahoo Finance reporter Josh Schafer explains why some of the top golfers in the world are opting out of the PGA Tour in favor of a Saudi-backed league and how people are reacting.

Video Transcript

DAVE BRIGGS: Thank you, Seana. The biggest rivalry in sports at this very strange moment comes from the world of golf, and it's not between players, but actually between leagues or governing bodies in this case. It involves geopolitics and two of the biggest names in the sport, Dustin Johnson and Phil Mickelson. Both decided to leave the PGA TOUR for Saudi-backed LIV Golf. For Johnson, $125 million payday, and Mickelson a rumored $200 million. Here's Johnson explaining the potential blowback.

DUSTIN JOHNSON: Obviously, at this time, it's hard to speak on what the consequences will be, but for right now, you know, I resigned my membership from the TOUR. I'm going to play here for now, and that's the plan. But what the consequences are going to be, obviously, I can't comment on how the tour is going to handle.

DAVE BRIGGS: The TOUR actually decided to allow them to play in the US Open, which is shocking. Our own Josh Schafer is here ahead of LIV Golf's first event coming up this week. Josh, this is a bizarre moment in which we're in, but how did we get here?

JOSH SCHAFER: Yeah, Dave, so to kind of break down what LIV Golf is, why people are upset about it, so to start, its run by Greg Norman actually, famous golfer known as The Shark, Greg Norman. He's the CEO of LIV Golf right now. And so the key thing here, is that the new league is being bankrolled by the Saudi Arabia Public Investment Fund. So that's obviously received a lot of backlash, because the Saudis' long history of humanitarian crimes, including the brutal murder of "Washington Post" journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

And really what we're seeing here, is golfers taking the money instead of making a humanitarian play and maybe taking a stand against something. And so really what I'd like to point out when we look at the numbers, is $255 million in prize money across eight events. Some of those events are going to be on the same weekend as PGA TOUR events. And when we look at the numbers that Dave mentioned at the beginning there, Dustin Johnson, $125 million deal. He's only made $74 million in the last 15 years of prize money.

Phil Mickelson, probably reportedly signed a $200 million deal. In 30 years, Phil Mickelson one of the most famous golfers, has only made $95 million in prize money. So these guys are making basically double what they've made throughout their careers by signing this deal. Still, is it the right thing to do?

I think the court of public opinion is debating that right now and the PGA TOUR is as well. The PGA TOUR plans to punish some of these guys for being in the TOUR. Dustin Johnson, as he said, we played in that SOT, has already resigned his membership. Phil Mickelson hasn't said much publicly about where he stands on the TOUR, so that's still, we're kind of waiting to find out what happens there.

DAVE BRIGGS: Well, Josh, it was surprising though to hear the USGA say they are still allowed to play in the US Open, because to your point, we expected some stiff punishment for those guys leaving. No word of that yet. They're in a tough spot with Tiger Woods though at the moment, right?

No Tiger Woods at the US Open, and so you see the US Open now, they want some of those stars, right. It's kind of tough for the US Open to take a stand, you have a US Open with no Dustin Johnson, no Tiger Woods, no Sergio Garcia, Graeme McDowell, Lee Westwood. These are names we're used to hearing. Phil Mickelson. Names we're used to hearing on Sundays, right, Dave? If you have the US Open without any of these players, they're put in a really tough spot when we're talking about viewership and where the PGA TOUR stands.

And the PGA TOUR certainly doesn't have the money to back the tournament or to back their tournaments the way we're seeing the Saudi-backed tournament. So I think that they're sort of trying to hedge a little bit here and keep popularity in those major tournaments, because right now, you could win this tournament, the LIV Golf tournament this Sunday, Dave, you win $4 million. Scottie Scheffler didn't even win $3 million for winning the Masters, and I'd probably say that's golf's most popular tournament.

RACHELLE AKUFFO: I mean, and that's hard to compete when someone's throwing that kind of money at you. A big thanks to Yahoo Finance's own Josh Shafer.