COLUMBUS, Ohio — Let’s start with the alternate reality. Because it would be more believable. This is where James Piot is a fifth-year senior Michigan State graduate, a young man who leaves to carve marks on the walls of the first professional golf courses – places in Monday qualifying, the pursuit of his card Korn Ferry Tour, maybe some mini-tour debut. You wouldn’t have heard of James Piot. He would be another name in the long line of wanderers chasing PGA Tour dreams.
But that’s not how it happened.
Instead, Piot, all 23, is one of the more unexpected characters in the extraordinary theater that is LIV Golf’s savage attempt to bulldoze the golf industrial complex and overthrow (or destabilize ) both the PGA Tour and the DP World Tour (aka the European Tour). Those running the LIV Golf Invitational Series have identified Piot as a strategic entrant in its upcoming eight-event season. He is the reigning US amateur champion and carries some recognition. Piot was speculated to receive north of seven figures for going on the tour, with figures ranging from $2 million to $6 million. Piot, himself, says that “none of them have been exact”. For this story, Athleticism could not determine the exact figure, but can report, via a source, that Piot is indeed locked in to play all seven LIV events leading up to the Tour’s end-of-season Tag Team Championship at Trump National Doral, which he hope to qualify for.
Whatever the figure, Piot is set to receive a life-changing sum of money to participate in a highly controversial league funded by the Public Investment Fund – an autonomous wealth fund controlled directly by the Saudi government. In addition to guarantees, events he participates in will earn a minimum of $100,000 for three days of work (LIV tournaments are 54-hole events), even for a DFL finish.
All of this for a recently-turned-pro who posted rounds of 78-78-81-74-71-75-73-76-75-78 in five recent byes in PGA Tour events, including the Masters.
“For me, the offer was, you know, you’re going to play golf and you’re going to have status somewhere – so for me, I thought that was fantastic,” Piot said last week during which he missed the cut at the Memorial Tournament. “By playing with elite players in a team environment, not only are you with them, but you can choose their brains. This is a time for me to play good golf and grow.
It’s not Piot’s fault that he’s been offered tons of money and status on a professional golf tour. It is however his decision to accept. For some onlookers, it’s totally irredeemable and Saudi Arabia’s human rights record makes the idea a no-go. For others, it is a clear question what would you do? decision that is both obvious and understandable.
But summing it up like this – so basic, so simplistic – what gets lost is that in reality, Piot is a young athlete put in a complicated and tangled (some might say impossible) situation. There are no draft picks in professional golf. Each career is self-taught. Other than the best, those Viktor Hovlands and Collin Morikawas, the typical road is unpaved and unforgiving.
Piot was offered the chance to play with established pros, get guaranteed starts and enjoy early financial stability.
He took it.
How morally acceptable this is lies in the eye of the beholder.
What is indisputable, however, is that Piot represents an emerging dilemma in the ongoing reorganization of reality in golf.
Top fans coming out of college – formerly the supply chain of the PGA Tour and Korn Ferry Tour – now face the possibility of a very different and very lucrative option. How long will LIV last, who knows? But it’s here now and the Saudi bankroll is full. At a minimum, it’s a good bet that this summer’s American amateur champion and a few other top juniors will be presented with the same opportunity as Piot. Most likely, those who will follow too.
What will these individuals do?
And what will the PGA Tour do to secure its sovereign affairs?
While long-established pros like Dustin Johnson and Kevin Na head to LIV with obvious risks to their long-term PGA Tour eligibility, young players who compete in LIV events somehow come in with a handshake of the left hand. Their status is not going to reside in some sort of debtor’s prison. At a managers’ meeting last Wednesday at the Memorial, PGA Tour officials told player agents and managers that fans and non-PGA Tour members would not be penalized for playing on the LIV Tour. They will still be fully eligible for status on both the Korn Ferry Tour and the PGA Tour, and will remain eligible to accept Tournament Byes and participate in Monday Qualifiers.
LIV will therefore be a viable option, even if many fans do not want it.
This brings us back to Piot.
As he prepared to play in the Memorial Tournament early last week, he knew the LIV field was about to be announced for the inaugural event in London (June 9-11). There was, he said, some anxiety, wondering what the reaction might be. His name raised some eyebrows when the full list was released on Tuesday.
“The first night it was hard to stay off social media,” Piot said. “Things people were tweeting. You know, people you don’t even know, being judgmental, things like that. Ultimately, I tell people it’s about playing golf. This is what I want to do with my life. It’s an opportunity. »
It is, but it is a controversial opportunity. Piot is not blind to this. Speaking to a few reporters on Friday, he delved into his main talking point.
“At the end of the day, it’s an opportunity to play golf and have status somewhere,” he said. “That’s kind of what I saw. Obviously money is a factor, but at the same time it’s an exciting format and there’s an opportunity to learn from the greats. Being around these guys – there are so many great championship winners out there that it’s hard not to learn and improve when you’re in that environment.
While Piot, who grew up playing on public courts near his hometown of Canton, Michigan, is listed as an amateur on LIV’s ‘list’, he actually turned pro before playing Colonial there. at two weeks. In truth, he’s been a borderline professional since winning the Amateur. Not only did he come of age when the Saudi Golf League fell from the sky, but he spent the last season learning about the new world of NCAA name, image and likeness legislation. He played his PGA Tour debut in Michigan State golf shirts with logos for Lear (a Southfield, Michigan-based automotive manufacturing company), Barton Malow (a Michigan-based construction company) and Carl’s Golfland, a local golf store chain.
All this new world stuff and everyone made it up as they went along. Piot considers it both “crazy” and “stressful”.
It’s been since last summer.
What’s most bizarre about Piot’s journey is how easily it could never have happened.
All of this, you see, winds its way up the Pennsylvania Turnpike, through suburban Pittsburgh, to the Oakmont Country Club. It was a Sunday afternoon last August. Hot. So hot. One of those hazy white skies. Piot was there, at the end of what looked like an impending US Amateur loss to Austin Greaser, a junior from the University of North Carolina. Piot was 3-down with eight holes to play. It was finished.
But then Piot won the next hole. And the next. Then he became the first player since 2008 to win four consecutive holes on the back nine of the United States Amateur Championship match. He played the last eight holes of the match at under 3. He won the 121st US Amateur, 1-up.
It was nine months ago. Here’s James Piot now: “Every once in a while you get caught up in the process, and you have to look back and say, ‘Holy shit, what? You know – like, I really did that? It was a hell of a ride.
Since carrying the eminent title of American amateur champion, it has opened all doors for him. His next exemption will be at the US Open at Brookline in two weeks.
Last week, meanwhile, was Piot’s last scheduled start on the PGA Tour. It was another window into a world he had long dreamed of living in. On Thursday morning, he was on the Muirfield Village training ground fiddling with balls next to Jordan Spieth, his all-time favorite player. Minutes after Spieth left, a fan walked by and asked Piot for an autograph, shouting, “Hey Jordan!”
“Sorry, unfortunately I’m not Jordan,” Piot replied with a smile. “He’s bigger.” Afterwards, Piot took some photos with other fans.
On Friday, Piot was part of the last group that finished the afternoon match at the Memorial. The sun was low, the crowd was sparse. He birdied No. 17, delighting a few well-fed onlookers. Marching to 18, he tipped his cap when the band was introduced and his amateur title was hailed. Everything felt so steeped in tradition.
Now, however, youngster James Piot is off to play seven events spanning Europe, North America, the Middle East and Asia, each with a total purse of $25 million split between 48 players. In his five career appearances on tour, he missed five cuts and never shot under par. His trip to the Memorial ended with a bogey putt and a tie for 108th at age 9.
Doesn’t matter much in this new world, does it? There’s a shark in the water and, for some, the most unexpected opportunities in its wake.
(Top photo: Rob Schumacher/USA Today)