PGA Tour Denies Golfers Waivers for Saudi-Backed Tournament

The PGA Tour has sternly declined to grant its membership the ability to play in the inaugural event of a rival Saudi-backed golf tour, which will make its 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 gentlemanly of sports, it exposed the uncharacteristic rancor.

It is also pressuring the world’s best men’s golfers, who are highly paid entrepreneurs, to choose sides over where they will collect their millions of dollars in compensation. And not inconsequentially, the focus of the dispute is often the source of the alternative golf circuit, LIV Golf, whose major shareholder is the Public Investment Fund, the sovereign wealth fund of Saudi Arabia.

The overwhelming likelihood is that only a small number of players will stand on the established, American-based PGA Tour – plus a handful of golfers past their prime – to jump to the new golf series, which may not be lacking for money but currently lacks. prestige, or even a TV contract.

But if the start-up tour perseveres for years – also not a certainty – and keeps its promise to dole out purses that overshadow those on the PGA Tour, it could sow unrest down the line in a future generation of young pros, especially those raised. Outside the United States whose focus is not so centered on the PGA Tour.

For now, scores of tour players, including everyone at the top of the men’s world rankings, have pledged their fealty to the PGA Tour.

Several times, Rory McIlroy, a four-time major winner who is ranked seventh in the world, has declared the breakaway tour “dead in the water.” He also disapproved of its underpinnings, saying, “I didn’t like where the money was coming from.” Aligning with McIlroy, 33, has some dominant new faces in the game, like Jon Rahm, Collin Morikawa, Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth.

Caught in the dispute is one of the most renowned players in the sport, Phil Mickelson, who has stepped away from competing golf for months since making comments in support of the breakaway league.

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

The tour is declining to grant those releases, which means players who choose to play in the LIV Golf event will be deemed violated in the tour regulations. Disciplinary action could include suspension or revocation of tour membership.

Jay Monahan, the PGA Tour Commissioner, has made it plain to the players this year that the Tour will suspend players who defect the rival league. The same may be true for a player who wants to play even one tournament on the LIV Golf Schedule, which includes eight events from June to October, including one in Thailand and five in the United States. In late July, the host site will be the Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, NJ

Hours after the PGA Tour declined the players’ requests to play at the Centurion Club event, Greg Norman, a former major golf champion who is the chief executive of LIV Golf Investments, rejected the tour’s decision.

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

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

The next step in the clash may be in court. Monahan has insisted that the tour’s lawyers believe its decision making will stand with legal scrutiny.

While a court case will be less riveting, golfing for the more compelling drama will be Mickelson’s situation. He has only been committed to playing in next week’s PGA Championship, which he won last year when he became the oldest major champion at age 50. Mickelson has been linked to the LIV golf circuit for months. In February, he was severely rebuked for incendiary comments attributed to his support of the Saudi-backed tour.

In an interview for a biography to be released next week, Mickelson told the journalist Alan Shipnuck that he knew the kingdom’s “horrible record on human rights,” but that he 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 afterward, Mickelson, a six-time major winner who has earned more than $ 95 million on the PGA Tour, was dropped by several of his corporate sponsors. He apologized and called his remarks “reckless.”

Next week, perhaps while Mickelson is making his 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 light on Mickelson’s gambling habits, among other things.

García, another player who has long been considered a candidate to join the LIV Golf enterprise, recently expressed his support of the alternative tour in an unconventional way. Playing in last week’s PGA Tour event near Washington, García was apprised by a golf official of an on-course team that went against him. That decision was later determined to be erroneous (but not reversed). García, whose career PGA Tour earnings exceeded $ 54 million, said the official, in response, picked up a nearby television broadcast microphone: “I can’t wait to leave this tour.” He continued: “A couple of more weeks, I don’t have to deal with you anymore.”

García, 42, represents the kind of professional golfer who might be the most receptive to the promises of the LIV Golf enterprise. A Masters champion with 11 PGA Tour victories, he has been struggling to keep up with the more powerful, long-hitting young players taking over golf. His world ranking has slipped to 46th. He is also not American, like other golfers who are reported to have signed on with the breakaway tour. These players are most attracted to LIV Golf’s more global, and limited, schedule. Some players view the American tour as overbearing, restrictive and weighted toward events in the United States.

In the meantime, there is a ruckus in the genteel world of golf. Its short-term impact is unlikely to rock the boat much. The question will be how long the rival tour can maintain sustainability, and whether it will be enough to seriously churn the sport’s customarily calm and lucrative waters.

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