PGA Tour denies golf players waivers for Saudi-backed tournament

The PGA Tour has sternly refused to give its members the chance to play in the inaugural event of a rival Saudi Arabian-backed golf tour, which will debut outside London next month. The move, announced in a memo to tour members Tuesday night, was hardly a surprise – the PGA Tour is protecting its business – but in the most gentleman of sports, it revealed an unusual grudge.

It is also prompting the best male golfers in the world, who are well-paid entrepreneurs, to choose which side to stand on where to raise their millions of dollars in compensation. And not surprisingly, the centerpiece of the dispute is often the source of the alternative golf circuit, LIV Golf, whose main shareholder is the Public Investment Fund, the sovereign wealth fund of Saudi Arabia.

The overwhelming probability is that only a small number of low-profile players on the established America-based PGA Tour – plus a handful of golfers beyond their pinnacle – will jump to the new golf series, which may not lack for money but is currently lacking. prestige, or even a television contract.

But if the start the tour perseveres for years – though not a certainty – and fulfills its promise to distribute bags that overshadow those on the PGA Tour, could sow unrest down the line in a future generation of young professionals, particularly those raised outside the United States. whose focus is not so centered on the PGA Tour.

For now, dozens of players on the tour, including all topping the men’s world rankings, have pledged their allegiance to the PGA Tour.

Several times, Rory McIlroy, a four-time major winner who finished seventh in the world, has declared the escape tour “dead in the water”. He also disapproved of his basics of him, saying, “I didn’t like where the money came from.” Aligning with McIlroy, 33, were some new dominant faces in the game, such as Jon Rahm, Collin Morikawa, Justin Thomas, and Jordan Spieth.

Involved in the dispute is one of the sport’s most famous players, Phil Mickelson, who has stepped away from competitive golf for months since making comments in support of the breakaway league.

Mickelson was one of several PGA Tour affiliated players, including Sergio García in Spain and Lee Westwood in England, who have applied for release from the tour to play in the first event of a LIV Golf International Series at Centurion Club near London since June. from 9 to 11

The tour refuses to grant such releases, which means that players who choose to play in the LIV Golf event will be considered in violation of the tour rules. Disciplinary action could include suspension or revocation of tour membership.

Jay Monahan, the commissioner of the PGA Tour, made it clear to players this year that the tour will suspend players who defect to the rival league. The same can be true for a player who wants to play even a single tournament in the LIV Golf program, which includes eight events from June to October, including one in Thailand and five in the United States. At the end of July, the host site will be Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, NJ

Hours after the PGA Tour turned down player requests to play the Centurion Club event, Greg Norman, a former golf great who is the CEO of LIV Golf Investments, denounced the tour decision.

“Unfortunately, the PGA Tour seems intent on denying professional golfers the right to play golf, unless it is exclusively in a PGA Tour tournament,” Norman said. He added: “Instead, the tour is intent on perpetuating its illegal monopoly of what should be a free and open market. The tour action is anti-golf, anti-fan and anti-competitive. “

As if to up the ante, LIV Golf announced plans for more events from 2023 to 2025 on Tuesday.

The next step in the fight could be in court. Monahan insisted tour lawyers believe her decision-making process will stand up to legal scrutiny.

While a court case will be far from gripping, the most gripping drama within the golf drama will be Mickelson’s situation. He has only a few days to commit to playing in next week’s PGA championship, which he won last year when he became the oldest senior champion at the age of 50. Mickelson has been tied to the LIV Golf circuit for months. In February, he was severely reprimanded for incendiary comments attributed to him in support of the Saudi-backed tour.

In an interview for a biography due out next week, Mickelson told reporter Alan Shipnuck who knew of the kingdom’s “horrific human rights record”, but was willing to help the new league because it was a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” to dramatically increase the income of PGA Tour players.

Shortly thereafter, Mickelson, a six-time major winner who made nearly $ 95 million on the PGA Tour, was abandoned by several of his corporate sponsors. Hey, you apologized and called his remarks “reckless”.

Next week, perhaps as Mickelson is making final preparations for his return to competitive golf at the PGA championship, Shipnuck’s book, “Phil: The Rip-Roaring (and Unauthorized!) Biography of Golf’s Most Colorful Superstar” will be released. It is expected to shed some light on Mickelson’s gambling habits, among other things.

García, another player who has long been considered a candidate to join the LIV Golf venture, recently expressed his support for the alternative tour in an unconventional way. Playing at last week’s PGA Tour event near Washington, García was approved by a golf official of a court ruling that was against him. This decision was subsequently found to be erroneous (but not annulled). García, whose career earnings on the PGA Tour exceed $ 54 million, told the official, in a reaction picked up by a microphone from a nearby TV show: “I can’t wait to leave this tour.” He continued: “A couple of weeks more, I don’t have to deal with you anymore.”

García, 42, represents the type of professional golfer who might be most receptive to the promises of the LIV Golf firm. Masters champion with 11 PGA Tour wins, he struggled to keep up with the most powerful and long-lived young players who have taken control of golf. His world rankings have dropped to 46th place. He is also not American, like other golfers who are said to have signed up on the escape tour. These players are most likely drawn to LIV Golf’s more global and limited program. Some players see the US tour as overbearing, restrictive, and weighted for events held in the United States.

Meanwhile, there is an uproar in the stately world of golf. Its short-term impact is unlikely to break the boat much. The question will be how long the rival tour can maintain sustainability and whether that will be enough to seriously shake the usually calm and lucrative waters of the sport.