PGA Tour suspends all players taking part in first LIV Golf tournament

ByMARK SCHLABACH via <a href="http://espn.go.com/" title="ESPN" class="espn_sc_byline">ESPN </a> via via logo
June 09, 2022, 11:49 AM

The PGA Tour has suspended the 17 members who are competing in the inaugural LIV Golf International Series event, it announced Thursday.

Players who resigned their membership before starting the LIV Golf event being held outside London that began Thursday are also no longer eligible to compete in tour events or the Presidents Cup. Among those now banned from tour events are six-time major champion Phil Mickelson, two-time major champion Dustin Johnson and longtime Ryder Cup participants Ian Poulter, Lee Westwood and Sergio Garcia.

"These players have made their choice for their own financial-based reasons," PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan wrote in a memo to the tour's membership. "But they can't demand the same PGA TOUR membership benefits, considerations, opportunities and platform as you. That expectation disrespects you, our fans and our partners. You have made a different choice, which is to abide by the Tournament Regulations you agreed to when you accomplished the dream of earning a PGA TOUR card and -- more importantly -- to compete as part of the preeminent organization in the world of professional golf."

Monahan wrote that any players who take part in future LIV Golf events will face the same punishment.

Mickelson, asked how he felt about Monahan's memo, paused for 10 seconds as he weighed what he was going to say before answering, "Any PGA Tour matters, I'm not going to discuss it publicly at this time."

Poulter, meanwhile, expressed frustration with the PGA Tour's decision and said he would fight the suspension.

"Of course I'm going to appeal. It makes no sense," Poulter said. "I've always had the ability to play golf all around the world. What's wrong with that? I haven't done anything wrong. How many which ways do you want to cut that? I've don't know many different events I've played around the world on different circuits. I've played the Asian Tour, the Japanese Tour. I've played in China, in South Africa. I've played everywhere, the game of golf that I love. They're going take that opportunity away? That's disappointing."

The memo said players who compete in LIV events are ineligible to participate on the PGA Tour or any other tours it sanctions, including the Korn Ferry Tour, PGA Tour Champions, PGA Tour Canada and PGA Tour Latinoamerica.

"I am certain our fans and partners -- who are surely tired of all this talk of money, money and more money -- will continue to be entertained and compelled by the world-class competition you display each and every week, where there are true consequences for every shot you take and your rightful place in history whenever you reach that elusive winner's circle," Monahan wrote.

"You are the PGA TOUR, and this moment is about what we stand for: the PGA TOUR membership as a whole. It's about lifting up those who choose to not only benefit from the TOUR, but who also play an integral role in building it. I know you are with us, and vice versa. Our partners are with us, too. The fact that your former TOUR colleagues can't say the same should be telling."

LIV Golf, in a statement, called the PGA Tour's punishment "vindictive" and said it "deepens the divide between the Tour and its members."

"It's troubling that the Tour, an organization dedicated to creating opportunities for golfers to play the game, is the entity blocking golfers from playing," LIV Golf said. "This certainly is not the last word on this topic. The era of free agency is beginning as we are proud to have a full field of players joining us in London, and beyond."

The PGA Tour announced the discipline less than 30 minutes after 17 of its members or former members who resigned from the tour in the past week hit their opening tee shots in the inaugural LIV Golf event at Centurion Club outside London.

Two other past major winners, 2020 U.S. Open champion Bryson DeChambeau and 2018 Masters champion Patrick Reed, have also reached agreements with LIV Golf to compete in future tournaments, sources told ESPN on Wednesday. LIV Golf officials have also had ongoing discussions with other players, including Rickie Fowler and Jason Kokrak.

Johnson and Garcia are among the players who have resigned from the tour, along with 2010 Open champion Louis Oosthuizen, 2011 Masters champion Charl Schwartzel and Kevin Na. The players hoped to avoid punishment from the tour by quitting.

Graeme McDowell, the 2010 U.S. Open champion, said he resigned as a PGA Tour member about 30 minutes before teeing off Thursday. He said he didn't feel he should have to resign but also expected the punishment that was handed down.

"The PGA Tour has to do what they feel is necessary. I don't think it's healthy for the sport," McDowell said. "We're here because we believe we're independent contractors and we believe should be allowed to compete and play where we want all over the world. ... We have a compelling option, which is not agreeable to the biggest tours in the world. It's disappointing, but there is not a lot we can do about it. As players, we're here understanding the consequences of what may lay ahead of us."

Monahan said the 10 players who resigned their PGA Tour memberships would be removed from the FedEx Cup points standings after this week's RBC Canadian Open. He wrote that "these players will not be permitted to play in PGA Tournaments as a non-member via a sponsor exemption" or any other eligibility category.

"This week, the RBC Canadian Open is a shining example of what you have created with the PGA Tour: a star-studded field, a committed sponsor, sold-out hospitality offerings, record crowds and a global broadcast distribution," Monahan wrote. "These elements are part of the Tour's DNA, built by the likes of Jack and Arnie, furthered by Tiger and countless others -- whose legacies are inextricably linked, with each other and with the PGA Tour. This collective legacy can't be bought or sold."

LIV Golf CEO Greg Norman, a former world No. 1 golfer and two-time winner of The Open, has told ESPN in the past that the new circuit was prepared to help its players fight the PGA Tour's position in court. Norman said he had players who were willing to participate in a legal battle.

"I can only speak on information given to me by our legal team, and I have an extremely talented legal team in antitrust and anticompetitive laws, and we believe we're in the right position," Norman said. "We believe the players are independent contractors and have a right to go play wherever they want to go play."

On May 10, the PGA Tour denied conflicting-event releases to players who had requested them. Monahan had told players several times that they would face punishment for competing in the LIV events without releases.

The first LIV Golf tournament in the United States is scheduled for June 30-July 2 at Pumpkin Ridge in Portland, Oregon.

The LIV Golf series features 54-hole events, shotgun starts, no cuts and a team format. The seven regular-season events -- a slate that also includes stops in Bedminster, New Jersey; Boston; and Chicago -- are offering $25 million purses, the richest in golf history. The winner gets $4 million, and the last-place finisher gets $120,000. A season-ending team championship, Oct. 27-30 at Trump National Doral in Miami, has a $50 million purse.

According to reports, top players also received signing bonuses from LIV Golf worth more than $100 million.

Schwartzel took the lead Thursday after posting a 5-under 65, with Hennie Du Plessis one back at 4 under. Mickelson and Johnson were tied for seventh after each shooting a 1-under 69.

A longtime PGA Tour player who wasn't approached about playing in the LIV Golf series told ESPN that he agreed that the tour had to punish the players to prevent others from defecting.

"We're going to end up in a worse position because these guys wanted a quick money grab to go play in an exhibition," the player said. "The [Saudis] are going to lose interest eventually. I think we all have a little bit of a responsibility to leave the game better than when we got here, and repping for a shady government with a questionable record isn't doing that."

LIV Golf is supported by the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia, which is controlled by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Salman has been accused of numerous human rights violations, including the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018.

Four-time major winner Rory McIlroy, speaking at a news conference at the RBC Canadian Open in Toronto on Wednesday, said he was concerned about golf's future.

"I think it's a shame that it's going to fracture the game," McIlroy said. "I think if anything, the professional game is the window shop into golf. If the general public are confused about who is playing where and what tournament's on this week and, OK, he doesn't get into these events, it just becomes so confusing. I think everything needs to try to become more cohesive, and I think it was on a pretty good trajectory until this happened."

ESPN's Kevin Van Valkenburg contributed to this report.

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