Dueling press releases!
The PGA Tour has banned all golfers competing in the controversial Saudi Arabia-backed LIV Golf Series. Tour commissioner Jay Monahan dropped the hammer in a letter to all members Thursday morning, right after the first LIV event teed off in London.
In accordance with the PGA Tour’s tournament regulations, the players competing this week without releases are suspended or otherwise no longer eligible to participate in PGA Tour tournament play, including the Presidents Cup. This also applies to all tours sanctioned by the PGA Tour: the Korn Ferry Tour, PGA Tour Champions, PGA Tour Canada and PGA Tour Latinoamérica.
“Their participation in the Saudi Golf League/LIV Golf event is in violation of our tournament regulations,” Monahan said in the release. “The same fate holds true for any other players who participate in future Saudi Golf League events in violation of our regulations.”
Today’s announcement by the PGA Tour is vindictive and 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. 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 suspensions are indefinite based on the gist of the release. There is no indication whether they are permanent, Pete Rose-style bans or if they can be lifted in the future — probably because the PGA Tour itself doesn’t even know yet.
Most of the LIV Golf defectors have resigned their tour memberships already. Others, like Phil Mickelson, have not. And as of now, the ban does not impact the ability to play in the major tournaments given those four events operate independent of the tour. So these suspensions may not mean much to the bulk of the offenders.
That said, it’s hard to imagine there will not be a lawsuit at some point. There will be a tour player who wants to step out to make a quick cash grab before coming back. Or someone at the bottom of LIV’s current roster who wants to return to tour once they are bumped out by bigger names who sign up down the road.
When that legal showdown happens, it will be interesting to see what comes of that. On one hand, this could be like any time the NFL has run into a player discipline case. The ensuing legal battle is long and costly with some temporary setbacks for the league, but ultimately it wins because a collective bargaining agreement is pretty ironclad. The PGA Tour does not have one of those, of course, as players are independent contractors. It’s a very different dynamic, and it could go many directions when tested in court.
The vehement criticism and opposition to LIV Golf and frontman Greg Norman has been fascinating. This is far from the first time a sport has gotten in bed with an oppressive regime for financial gain. But people are much more aghast with LIV than, say, the NBA’s deep ties in China, the World Cup in Qatar or the IOC’s various dalliances with bad actors. Slate had a smart look at this earlier in the week, examining some of the reasons why.
Public sentiment and momentum is certainly on the PGA Tour’s side now. But it could be fleeting. The world can only operate at Peak Golf Outrage for so long. The heat will subside over time. And when it does, LIV may find itself with the stronger hand.
With a business model detached from normal economic realities due to the Saudi Public Investment Fund, LIV can throw as much money at these players as it needs to gain their participation. They won’t lure every big name, but they will get more and more of them as the stigma dissipates. And while the PGA Tour has done a good job of getting its media partners to treat LIV like ESPN used to treat the NHL, that only means so much given the Saudi money. They don’t need a massive broadcast deal — or significant fan attendance at events — to make this work.
If the seas calm and LIV is chugging along … it’s going to be hard to continually convince players left on the PGA Tour that they should be grinding it out every weekend rather than golfing once a month for a colossal amount of money. And if the tour loses in court eventually? All bets will be off.
James Kratch can be reached at [email protected]