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James Piot of Canton reflects on the times about LIV Golf, the future

Last month, during a mini-golf tour in Florida, James Piot took home the title and a first-place prize worth $2,500. That’s a far cry from his days at LIV Golf, where he was guaranteed six-figure payouts at every tournament, even if he finished last.

“A bit different from that LIV salary, definitely,” Piot said, laughing. “But it doesn’t really matter what I’m playing for. I want to win. I’ve never really looked at the paychecks or anything like that. It’s really all about competing. Money makes it more fun when you’re at the top.” , but it’s about competing and winning.

‘That’s why you play the game. You can’t put a price on trophies.’

In the literal sense that is sufficiently debatable. In 2021, while at Michigan State, Piot parlayed a great week of golf at the legendary Oakmont Country Club in Pennsylvania into a U.S. Amateur Championship – which initially led to some good NIL money, in the early days of NIL, and eventually, a two-year deal with LIV Golf, the PGA Tour’s upstart rival.

LIV Golf was, and still is, steeped in controversy, given where the money comes from (the Saudis, with their atrocious human rights record), but it founded Piot, just out of college at the time, without any professional status. touring for years to come. He earned $6 million, including a signing bonus and nearly $4 million in course revenue.

Piot, a native of Canton, bought a condo in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, where he spends about nine months of the year, and still has good savings to continue financing his golfing dreams. And yes, he still has ambitious dreams, even if he’s starting from scratch.

‘Moving in the right direction’

That’s what made that mini-tour victory in Stuart, Florida, so special. Although he owns the most prestigious trophy in amateur golf, the mini-tour win was his first professional win. Piot hopes that showing is a springboard to get him back to where he wants to be: playing on the biggest stages, against some of the best golfers in the world. Piot recently spoke to The News for the first time since joining LIV Golf in June 2022, as LIV Golf ultimately dictated which press he spoke to, and when, while he was under contract.

“It’s good,” said Piot, when asked about the state of his golf game. “I have the feeling that things are going in the right direction. I’m getting better every year. I’m still young. This is the third year of being a professional. It’s funny to think about that.

“I’m super blessed to be in the position I’m in.”

Piot, 25, is planning another busy summer after being relegated along with three other players from LIV Golf after struggling to gain traction during his two years on the tour. He is now in Michigan and competed in a local U.S. Open qualifier at Muskegon Country Club on Monday. He shot 70 but fell into the last spot for sectional qualifying after losing in an eight-hole playoff to Grosse Pointe’s Patrick Sullivan (Drew Cable, of Lake Orion and Grand Valley State, and Beau Breault, of Hartland, also advanced to sectionals from Muskegon; Jake Kneen, from White Lake and Oakland, and Joe Juszczyk, from Dearborn Heights, emerged from qualifying in Sylvania, Ohio).

Piot will play a significant schedule on the Asian Tour in an attempt to earn back some status on LIV Golf as the tours work together to facilitate promotion. And this fall, Piot will attend Qualifying School in an effort to earn status on the Korn Ferry Tour and eventually the PGA Tour. The PGA Tour remains a top goal for Piot, and it is achievable. He joined LIV Golf without status on any other tour, meaning he faces no penalties, unlike those who left the PGA Tour or DP World Tour (European Tour) to join LIV Golf. Those players have been banned.

Thanks to LIV Golf, Piot has the bankroll to finance his golf escapades, without having to grovel for sponsors, like so many players who toil on the mini-tours. (One of those players, by the way, is former Michigan State golfer Donnie Trosper, a Canton native who made an ace in the mini-tour event that Piot won – finishing in 17th place, for a total of $275).

Money management obviously remains crucial. The costs add up when you factor in travel, usually airfare, and hotels, meals and the caddy. Former MSU assistant Dan Ellis was Piot’s caddie for the U.S. Amateur and resigned from the school to become Piot’s full-time caddie at LIV Golf.

“My parents keep me humble,” Piot said of Glenn Sr. and Judith. ‘I don’t like super fancy things.

“I’ve still been driving the same car since college.”

Help from Lefty

Piot was only at university three years ago; now he plays all over the world and has made friends with some of the biggest names in the history of the game. No. 1 on that list is World Golf Hall of Famer Phil Mickelson, who served as Piot’s team captain in 2023 and made himself accessible to whatever Piot needed, golf or mentorship-wise.

Piot even made several trips to Mickelson’s home in California, where they would work on their games together. Any time Piot has a question or wants to talk, he can text Mickelson. Mickelson provided a lot of chipping instructions, as well as some swing tips.

And yes, of course, when they played practice rounds together, betting was done, but Mickelson, Piot said, always declared on the first tee that they were only playing for what Piot was comfortable with. Mickelson won the match most of the time, but Piot said he caught him a few times.

“He may be 53,” Piot said of Mickelson, who has won more major championships (six) than Piot has played (two), “but he’s still one of the greats of golf.”

Piot also credited his other 2023 teammates, longtime PGA Tour players Brendan Steele and Cameron Tringale, for helping him make the transition from amateur to professional. Tringale and Piot live close to each other in Florida. Piot also praised Harold Varner III, a 2022 teammate of his.

But the best lessons he learned through LIV Golf came on the golf course.

“It’s definitely been a big step. You get to play on the biggest stage,” Piot said. “I think at my young age it’s such an advantage to see the best of the best play, to see what you need to be able to do to succeed at that level.

“I can’t say enough good things about it. The people there were great. … It was kind of like hitting the lottery when LIV Golf came out that season (2022). It was great.

“I learned that even the best players in the world are still normal people. It was pretty cool to meet a lot of guys. … Having Phil as a mentor was really cool.

“He did everything he could to make me better. … That’s a cool number to have.”

No regrets

A less cool song? That would be 923rd, which is Piot’s position in the latest official World Golf Rankings. In the grand scheme of things, with a world population of over 8 billion, that’s pretty good when you think about it. But it’s not where Piot wants to be, given the white-hot buzz that surrounded him after he won the U.S. Amateur at Oakmont (where he is now an honorary member; he went back last year with Ellis and swing coach Brian Cairns, a teacher at Fox Hills, and Ellis shot 67 off the tips to beat Piot and win a bet (Piot had to buy him a new bag at the clubhouse), and then he joined LIV Golf He never seriously competed for an individual title at LIV.

Yet Piot does not regret his decision, which was controversial. Players who joined LIV Golf received a lot of criticism, although not everything was apples and oranges. Many PGA Tour players left one gravy train for another, but Piot had just graduated and, frankly, was looking for a job. He took the high-paying job.

Sure, he got some attention on social media, although he didn’t pay much attention to it. His family and friends supported him. His best friends before he went to LIV Golf are still his friends.

“Honestly, it didn’t change much with friends and family, and that was the coolest thing,” said Piot, who will play a little competitive golf in Michigan this year, maybe the Tournament of Champions, but he can’t play the Michigan Open, because he is no longer a full-time resident of Michigan. “I’ve always had a really nice circle of friends. Everyone still treats me the same, and I’m still the same person I used to be.”

Even if sometimes, especially when playing in Asia where the time difference prevents him from keeping in touch with those close to him, golf starts to feel more like a job than a game.

“It’s different when you’re in your own world. It feels like a job,” said Piot, a Detroit Catholic Central High School alum who still occasionally watches YouTube highlights of his U.S. Amateur title when he needs a good one. has. vibrations go. It was an unforgettable day, winning a USGA championship and moments later hearing that Tom Izzo suddenly knew his name. ‘At the same time, I love it.

“Once the tournament starts, I don’t want to do anything else. That’s what I like to do most.”

That’s regardless of the numbers on the check.

It’s about the name on the trophy.

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@tonypaul1984