In June 2022, when LIV Golf launched as a rival to the PGA Tour, the question put to many of its first wave of signings was, “Why did you leave?” Nearly two years later, that question has evolved a little, particularly in light of a possible coming together of LIV’s financial backer, the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia.
— Ripper GC (@rippergc_) January 31, 2024
Overnight, Lucas Herbert was confirmed as one of LIV’s latest acquisitions for the 2024 season, along with 2023 DP World Tour player of the year and 2022 Australian Open winner Adrian Meronk. A day earlier, LIV Golf announced the signing of Tyrrell Hatton and Caleb Surratt to join Jon Rahm’s new Legion XIII team.
Herbert, the 28-year-old from Bendigo, will join his countrymen Cam Smith, Marc Leishman and Matt Jones on the LIV team Ripper GC when the third season begins in Mayakoba, Mexico, on Friday. He arrives at LIV as a winner of the PGA Tour’s Bermuda Championship (2021) and having won three DP World Tour titles, most recently the 2023 ISPS Handa Championship in Japan.
So, again, why now?
— LIV Golf (@livgolf_league) January 31, 2024
Herbert was approached by Smith, Ripper’s team captain, in December. The team had just lost Jed Morgan to LIV’s relegation zone, and Morgan did not make it back through LIV’s inaugural qualifying school. About that time, LIV also announced its biggest recruit yet in Rahm, a two-time major winner and the reigning Masters champion.
“I felt like the perception of LIV definitely changed [when Rahm signed],” Herbert said from the El Camaleón course at Mayakoba.
Other than that, Herbert had a few balls in the air while weighing his decision. “The main reason was… on the PGA Tour, I wasn’t exempt into the signature events, so I was not going to be playing against the strongest fields relative to the top of the tour,” he said. “My status also wasn’t guaranteed after 2024.”
Herbert finished the 2023 season outside the top 50 on the FedEx Cup points list, hence not being automatically eligible to play in the PGA Tour’s $US20 million signature events. That meant he would have to play his way into the eight tournaments through several categories.
“I loved my time on the PGA Tour and I’m grateful for the opportunities I had, but I felt the most productive way for me to become the best golfer I can be, a year from now, is on LIV. I knew two months ago that LIV’s fields were going to have [PGA Championship winner] Brooks Koepka, Cam [Smith], Dustin Johnson, Bryson DeChambeau and Rahm, for 14 events a year.”
Of course, the money was appealing, too. Herbert would not disclose his signing bonus, but said he was happy with the amount. “I’m not going to sit here and say the money didn’t have any impact on the decision to come across,” he said. “We certainly wanted to be looked after well, and I feel we have been.”
LIV tournaments have $US20 million purses, with $4 million of that going to the individual winner. There are no 36-hole cuts for the 54-hole tournaments and last place is guaranteed $US120,000. The team component also dishes out $US5 million to the top three sides at each event.
Herbert also said he was eager to learn from Smith, a three-time winner on LIV who amassed six PGA Tour titles in his career, including the 2022 Players Championship.
“Cam has one of the best short games in the world and has won a major,” Herbert said. “Leish has been in a playoff to win a major [at the 2015 Open at St Andrews], and ‘Jonesy’ has played in plenty of majors. I also get to play a big tournament in Australia [LIV Adelaide in late April] each year. It all felt like an easy way to make a big impact on Australian golf.”
One other influence Herbert felt on his decision was the majors. His best results include a T-13 at the 2022 PGA at Southern Hills, a T-15 at the 150th Open at St Andrews and a T-31 at the 2021 US Open at Torrey Pines.
It’s the only factor Herbert couldn’t resolve. Sitting 76th in the current world ranking, he would have work to do to get inside the top 50 to receive a Masters invitation by early April, and by early May, when the PGA Championship field is finalised, he is unlikely to have earned enough PGA of America points to receive an invitation. Still, Herbert intends to tee up in 36-hole final qualifying for the US Open and Open Championship.
“The best players in the world will be at the majors and I want to be there,” he said. “I’d have loved it if there were some sort of qualification process for the majors through LIV, but I had to make the decision knowing there isn’t.”
Perhaps in the future, there might be a pathway if the framework agreement between the PIF, PGA Tour and DP World Tour, is signed. “I really hope that the tours come together,” Herbert said.