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On Tour: Herbie's Big Switch - Australian Golf Digest On Tour: Herbie's Big Switch - Australian Golf Digest

Lucas Herbert became the latest Australian to join LIV Golf. Was it a good move from someone who’d won on both major tours?

Imagine this scenario. You’re a top 70 player in the world, with three DP World Tour wins and a PGA Tour victory on your résumé. But after a lean year on the US circuit, you’re not eligible for the PGA Tour’s signature events and you want to play against great players regularly. You could try to play your way into the tour’s $US20 million events through several qualifying categories like the world ranking or current FedEx Cup points standing, but you’re focused more on keeping your card given your PGA Tour status runs out at the end of 2024. While you’re at home in Australia during the offseason, sitting on a beach on the Sunshine Coast after a hard day’s practice in December, you get a call from Cam Smith, the Open champion at St Andrews in 2022, asking if you’re interested in joining his Ripper GC team on LIV for 2024. Accept the offer, and you’ll get a signing bonus. Is there a golfer in Australia who’d say no?

In late January, Herbert was unveiled as one of LIV’s recruits for its 2024 season, the third campaign of the fledgling circuit. The 28-year-old joined Smith, Marc Leishman and Matt Jones on the all-Australian team, Ripper GC. The pro from Bendigo shared 21st place on debut at LIV Mayakoba in Mexico, helping Ripper to a fourth-place finish in team play.

Herbert moved to LIV with one PGA Tour victory (the 2021 Bermuda Championship) and three DP World Tour titles under his belt (2020 Dubai Desert Classic, 2021 Irish Open and the 2023 ISPS Handa Championship in Japan).

So, was it a good move?

Yes. Looking at Herbert’s switch through the financial lens of playing professional golf for a living, Herbert’s move makes total sense. He didn’t play well enough to finish inside the top 50 on the FedEx Cup last year, the top category for eligibility into the signature events in 2024. Trying to gain entry through the last-minute categories this year was an added stress not necessary when you’re trying to keep your card. Moving to LIV guaranteed the chance to play in 14 tournaments worth $US20 million each. Have a great week and bag a win, and you’re banking a $US4 million cheque. There’s no 36-hole cut, the events are 54 holes and last place is guaranteed $US120,000. The teams component dishes out $US5 million to the top three sides at each event. Your teammates are quality players in Smith, Leishman and Jones.

“I’m not going to sit here and say the money didn’t have any impact on the decision to come across,” Herbert said. “We certainly wanted to be looked after well, and I feel that we will be.”

LIV, which is financed by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, offers $US20 million purses at each tournament.

Herbert will also be surrounded by the expertise of three multiple PGA Tour winners. Ripper captain Smith won six PGA Tour titles before he left, including the 150th Open and the 2022 Players Championship. He boasts one of golf’s best short games and is among the best putters of the modern era. His approach play is pretty sharp, too.

“Cam has won a major, ‘Leish’ has been in a playoff to win a major [the 2015 Open at St Andrews] and Jonesy has played in lots of majors. For me, a big reason I made this decision was asking myself, ‘What’s going to make me the best golfer I can be come December 31, 2024?’ It’s probably being in a team environment with Cam, Leish and Jonesy, and regularly teeing up against Brooks Koepka, Dustin Johnson, Bryson DeChambeau, Jon Rahm, Joaquin Niemann and others.”

Herbert will also get to play in front of home crowds when LIV Adelaide stages its second edition in late April, when Herbert’s peers like Johnson, Phil Mickelson, Smith and Koepka will be among the 54 stars who travel Down Under for the league’s biggest event.

“That was one of the deciding factors. A big deciding factor,” Herbert says. “I was asked at an event in December – ironically, just before I got the offer – what did I want my legacy in Australian golf to be? It seemed like a funny question to think about as a 28-year-old. I’m not going to have the impact on the game like Greg Norman or Tiger Woods, but I guess I’d want to have some sort of impact in Australia. I want to build the Australian golf scene to something better than it was for me growing up and when I turned pro. Things like opportunities and pathways and big events.

“Looking at all that, that was another reason why LIV was an amazing opportunity. I have a chance to play in front of enormous crowds at what is a massive sporting event in LIV Adelaide. And, because the LIV offseason is longer, I’ll have more preparation time leading into the two big DP World Tour events, the Aussie Open and the Aussie PGA. The past couple of years, I’ve had to say no to events like the Sandbelt Invitational or the Cathedral Invitational, because I’ve just had no time in my schedule. Maybe those are some of the events that I’ll look at playing.

“Getting back to play golf in Australia several times each year, plus joining Ripper GC – a team with some of our biggest players on the world scene – feels like a very easy way to make a big impact on Australian golf.”

Herbert also feels it’s a chance to showcase his talents more to home fans. LIV Golf is shown on free-to-air TV through the 7 Network’s streaming channel, 7 Plus. PGA Tour broadcasts, on the other hand, aren’t known for regularly showing Australians on the coverage. Even former world No.1s and major winners Adam Scott and Jason Day have to work hard; being in contention at a tournament isn’t always a guarantee to see their every shot live.

“If my parents wake up at 5am to watch me play at say, Torrey Pines, they likely wouldn’t see me even if I was putting together some decent rounds. As Aussies, apart from Cam Smith, Jason Day and Adam Scott, if we’re not leading the tournament, we’re not getting much coverage. I think it’s a shared sentiment around the country in Australia; [fans] feel they never get to watch us play. I feel playing with Cam, Leish and Jonesy is going to give me the best chance to have the impact I want to have on Australian golf.”

Any reasons why it wasn’t a good move?

One could make an argument that the majors are the fly in the ointment for Herbert. Over the course of five years, Herbert was putting together some decent results. He posted a T-13 at the 2022 PGA Championship at Southern Hills, a T-15 at the 150th Open at St Andrews and a T-31 at the 2020 US Open at Torrey Pines. But now, ranked world No.84 at the time of writing, Herbert won’t receive a Masters invitation 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, Hebert intends to tee up in 36-hole final qualifying for the US Open and
The Open.

“The best players in the world will be at the majors and I want to be there,” he says. “I’d have loved if there were some sort of qualification process for the majors through LIV, but I had to make the decision knowing that there isn’t.”

Another obstacle that Herbert will face is a ban by the PGA Tour, and therefore the Presidents Cup in Canada this September. Herbert had never made the International team and was unlucky not to receive a captain’s pick at the 2022 edition at Quail Hollow in North Carolina. As for the DP World Tour, providing Herbert maintains his membership, he should be able to play there pending any potential fines for playing in conflicting events. Several LIV players, including Louis Oosthuizen and Talor Gooch, entered the Alfred Dunhill Links event in Scotland last year, while LIV golfers continue to tee it up in co-sanctioned DP World Tour events around the globe. 

Getty images: manuel velasquez, LIV golf