MARANA, Ariz. — When Mito Pereira sat in front of the “Full Swing” cameras one year ago and declared winning on the PGA Tour was “the dream of my life,” he had no idea what career-defining events were ahead.
The meltdown on the 72nd hole of the PGA Championship at Southern Hills; his closest friend, Joaquin Niemann, being lured to LIV Golf; Pereira himself finally making the move to LIV last month after months-long conversations.
“It’s fine for me,” Pereira said Wednesday on the range at the Gallery Golf Club where LIV Tucson starts Friday. “I feel good with this decision. The PGA is a great tour. I got my dream to play on that tour.
“Not winning on the PGA Tour … I still got two majors this year. I can still do it.”
Pereira turned pro in 2015. His rookie season on the PGA Tour was last year. He made 39 tour starts in his career with six top 10s. His greatest achievement also was his greatest failure, finishing third in last year’s PGA Championship at Southern Hills (which got him into this year’s Masters and PGA Championship) but surrendering the lead on the 72nd hole (more on that later).
But unless he wins the Masters or finishes in the top 15 in at the PGA Rochester, New York, in May, Pereira’s hope of fulfilling that dream likely is gone. Even he acknowledges there’s a chance he’ll never play on the PGA Tour again, not after Commissioner Jay Monahan informed his membership last summer that any player who joined LIV was suspended from the tour.
A path back to the tour has not been discussed and Monahan said last week that the tour’s position “has not changed.”
“I’m thinking we’re never going back,” the 27-year-old Pereira said. “Maybe it will happen but that will be the thought that I have.”
And Pereira has come to grips with that. Knowing the money from Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund will keep flowing for as long as LIV Golf exists certainly helps. Pereira tied for 15th in his first LIV event three weeks ago at Mayakoba and earned $287,500. His total earnings on the PGA Tour were $3.7 million, $870,000 from last year’s PGA Championship.
With a world ranking that peaked at No. 41 last year (he currently is No. 50), Pereira likely will surpass that total sometime during LIV’s 14-event 2023 season.
But for Pereira, as important as the money, is the comfort of being around his closest friend. Rumors of Pereira leaving the tour started circulating in August when Niemann’s jump to LIV was announced.
Pereira and Niemann were golfing buddies growing up in Chile. Pereira and his wife, Antonia Prida, moved to Tequesta, Florida, in 2021, at the urging of Niemann, who settled in North Palm Beach about five years ago.
When Niemann left for LIV and then became captain of team Torque, Pereira’s career path was about to change.
“What I wanted was to have the best team I can and Mito is a good friend of mine and even better player,” Niemann said. “Everything fit. We kind of share every aspect of the game together, our putting coach, our fitness coach, swing coach. It was a lot easier.
“He was the right player for me to bring him home.”
Pereira admitted his decision pretty much was made late last summer. But the contract was not announced until this year.
“He wanted to know as much as he could about LIV,” Niemann said. “Having the two options on the table and see which one he prefers. I wanted to bring him out here and tell him how good this product is.”
Pereira joined with the bittersweet memory of Southern Hills fresh on his mind.
One shot that he will live with, but to his credit has used as motivation and not allowed to shape his career, was that drive on 18 late Sunday afternoon. Having held the lead the entire day, he entered the final hole needing a par for his first PGA Tour win of any kind.
Attempting to hit a low runner, Pereira never finished the follow-through. The awkward shot resembled a baseball swing more than a golf shot and sailed right, landing at the bottom of a narrow creek.
His comments were caught by the cameras that were shooting the Netflix documentary.
“I f—– up,” he said to his caddie. “On the last hole.”
Needing a bogey to get into the playoff, Pereira’s third shot landed in the rough. Now completely shaken and off his game, he was unable to get up and down. Justin Thomas would go on to defeat Will Zalatoris in a playoff.
Pereira was third.
“It was not the finish we wanted but still had a really good week,” Pereira said. “I think that’s the only thing I could do was take the positive of finishing third and keep going.”
But … “There is no way to forget about it,” he added when asked about the tee shot.
The question remains, had Pereira’s tee shot landed in the middle of the fairway and he was the one kissing the Wanamaker Trophy, not Thomas, would he still have been tempted by LIV?
Would he have joined Cameron Smith and turned his back on the PGA Tour after winning a major? Smith did it soon after capturing the British Open.
“I don’t know,” he said. “I never really think about it. If things would have gone that way, Joaquin leaving, I think I would still be here.”