James Piot, the reigning US Amateur champion and recently graduated Michigan State golf star, has signed up to play the new, lucrative and controversial LIV golf tour.
Piot was on the list of 42 players set to play the Saudi Arabia-financed tour’s inaugural event, in London next week. He turned professional last week and is free to cash checks at tournaments.
Piot is playing in the PGA Tour’s Memorial this week in Dublin, Ohio, on a sponsor’s exemption, before he travels overseas to play the LIV tour. Piot did not return a message from The News this week, but two of Piot’s long-time coaches defended the 23-year-old Canton native’s decision.
“James is comfortable with his decision. He’s got a place to play,” said Brian Cairns, the head pro at Fox Hills in Plymouth, who has worked with Piot almost all of his life. “He’s getting paid to play golf. Mission accomplished.
“I support his decision 1,000%.”
The Saudi-funded golf league, which is out to rival the PGA Tour, has been met by stark criticism over Saudi Arabia’s human-rights atrocities. Most of the game’s best players have rejected overtures – and tens of millions of dollars – to spur the PGA Tour.
Among those who accepted the LIV tour’s offer: Dustin Johnson, Louis Oosthuizen, Lee Westwood, Ian Poulter and Kevin Na. Johnson had previously said he would remain loyal to the PGA Tour. Phil Mickelson, who hasn’t been seen or heard from since February when he dismissed Saudi Arabia’s human-rights record in defending the premise of the LIV tour while accusing of greed a PGA Tour that has paid him nearly $ 100 million over the years, was not on the list released by the LIV tour Tuesday night.
PGA Tour members who play the LIV tour have been told they face a possible ban from the PGA Tour. Norman has said the LIV tour will fight the PGA Tour’s stance in court.
Piot, the first Michigan-born man to win the US Amateur when he triumphed last summer at Oakmont, is not a PGA Tour member, having just graduated from Michigan State. He is free to earn checks any way he chooses without PGA Tour penalty.
First place for the eight regular-season LIV events pays $ 4 million; last place pays more than $ 100,000. There’s a possibility Piot also received a signing bonus to play the LIV tour, but that’s not known. Stars have been offered signing bonuses in excess of $ 20 million, and some lesser-known names who are in the top 100 of the world rankings have been offered bonuses in excess of $ 10 million, plus annual guarantees on top of prize money. In other words, it’s a chance to get rich, quick.
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Still, according to Piot’s coaches, it wasn’t an easy decision. He consulted with parents, friends and coaches.
“Everybody has had a lot of input,” said Casey Lubahn, Michigan State’s head men’s golf coach. “He’s an adult now, so he makes his own decisions. I’m going to support James in whatever he chooses. It’s a chance to play against some of the best players in the world, obviously earn some money, and live your dream.
“He’s a very thoughtful guy, he’s got a great support system.
“And I’m proud to see him take his game to the next level.”
Cairns added that Piot plans to use money he makes in golf to help the southwest Michigan golf community.
It will be a super-busy three weeks for Piot, who is playing in Jack Nicklaus’ Memorial this week – his fourth PGA Tour start, including the Masters – then the LIV tour next week, before the US Open the following week at The Country Club in Brookline, Massachusetts.
It is expected Piot will receive a sponsor’s exemption into Detroit’s Rocket Mortgage Classic in late July.
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