LIV Golf is adding three more players ahead of its new season, including one who will become one of its more higher-ranked pros.
According to an ESPN report this weekend, Thomas Pieters, Brendan Steele and Danny Lee will be announced as the latest signings to the controversial, Saudi-backed series. Pieters stands as the most notable: At No. 34 in the Official World Golf Ranking, Pieters will be the fourth-highest-ranked player on LIV’s roster, following Cameron Smith (No. 4), Joaquin Niemann (No. 23) and Abraham Ancer (No. 27), though the series has yet to receive world-ranking points of its own, and its players have tumbled in the ratings.
Pieters has played primarily on the DP World Tour since turning pro in 2013, one year after winning the NCAA championship while at the University of Illinois. Over the past decade, the Belgian has won six times, including once last year, at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he’s made one Ryder Cup appearance, earning four points at the 2016 event.
Notably, Pieters may have hinted at his LIV intentions — or his frustrations with the PGA Tour and DP World Tour — earlier this week. He’s not playing on either tour this week — the PGA is at the Genesis Invitational, while the DP is at the Thailand Classic — though Pieters expressed over his Twitter account that he wanted to be at the former.
“Sad to miss my favorite tournament of the year. Because well as #34 in world, I just couldn’t get in @PGATOUR. #GenesisInvitational” he wrote on Wednesday. (To note, players qualified for the Genesis through various categories, and golf website National Club Golfer does an excellent job of breaking that down here.)
The additions of Pieters, Steele and Lee join Mito Pereira and Sebastian Munoz as LIV signings in the past month, as the series finalizes its roster ahead of its season-opening event this week in Mexico. The five are the first to leave golf’s established tours — and face a ban on the PGA Tour and a potential one on the DP World Tour — since Cameron Smith joined six other Tour pros in leaving for the rival league just days after the conclusion of the FedEx Cup Playoffs in August.
Steele, interestingly, joins LIV after making comments last December that he had not been approached by the series, nor did he have interest in it. The Palm Springs Desert Sun also reported that Steele was critical of pros who had left for LIV and were looking to play Tour events.
“For me, I’m fine if guys want to go,” Steele said, according to the Desert Sun. “I think they just have to make the best decision for them. But don’t expect to come back and play on our tour.”
Still, Steele said he understood why players were leaving.
“We play a sport where it is very fickle and you have no contracts as far as signing with the Dodgers for five years and if you get hurt, you get paid,” Steele said, according to the Desert Sun. “We don’t have any of that stuff. So to have a little bit of security in going over there, I think you can kind of understand the narrative for each guy who went. Some want security financially. Some are older, some are guys who are more injured. Some guys haven’t been playing as well but have a big name.”
Since turning pro in 2005, Steele has won three Tour events, most recently the 2017 Safeway Open, and he’s currently No. 122 in the world. Notably, he withdrew from the Genesis on Tuesday.
Lee, meanwhile, has won once on the PGA Tour, at the 2015 Greenbier Classic — the course is hosting a LIV event this year — and he’s currently ranked No. 259 in the world. He also played this week’s Genesis, missing the cut by two strokes, and he caused a bit of a stir at the 2020 U.S. Open, where he six-putted from 4 feet on a hole and subsequently withdrew.
The five signings, along with the start of the LIV season, and the fact that the PGA and DP World Tours are well into their campaigns, could mark the end of defections for the near future. Next week, the PGA begins its Florida swing, at the Honda Classic, while the DP will play the Indian Open.