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ASU Men’s Golf: David Puig’s decision to join LIV has several ripples

World No. 9 Amateur Golfer makes move to LIV official

Syndication: Arizona Republic Rob Schumacher/The Republic / USA TODAY NETWORK

One of the worst kept secrets about one of Arizona State golf’s best players is now out in the open.

David Puig, the sensational Spaniard who was a pillar of the men’s golf team while he was on campus, will leave the team and forego his senior year in favor of joining the controversial LIV Golf tour.

Puig has played in LIV tournaments before, in London and Bedminster, but did not accept any winnings from the events in order to maintain his status as an amateur and remain on the Sun Devil golf team.

At just 20 years old, Puig is joining a youth moment at LIV. The series was initially lampooned for recruiting almost exclusively from a pool of golfers whose best days were viewed as far behind them when it launched earlier this year.

Since then, a number of players in their prime and several recent major championship winners have made the jump. Four-time major champion Brooks Koepka joined during the summer. 2020 U.S. Open Champion and mercurial star Bryson DeChambeau did as well. Precocious Chilean golfer Joaquin Niemman and the Champion Golfer of the Year, Cameron Smith, joined just weeks ago.

Those four golfers just listed have an average age of 28 years. Not so over-the-hill any more.

After taking in those fleeing from the PGA Tour like a monastery during wartime, LIV Golf now operates from a position of strength. Those in charge of LIV are both audaciously present and invisible at once, and they certainly have the capital in both finances and golfing talent to be selective about their future additions.

Viewed through that lens, the news about Puig today is significant. For all of the series’ grandstanding, it has for the most part stocked its shelves with proven talent that cut its teeth on the PGA Tour or overseas on the DP World Tour (formally European World Tour). LIV has rarely gone after major prospects at the collegiate level.

But his addition makes sense both for LIV and for Puig.

For LIV, this year has been all about establishing legitimacy. The fledgling series still needs an American television broadcast partner, and despite the signing of all the aforementioned golfers in their prime, the bulk of LIV is still comprised of guys like Sergio Garcia, Phil Mickelson, Lee Westwood, Graeme McDowell, and Martin Kaymer. And they are all, like, sooooo 2007. They clearly believe Puig can blossom into a future major winner. That, more than anything, will solidify LIV’s status in the global sports arena.

For Puig, it’s really simple. If you know about LIV, you don’t need me to patronize you about it. If you don’t, here’s the answer: Money. Lot’s of it.

We don’t know exactly how much yet, but this an organization that paid Mickelson around $200 million for simply signing up. For reference, Phil made in the neighborhood of $95 million for the entirety of his illustrious on-course accomplishments.

As LIV appears to be permeating the space of collegiate golf, should it come as any surprise that an Arizona State star was one of the first to join? After all, Mickelson is as much the face of this series as anyone. And Puig practiced at a facility that has Mickelson’s name pasted on the front of it.

Puig, like almost every other LIV Golf defector, will face criticism in this career-defining maneuver. The series is controversial for many reasons. It is underwritten by something called the Public Investment Fund, which is the investment arm of the royal family of Saudi Arabia but sounds more like a sinister organization in a James Bond film. The issues within the country and specifically pertaining to the House of Saud have been well documented, and conveniently elaborated on by Mickelson himself.

Plenty of keyboard warriors who have been quick to criticize LIV players or boast about their own personal integrity in turning down tens of millions in a hypothetical situation clearly haven’t been in a position to be offered a large sum like Puig was this year. Hypotheticals and reality aren’t in the same universe with that much money on the table.

There’s still much to be determined about LIV’s future. Its business model is not complete but becomes clearer seemingly every week. The team aspect of the series was the subject of mirth early on, especially for the names, but appears to be gaining traction.

Perhaps it was a pivot, or the plan all along, but LIV’s decision to organize the teams around players of the same background was clever. The ‘Fireballs GC’ team is made up of players from Spanish-speaking nations such as Sergio Garcia (Spain), Abraham Ancer (Mexico) and Carlos Ortiz (Mexico) and Eugenio Chacarra, who was signed in June when he was the World No. 2 amateur golfer.

Puig will play this weekend in the LIV event in Chicago with Niemann, Scott Vincent, and Jediah Morgan on the ‘Torque GC’ team.

For Arizona State, this is a big hit to the team. But head coach Matt Thurmond’s mission is to produce quality men and able professionals. By all accounts, he has done both here. But the Sun Devil golf to LIV Golf pipeline got stronger today, and while that isn’t a concern of Thurmond, it is for the PGA Tour.

The Tour doesn’t control any of golf’s major championship events, something made very clear this year when the Tour was looking for a jolt of authority and didn’t find it from any of the four major championship sanctioning bodies. It relies on its traditions, stars and big-draw events to sustain its model.

Few events provide more interest and enthusiasm than the Waste Management Phoenix Open, held in Scottsdale, a short drive from the Papago Golf Club where the Sun Devils practice. It is a huge cash cow for the PGA Tour, and a site where current Sun Devils test their game against the best and former Sun Devils bask in the adoration of completely partial and raucous crowds.

Puig will not be there next year, nor will Mickelson, who was always the biggest attraction at TPC Scottsdale when he teed his ball up there.

Arizona State was not far from winning the national title in the summer. It is a perennial collegiate golfing powerhouse, and is recruiting to the level necessary to remain one. The status quo in professional golf seemingly forever was those good enough to succeed on the Sun Devil golf team were good enough to succeed on the PGA Tour.

Now there is another option for Sun Devils looking to turn pro. With Mickelson in the cabin of control at LIV, and Puig on board, perhaps it will become the preferred destination. One thing is certain, the PGA Tour wanted a promising player like Puig in its ranks, and will work to keep today’s news from happening again.