Dustin Johnson signs up for opening event of controversial LIV Golf Series

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Dustin Johnson will play in the opening event of the Saudi-backed LIV Golf Invitational Series next week in Hertfordshire.

The former world number one will headline the new competition’s inaugural event at the Centurion Club from June 9-11, just four months after committing himself to the PGA Tour.

Johnson, currently world number 13, is the biggest name so far to announce he will take part and risks sanctions by the PGA, which has not granted members permission to play.

The Centurion Club in Hertfordshire will host next week's opening LIV Golf Series event
The Centurion Club in Hertfordshire will host next week’s opening LIV Golf Series event (Steven Paston/PA)

The 37-year-old American’s agent David Winkle said in a statement: “Dustin has been contemplating the opportunity off-and-on for the past couple of years.

“Ultimately, he decided it was in his and his family’s best interest to pursue it. Dustin has never had any issue with the PGA Tour and is grateful for all it has given him, but in the end, felt this was too compelling to pass up.”

The winner at the Centurion Club will receive £3million out of a total prize fund of £20m and Johnson will join the likes of Louis Oosthuizen, Branden Grace, Lee Westwood, Ian Poulter, Sergio Garcia, Kevin Na, Martin Kaymer and Graeme McDowell in a 48-man field.

Johnson had been scheduled to play in the Canadian Open, which also starts next week, but will now line up in the first of eight new worldwide LIV Series events to be held from June to October.

His decision is in conflict with the Royal Bank of Canada (RBC), which is one of his sponsors as well as the title partner of the Canadian Open.

RBC said in a statement that it was “extremely disappointed” in Johnson’s decision but added: “We wish him well.”

Canadian Open organisers announced on Twitter: “Together with our partners at RBC, we are disappointed to learn at this late stage that Dustin Johnson has made the decision to play the LIV Golf Event. As a past RBC Canadian Open champion, Canadian golf fans were looking forward to DJ’s return this year.”

LIV Golf chief executive Greg Norman has been heavily criticised for heading up the breakaway tour, with its Saudi investors accused of “sportswashing” their country’s poor human rights record.

But Norman said: “Free agency has finally come to golf. This is an opportunity to start a movement that will change the course of history by bringing new and open competition to the sport we all love.

LIV Golf chief executive Greg Norman says the new series 'will change the course of history'
LIV Golf chief executive Greg Norman says the new series ‘will change the course of history’ (Matt Morton/PA)

“The desire shown by the players to participate in LIV Golf demonstrates their emphatic belief in our model and confidence in what we’re building for the future.”

The LIV Golf Series will adopt a new format in a bid to make the sport more exciting for fans, with 12 teams of four players contesting in each three-round event to determine team and individual winners.

Former US Open champion McDowell said it had been a “very difficult decision” to commit to the LIV series, but it was the “right decision for me and my family”.

The Northern Irishman told National Club Golfer website: “If we do get banned from the PGA Tour and the DP World Tour, for example, is that good for the sport golf?

“I believe it’s not good for the game and I really feel what the guys at LIV have done is they’ve tried to create a schedule, which especially fits around the PGA Tour.

“It’s designed to co-exist with the other tours in the world and let’s just hope that it all works out. The unknowns are a little scary, but I’m sure it’s weighed into the decision of every player that’s decided to take the leap. And we just hope that the right decision will be made.”

Amnesty International UK chief executive Sacha Deshmukh said the human rights group was “not telling golfers to boycott this tournament”, but that it was a bid by the Saudi authorities to distract from their human rights record.

Deshmukh added: “Saudi Arabia’s persecuted human rights community will feel bitterly disappointed if well-paid golfing superstars take the LIV Golf cash but stay silent about what’s happening in Saudi Arabia.”

DP World Tour declined to comment on any possible sanctions for players who compete at Centurion after being denied the required release.

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