Dustin Johnson Leaves PGA Tour to Play in Saudi Arabia League and 20 Other American Athletes Who Now Play for Other Countries

Dustin Johnson Leaves PGA Tour to Play in Saudi Arabia League and 20 Other American Athletes Who Now Play for Other Countries

Of all the American athletes currently playing professional sports overseas, Dustin Johnson might be one of the most renowned and popular. He recently resigned his membership from the PGA Tour and announced his decision to join LIV Golf, a new Saudi Arabia-backed pro golf tour.

While his decision was met with criticism from many who say he chose ‘money over country,’ Johnson says his new $125 million contract with LIV Golf is about family more than anything else. “I get to spend a lot more time with my family and doing the things I love to do,” he said.

Of course, he wasn’t the only one to join the tour. There were a total of 42 players in the field for their first event, many of which are coming from the PGA Tour. It has become one of the biggest talked about stories in all of sports lately, especially given the political tension with Saudi Arabia.

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American Athletes That Play Overseas

Dustin Johnson Leaves PGA Tour to Play in Saudi Arabia League and 20 Other American Athletes Who Now Play for Other Countries
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When Dustin Johnson announced his decision to play golf overseas, he joined a growing trend for many players in their respective sports. For example, many WNBA players play overseas during the offseason to earn extra money – Brittney Griner is an unfortunate example.

Many NHL players play overseas in their development years before making the jump to the NHL and in their later years when the NHL doesn’t want them anymore. The same is true for many baseball players, who mainly travel to Japan and Australia when looking for a job. 

Then again, if you want to be successful in soccer, you better hope you find a job overseas – more specifically in Europe. The point is American athletes playing sports overseas is nothing new and isn’t going away anytime soon. Here are 20 American athletes doing so right now!

20. Brandon Davies

Brandon Davies went to BYU and was a key player for them between 2011 and 2013. He went undrafted in 2013, but landed with the Los Angeles Clippers and eventually made his NBA debut later that season with the Philadelphia 76ers. Unfortunately, he was out of the NBA by 2015. 

That same year, he signed with Élan Chalon of the LNB Pro A. Since then, he has played exclusively overseas, including the Lega Serie A, EuroLeague, and Liga ACB. He currently plays for FC Barcelona and is averaging 9.1 points and 5.6 rebounds per game in 7 games. 

19. Stephen Thompson Jr.

Stephen Thompson Jr., who also goes by Stevie Thompson, played four years of college basketball at Oregon State. He averaged 14.6 points, 3.3 rebounds, 2.6 assists, and 1.5 steals during that time. Unfortunately, he went undrafted in 2019 and hasn’t played a game in the NBA.

He did spend some time in the NBA G-League in 2019 and 2020, but he was playing in Serie B Basket (Italy) by August 2020 and currently plays for Reggio Emilia of the Serie A (Italy). He’s still just 25 years old so he still has time to forge a path to the NBA, but it won’t be easy for him.

18. Carter Camper

Carter Camper played four years of college hockey at Miami University before making his pro debut in 2011 and his NHL debut in 2012. He played in three games for the Boston Bruins and scored one goal, but spent the next eight years in the AHL with several different organizations.

In 2020, Camper decided to bring a halt to his American hockey career and took his talents to the Swedish Hockey League (SHL) – Sweden’s top league. He’s a member of Leksands IF and has recorded 25 goals, 69 assists, and 94 points in 96 games played. He has been a beast. 

17. Isaiah Canaan

Isaiah Canaan played four productive years of college basketball at Murray State University, where he averaged 15.5 points, 2.8 rebounds, 2.9 assists, and 1.2 steals per game. He then spent six years in the NBA with several teams, playing his best ball in 2015 and 2016. 

In 2019, Canaan decided to take his talents to China and after a brief stint in the NBA G-League, he spent two years playing in Russia before leaving the country due to the invasion of Ukraine. He’s now playing with Galatasaray Nef of the BSL (Turkey) and is playing very well right now.

16. Bryce Cotton

Bryce Cotton played four years of college basketball at Providence College before going undrafted in 2014 and bouncing around between the NBA and the NBA Development League for the next few years. By 2016, he started flirting with the idea of playing abroad and went to China.

After a brief stint in China, he took his talents back to the US before heading to Turkey. By December 2016, he landed in the NBL with the Perth Wildcats and he has flourished ever since. He’s a three-time MVP, five-time scoring champ, and three-time champion in the NBL.

15. Tremont Waters

Tremont Waters played three years of college basketball at LSU before being drafted by the Boston Celtics with the 51st overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft. Over the past three years, he has struggled to find his footing in the league and even found himself in the G League this year.

After the G League season came to an end, Waters was selected first overall in the Baloncesto Superior Nacional draft. He currently plays for the Gigantes de Carolina in Australia and has played in 17 games this year – averaging 17.1 points, 7.6 assists, and 2.7 rebounds per game.

14. Mike James

Mike James played four years of college basketball – two years at Eastern Arizona College and two more at Lamar University. He went undrafted in 2012 and immediately took his talents to Croatia. Over the next five years, he spent time playing basketball in Italy, Greece, and Spain.

In 2017, James got his shot in the NBA and it started well, but quickly went sour. By 2018, he returned to Greece and went to Italy as he built momentum again. After two years in Russia, he returned to the NBA and played 13 games with Kevin Durant in 2021, but now plays in France.

13. Jahlil Okafor

Jahlil Okafor was a five-star recruit out of high school and played one successful season at Duke University before declaring for the NBA Draft. He was selected third overall by the Philadelphia 76ers and had a bright future ahead of him, but unfortunately injuries plagued him.

Between 2015 and 2021, Okafor struggled to play consistently in the NBA – though he always had a contract offer waiting for him. After four teams in six years, he took his talents to the CBA in China and currently plays for the Zhejiang Lions where he is playing like his college self. 

12. Chris Richards

Chris Richards grew up in Birmingham, AL and initially caught the attention of both Texans SC Houston and FC Dallas Academy in 2017. He signed a contract with Dallas FC in 2018, but was sent to Germany as part of a tryout with Bayern Munich and it reportedly went very well. 

Richards signed a contract with Munich and was with the team up until 2021, when he was loaned to another German club, TSG 1899 Hoffenheim. Since 2018, Richards has scored 7 goals and dished 5 assists in 111 matches. He’s just 22 years old and has a bright future. 

11. Weston McKennie

Weston McKennie was born in Fort Lewis, Washington, but his family had to move to Germany between the ages of six and nine due to his father being stationed there in the United States Air Force. This is where McKennie started playing soccer and he quickly emerged as a prospect. 

In fact, McKennie turned down a scholarship offer to play at the University of Virginia to start his professional career in 2016. After several years with Schalke 04 in Bundesliga, he has been with Juventus in Serie A (Italy) since 2021. At just 23 years old, he’s one of soccer’s youngest stars.

10. Dwayne Bacon

Dwayne Bacon played two seasons at Florida State University and was drafted by the New Orleans Pelicans in 2017 with the 40th overall pick in the second round. After three seasons with the team, he had the best season of his career with the Magic during the 2020-21 season. 

Unfortunately, his strong play wouldn’t earn him a consistent spot on an NBA roster and he would find himself taking his talents to the French LNB Pro A. He currently plays for the AS Monaco Basket and is averaging 13.1 points, 1.4 assists, and 4.2 rebounds in 16 games. 

9. James Ennis III

James Ennis III grew up in Ventura, California and played four years of college basketball at Oxnard College, Ventura College, and Long Beach State. Despite being taken by the Atlanta Hawks in the 2013 NBA Draft, Ennis III eventually chose to pursue a better contract overseas

After a couple years overseas in Australia and Puerto Rico, Ennis III made his return to the NBA and spent the next eight seasons in the league – most recently with the Denver Nuggets. As of March 2022, Ennis III is playing for Hapoel Haifa of the Israeli Basketball Premier League.

8. Giovanni Reyna

Although Giovanni Reyna was born in England, he was born to American parents – his father was playing professional soccer for Sunderland at the time. They eventually made the move back to the United States by the time Giovanni was five years old – where he would grow up. 

Soccer was always a big part of his life and he started his youth career with New York City FC in 2015. By 2019, he made the move to Germany and he currently plays for Borussia Dortmund in Bundesliga (Germany). He has recorded 18 goals and 20 assists in 93 matches since 2019. 

7. Delmon Young

Delmon Young grew up in Camarillo, California and was the first overall draft pick in the 2003 MLB Draft out of high school. He made his major league debut on August 29, 2006 (he had two hits, one home run, and two RBIs) and last played on June 29, 2015 with the Baltimore Orioles.

Young enjoyed a decade in the major leagues, recording 109 home runs, 566 RBIs, and 473 runs scored. In 2017, he decided he wanted to resurrect his career and signed with the Melbourne Aces in Australia. He has also played baseball in Mexico and Venezuela since then.  

6. Shane Larkin

Shane Larkin grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio to an athletic family – his father was a Hall of Fame baseball player. While he wouldn’t pursue baseball, he would find solace in basketball and played two years of college ball at the University of Miami before declaring for the NBA Draft.

Larkin was drafted by the Atlanta Hawks with the 18th pick in 2013, but his draft rights were quickly traded to the Dallas Mavericks. He spent four years in the NBA, but has been playing with the Anadolu Efes in Turkey since 2018 – where he has become nothing short of a star. 

5. Adam Jones

Adam Jones grew up in San Diego, California and was drafted by the Seattle Mariners in the first round of the 2003 MLB Draft out of Samuel F. B. Morse High School. He made his major league debut on July 14, 2006 and played his last MLB game on September 28, 2019. 

During his 14-year MLB career, Jones hit 282 home runs, 945 runs batted in, and 963 runs scored. He decided to leave the MLB to pursue a career with Nippon Professional Baseball in Japan. He last played for the Orix Buffaloes and was looking like his usual self at the plate. 

4. Jimmer Fredette

Jimmer Fredette grew up in New York City, but played four years of college basketball at BYU – where he broke numerous records and once scored 52 points in a game. He was selected 10th overall by the Milwaukee Bucks in 2011, but had his rights traded to the Sacramento Kings. 

Fredette has always struggled to translate his college success onto an NBA court. He played well in the G League, but it wasn’t until he landed in China that he took off – averaging more than 36.9 points per game in each of his first three seasons. He scored 70 points in a game last year.

3. Christian Pulisic

Christian Pulisic grew up in Hershey, Pennsylvania, though he spent several years of his childhood in England. He began his youth career in 2005 and caught the eye of Borussia Dortmund in 2015. He began his senior career with the club in 2016 and played there until 2019.

Since 2019, Pulisic has been a key player for Chelsea of the Premier League. He has 58 goals and 58 assists in 267 matches. At just 23 years old, he’s one of the game’s brightest young stars and is someone to keep an eye on – especially with the United States’ national team.

2. Rickie Fowler

Alright, Rickie Fowler hasn’t officially announced his intent to play overseas and there’s still a chance it doesn’t happen, but there are a lot of rumors that he might be the next big star to join Dustin Johnson on the LIV Golf tour. He remains open to the idea of a change in scenery. 

Fowler turned professional in 2009 and has nine professional wins to his name – five of which came on the PGA Tour. He finished either second or tied for second in each of the four major championships. If he does make the move to play overseas, it would be a big loss for the PGA.

1. Phil Mickelson

Rickie Fowler hasn’t made up his mind on LIV Golf, but Phil Mickelson – a billionaire and one of the sport’s greatest of all-time – has. He recently joined Dustin Johnson on the tour and has signed the biggest contract – totaling over $200 million to join the tour, not including winnings. 

Mickelson has received a lot of criticism for this move, but it’s one he’s ready to double down on. He turned pro in 2009 and has 57 professional wins to his name – 45 of which came on the PGA Tour. He also won six major championships, including three Masters Tournament wins.

Most Popular American Athletes Abroad

There are those American athletes that play overseas and then there are those American athletes that have incredibly large fan support overseas – despite playing in the United States. For example, LeBron James is just as famous across the globe as he is in his home country.

Some of the other most popular American athletes overseas include Tiger Woods, Kevin Durant, Phil Mickelson (also plays overseas), Stephen Curry, Ronda Rousey, Rory McIlroy, Serena Williams, Tom Brady, Dwyane Wade, Shaun White, and James Harden

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The major professional sports leagues in America are often far more competitive than in other countries – except for soccer. With that said, countries are finally making strides and the more they recruit American athletes, the more that competition will continue to grow in the future.

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