COLUMBUS, Ohio — The day of reckoning arrived for the PGA Tour and more than a dozen of its players on Tuesday, as 13 tour members were included in the field for the first LIV Golf Invitational Series in London next week.
PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan has warned players that they would face stiff penalties for competing in the rival circuit. The tour issued another statement saying as much again on Wednesday.
While the London field lacks much of the punch that LIV Golf CEO Greg Norman had initially hoped for, the series still dealt a blow to the tour and the current state of professional golf. Two-time major winner Dustin Johnson was a surprising addition to the London tournament. The field also includes several longtime PGA Tour players, including a handful of European Ryder Cup participants who might be willingly sacrificing future chances at being named captain.
Stars like Rory McIlroy and Patrick Cantlay say they’re interested to see what goes down over the next several weeks.
“I’m as curious as you are to see how the tournaments will go and what the presentation will be like, if it will be similar to golf tournaments that we’re used to seeing on TV, or if it will be something totally different, and only time will tell,” Cantlay said. “I’m interested to see what that product will be compared to what the product is right now that we are all used to.”
Where do the PGA Tour and LIV Golf go from here? Here are a few questions that must still be answered:
The six-time major champion was among the PGA Tour players who requested a conflicting-event release from the tour to play in the London event. But Mickelson wasn’t included in the list of 42 players released by LIV Golf on Tuesday.
Mickelson, who hasn’t played on the PGA Tour since missing the cut at Torrey Pines in late January and sat out both the Masters and PGA Championship, might still be among the competitors in London. There are six open spots in the 48-man field, and Norman will use at least one of them for a commissioner’s choice.
Sources have told ESPN that one of the six remaining players will be a very high-profile player, and LIV might announce Mickelson on his own to make a big splash.
Despite Mickelson’s controversial comments about the Saudi Arabians being “scary motherf——,” Norman told ESPN that Mickelson would always be welcome at LIV events.
“He knows he made a mistake, right?” Norman said. “He knows he made a mistake, and his choice of conversation with a reporter and the choice of words, he does regret. We all make mistakes. I’ve always said consistently, as far as I’m concerned, Phil’s legacy is always going to be Phil’s legacy. Just because he made one mistake it shouldn’t be something that destroys a guy’s entire legacy. I’ve always said that Phil should have an open door to any golf tournament he wants to play anywhere in the world because of what he’s done for the game of golf.”
When will the PGA Tour players face discipline?
A PGA Tour official told ESPN that the players probably wouldn’t face discipline until they actually tee it up at the LIV Golf event in London. The punishment would probably come in the form of a sliding scale. For instance, players who were actively involved in creating the league or recruiting tour players to LIV Golf would face stiffer punishment than those who simply play.
In the past, Monahan has threatened players with fines, suspensions and even lifetime bans if they played in the LIV tournaments without a release from the PGA Tour. The issue might end up in court if players want to legally challenge the tour’s position.
The PGA Tour released a statement on Wednesday which reminded players that they’ll be punished if they play in London without a release. On May 10, the tour denied releases to players who requested them.
“As communicated to our entire membership on May 10, PGA Tour members have not been authorized to participate in the Saudi Golf League’s London event, under PGA Tour Tournament Regulations,” the tour’s statement said. “Members who violate the Tournament Regulations are subject to disciplinary action.”
Matt Jones, one of the PGA Tour members included in the London field, said he’s expecting punishment from the tour but hopes it doesn’t include a ban.
“Yeah, you’ve gotta expect it,” said Jones, who is in the field at the Memorial, this week’s PGA Tour stop. “That’s what they’ve stated and they’ve said publicly. [Monahan has] always been very adamant about that. He’s said so in player meetings, ‘If you go, you will be banned from the PGA Tour.’ We’ll see how that goes. I’m not sure how that would hold up for independent contractors. I’m sure that PGA Tour’s lawyers are pretty confident, and I’m sure LIV tour’s lawyers are pretty confident, too. Look, I’m a golfer. I’m gonna stay in my lane because I have no idea on that side.”
Will players who compete on the LIV Golf circuit be eligible for majors?
Dustin Johnson headlines the LIV Golf Invitational field, while Phil Mickelson was notably absent.
So far, the governing bodies that stage the four majors — Augusta National Golf Club (Masters), USGA (U.S. Open), PGA of America (PGA Championship) and the R&A (The Open) — have supported the PGA Tour and DP Tour (formerly the European Tour).
Coincidentally, Augusta National chairman Fred Ridley and PGA of America CEO Seth Waugh played in the Memorial’s pro-am at Muirfield Village Golf Club on Wednesday. USGA CEO Mike Whan was there to meet with the PGA Tour’s players advisory committee.
The U.S. Open is up next, at The Country Club in Brookline, Massachusetts, on June 16-19, five days after the completion of the London event. Six PGA Tour members in the LIV field — Johnson, Sergio Garcia, Talor Gooch, Branden Grace, Kevin Na and Louis Oosthuizen — are already exempt from qualifying for the U.S. Open. Mickelson is exempt from qualifying as well.
USGA chief championships officer John Bodenhamer told ESPN on Wednesday at the U.S. Women’s Open that although the governing body “prides themselves on the openness of their tournament,” they will also make their own decision about the eligibility of players on a case-by-case basis.
“That openness goes back to the very beginning for us,” Bodenhamer told ESPN. “That aside, we would always keep it in a place where we can make our own decision about what we might do based on what the facts are.”
At the Masters in April, Ridley said the club supported the current ecosystem of golf.
“I would start by saying that our mission is always to act in the best interests of the game in whatever form that may take,” Ridley said. “I think that golf’s in a good place right now. There’s more participation. Purses on the professional tours are the highest they have ever been.
“We have been pretty clear in our belief that the world tours have done a great job in promoting the game over the years. Beyond that, there’s so much that we don’t know about what might happen or could happen that I just don’t think I could say much more beyond that.”
Why are PGA Tour players leaving for LIV Golf?
A lot of it has to do with money, but some players, particularly aging ones such as Garcia, Graeme McDowell, Ian Poulter and Charl Schwartzel, might be enticed by making as much (or more) money in fewer events on the LIV circuit.
Jones, from Australia, is a two-time winner on the PGA Tour. He has a runner-up finish and solo third this season. He finished tied for 26th at the Masters last year. He has earned more than $17.3 million during his tour career.
Jones said playing in just seven regular-season events and a team championship finale would allow him to spend more time with his three young daughters. He still hopes to at least be eligible for the majors, if not PGA Tour events. He acknowledged receiving a signing bonus from LIV Golf.
“I want to be around as a dad,” Jones said. “I mean, I’ve been out here for 15 years. I’ve missed a lot of what goes on in my kids’ life. I was raised with a mom and dad that were always there for me. They were there at every sporting event, every schooling event, and that’s something I’d like to try and do for my kids.”
Hudson Swafford is another PGA Tour member who plans to play in London. He picked up his third career tour victory at the American Express in January and has earned more than $9.65 million. Swafford has two children.
“I’ve got two kids now,” Swafford said. “Not traveling as much is appealing. There’s a lot of things that went into the decision. I still want to play the PGA Tour. I definitely do. I love the tour.”