Former Baylor School and University of Georgia golfer Keith Mitchell has made $9.26 million in his PGA Tour career that began in 2017, including the $2.52 million this season that has been accompanied by nine top-20 finishes.
Mitchell is coming off a tie for seventh Sunday at the RBC Canadian Open that yielded a $273,325 paycheck, but would he be open to more than doubling his career earnings with a $20 million invitation to join the fledgling Saudi-backed LIV Series? It's a scenario that caused Dustin Johnson to bolt, with the former Masters and U.S. Open champion having reportedly received $150 million to play on the LIV after earning $74.3 million on the PGA Tour.
"No chance," Mitchell said Wednesday afternoon. "You're telling me I could potentially never play in another major again, never ever play on the PGA Tour again, and never potentially play on the Ryder Cup or Presidents Cup teams. I'm not saying I'll ever do all those things, but I would be giving up my opportunities.
"D.J. has done a lot of those things and I haven't, but I still have a long runway to go. If I'm 45 and have done these things and I'm getting sick and tired of trying to beat 25-year-olds who I know I can't compete with anymore, it makes the conversation different, but I still don't know if I would do it."
Mitchell, the 2019 Honda Classic champion, is 36th in the FedEx Cup standings and 62nd in the world rankings, making him a legitimate target for an LIV Series seeking to build its brand at the expense of the PGA Tour. The LIV Series began snagging older PGA Tour players such as Phil Mickelson, Sergio Garcia and Lee Westwood, but landing Johnson sent shockwaves throughout the sport, and two even younger major championship winners — Patrick Reed and Bryson DeChambeau — have since made the switch.
The PGA Tour still harbors the top 15 players in the world, but the ground has shifted underneath it, and Mitchell does not approve.
"If the LIV tour was such a good model, guys would go for free or for a lot less," the 30-year-old former Riverview resident said. "The PGA Tour doesn't pay me a dollar. I have to earn it from my play. These guys are earning all their money up front, or else they're not going, and the success of that tour is not based off the product of golf that they deliver.
"The PGA Tour is based on that. Augusta National is based on that with the Masters. Their success has nothing to do with golf, and if the success of your sport is tied to something other than your sport, the whole game of golf is in huge trouble."
Mitchell's current level of concern is not very high, but that could change with another wave of notable defections. Reed and DeChambeau may not have been the most popular players among their peers, he explained, but they have been successful and recognizable and good for the game.
DeChambeau referred to his move this week as a "business decision."
"Bryson was interviewed the other day and said he's always had dreams of building a sports complex in Dallas," Mitchell said. "That's not what he dreamed about when he was practicing on the range as a kid growing up. These things that they're saying to justify their jump are laughable.
"Just be like, 'The PGA Tour is hard, and it's a grind. This is an insurance policy for me, and I didn't want to have to worry about that.'"
The departure impacting Mitchell most has been Hudson Swafford, who was a senior on Georgia's 2011 team when Mitchell was a freshman. Swafford is a three-time winner on the PGA Tour with career earnings slightly above Mitchell at $9.65 million.
Swafford said the LIV's sizable revenue and fewer events were appealing since he and his wife having two small children, and Mitchell pointed out that Swafford has battled injuries and nearly lost his PGA Tour card.
One of Mitchell's teammates at Baylor, Stephan Jaeger, lost his tour card before regaining it and capturing a seventh-place finish in May's Wells Fargo Championship, but Mitchell believes jumping to the LIV is way too risky for young players residing outside the top 50 or top 75 of the FedEx Cup standings.
"There is no clear, fair qualifying path to get there," he said. "It's all pretty much your agent negotiating with a guy who has unlimited funds and is picking and choosing who he wants to play in his field, and there is no guarantee who's going to be in the next field.
"If they add 10 more guys from the PGA Tour, they could be kicking 10 guys out."
Mitchell said the biggest positive that has come from this is that the PGA Tour realizes it can improve. He added that those ranked between 25 and 100 reside in a "gray zone," adding that there isn't a ton of job security due to a lack of endorsement money compared to those at the very top.
Last weekend's seventh-place finish earned Mitchell a spot in next month's 150th British Open in St. Andrews. That has him beyond delirious, but who knows how much things will keep changing between now and then?
"There are guys I talked to in Canada who said they turned down nine figures," Mitchell said. "It's real money that goes into your bank account the second you sign. It's all there, and it's all up front. The big obstacle the PGA Tour faces is how long are these people willing to pump money into this league regardless of a return.
"Nobody has the answer to that. Not a soul on earth."