The PGA Tour dramatically crashed the opening day of the Saudi breakaway series by immediately suspending its defectors in a major escalation of golf’s civil war on Thursday.
In an explosive letter to PGA members, sent within half an hour of the first tee shots at Centurion Club in St Albans, Tour commissioner Jay Monahan declared that 17 players, including Dustin Johnson, Phil Mickelson, Lee Westwood, Ian Poulter, Graeme McDowell and Sergio Garcia, would be banned from their events indefinitely.
While the situation around their participation in future majors remains undecided, the PGA Tour’s sanctions are a definitive line in the sand between golf’s established factions and the star players who have cashed in by joining the LIV Invitational Series.
The same punishment will apply to players who enter future LIV competitions, with Bryson DeChambeau and Patrick Reed expected to join in the coming weeks. LIV responded by calling the Tour ‘vindictive’.
Monahan’s letter read: ‘Participation in the Saudi Golf League/LIV Golf event is in violation of our tournament regulations. These players have made their choice for their own financial-based reasons.
‘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.
‘(The Tour’s) legacy can’t be bought or sold.’
Dustin Johnson had already resigned on Tuesday but more have had memberships revoked
Phil Mickelson (left) tees off on the first hole during Round 1 of the LIV Golf Invitational Series at the Centurion Golf Club in St. Albans. The event is the first of the newly created LIV Golf Invitational Series. The PGA Tour announced on June 9 that players competing in the LIV Golf Series, like Bryce DeChambeau (right) have been suspended by the Tour
Lee Westwood (right) and wife and caddy Laurae Coltart Westwood during day one of the LIV Golf Invitational Series at the Centurion Club, Hertfordshire
A bombshell letter from the PGA Tour announced that all defecting members to rebel Saudi Invitational series have been suspended, in a huge shake-up for golf’s biggest names
Poulter plans to appeal the PGA’s ruling. He said last night: ‘I will appeal for sure if that’s exactly what it says (in the PGA letter).
FULL STATEMENT FROM ORGANISERS OF REBEL SAUDI SERIES
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 entry blocking golfers from playing. This certainly is not the last word on this topic.
The era of free agency beginning as we are proud to have a full field of players joining us in London, and beyond.
‘It makes no sense how I have played the game of golf all this time. I haven’t done anything wrong. I am playing the game I love and they’re going to take that opportunity away. It’s disappointing.’
A number of players — including Johnson, Martin Kaymer, McDowell, Garcia, Branden Grace, Louis Oosthuizen, Kevin Na, Charl Schwartzel and Westwood — had moved to nullify the impact of the expected sanctions by resigning their PGA Tour membership in advance of the LIV opener at Centurion.
Making up the 17 banned players were Talor Gooch, Matt Jones, Andy Ogletree, Turk Pettit, Hudson Swafford and Peter Uihlein, who are among the 48 playing for an obscene prize pot of £20million.
The LIV series led by Greg Norman hit out with a statement that read: ‘The 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 organisation 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.’
What happens next will be fascinating, particularly in regards to the Ryder Cup and the four majors.
On the latter, the US Open have said those in this field will remain eligible, but longer term it has not been stated how the different organisers of the quartet — Augusta National, the PGA of America, the USGA and the R&A — will respond to players siding with LIV Golf.
Likewise the DP World Tour, formerly known as the European Tour, have remained silent on their own stance to the rebels.
Westwood and Poulter admitted on Wednesday that they do not know if they will ever again feature in the Ryder Cup.
Players at Centurion have been buffeted through the week with accusations that they are enabling sportswashing by signing up to the Saudi-backed series, which will have eight events in its first season. Mickelson alone is believed to have pocketed a £160m signing-on fee.
It emerged on Thursday that they had been coached on how to handle thorny questions with a crib sheet distributed by organisers.
Ian Poulter, picture playing the opening round on Thursday, intends to appeal the suspension
Westwood on Wednesday that he does not know if he will ever again feature in the Ryder Cup
One snippet, echoed by players such as McDowell, read: ‘As I understand it, their goal is to grow the game, provide players additional opportunities, and give fans more fun and a better entertainment product. We all want the game to flourish. They want everyone to benefit — including the players.’
LIV Golf declined to comment.
Blasting the defectors for ‘willfully violating regulation’, Monahan outlined suspensions in a wide-ranging letter issued to members.
It emerged players had been briefed on how to handle media questions with player such as Graeme McDowell echoing snippets
The PGA Tour chief’s letter added: ‘Their participation in the Saudi Golf League/LIV Golf event is in violation of our tournament regulations.
‘The same fate holds true for any other players who participate in future Saudi Golf League events in violation of our regulations.
‘These players have made their choice for their own financial-based reasons. 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.’
‘As you know, players listed below did not receive the necessary conflicting event and media rights releases – or did not apply for releases at all – and their participation in the Saudi Golf League/LIV Golf event is in violation of our tournament regulations,’ the letter continued.
‘The same fate holds true for any other players who participate in future Saudi Golf League events in violation of our regulations.’
Sergio Garcia (left) chose to resign, but Ian Poulter (right) has simply had membership revoked
Dustin Johnson (L) shakes hands with Greg Norman, CEO of LIV Golf Investments, before teeing off in Round 1 of the LIV Golf Invitational Series at the Centurion Golf Club in St. Albans
Dustin Johnson of the US during Round 1 of the LIV Golf Invitational Series at the Centurion Golf Club in St. Albans
A memo to players last month warned that the Tour would not be releasing players to feature in the opening rebel series event and that has rung true.
Mickelson still hopes to play at the US Open
‘As a membership organization, we believe this decision is in the best interest of the PGA Tour and its players,’ that memo to players read.
Thursday’s bombshell letter enhances the pressure on the sport’s other governing bodies – Augusta National runs the Masters, the PGA of America runs the PGA Championship, and the R&A oversees the British Open – to see how serious their sanctions – if any – will be on players jumping ship.
Former world No 1 Johnson jumped before others have now been pushed as he confirmed he had resigned from the PGA Tour on Tuesday.
Johnson said: ‘Obviously at this time it’s hard to speak on what the consequences will be, but for right now, I’ve resigned my membership from the PGA Tour.
‘I’m going to play here for now, and that’s the plan. Majors, again I can’t answer for them, but hopefully they are going to allow us to play.
‘Obviously I’m exempt for the majors so I plan on playing there unless I hear otherwise.’
PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan accused players of ‘willfully violating regulation’
Mickelson and DeChambeau both insisted they had not offered their resignations to the PGA Tour, prior to day one of the LIV Invitational Series, but that has now been deemed irrelevant.
Mickelson, who is said to be pocketing £160million ($200 million) by defecting, showed an element of golfing tradition as he wore a black zip-up featuring the Augusta National logo when he took to the fairways.
United States Golf Association said of the Saudi-backed LIV Series last week that participation would not end a player’s ability to feature at the US Open in Brookline, Massachusetts, next week.
‘We pride ourselves in being the most open championship in the world and the players who have earned the right to compete in this year’s championship, both via exemption and qualifying, will have the opportunity to do so,’ read the USGA statement.
‘Our field criteria were set prior to entries opening earlier this year and it’s not appropriate, nor fair to competitors, to change criteria once established.
PGA TOUR LETTER IN FULL
‘PGA Tour members,
I wish to provide you with an update and share information regarding the current and former PGA Tour players who are participating in the Saudi Golf League’s event in London today.
‘Thank you for your trust, patience and loyalty. We have followed the Tournament Regulations from start to finish in responding to those players who have decided to turn their backs on the PGA Tour by willfully violating regulation.
‘Simultaneous to you receiving this memo, players (listed below) are being notified that they 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 Kom Ferry Tour, PGA Tour Champions, PGA Tour Canada and PGA Tour Latinoamerica.
‘As you know, players listed below did not receive the necessary conflicting event and media rights releases – or did not apply for releases at all – and their participation in the Saudi Golf League/LIV Golf event is in violation of our tournament regulations.
‘The same fate holds true for any other players who participate in future Saudi Golf League events in violation of our regulations.
‘Also, in accordance with PGA Tour Tournament Regulations, the players who have resigned their memberships will be removed from FedExCup Points List when the official statistics following the RBC Canadian Open are posted on Sunday evening.
‘To be clear, these players will not be permitted to play in PGA Tour tournaments as a non-member via a sponsor exemption or any other eligibility criteria.
‘For those who haven’t yet resigned, we will ensure they will not negatively impact your tournament eligibility, your position in the Priority Rankings or your eligibility to compete in the FedExCup Play-Offs.
‘We will update you as we work through this process.
‘You probably have more questions. What’s next? Can these players come back? Can they eventually play PGA Tour Champions? Trust that we have prepared to deal with those questions, and we’ll approach them in the same way we have this entire process: by being transparent and respecting the PGA Tour regulations that you helped establish.
‘These players have made their choice for their own financial-based reasons. But they can’t demand the same PGA Tour membership benefits, considerations, opportunities and platforms as you.
‘The 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.
‘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.
‘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 not only to 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 that should be telling.
‘This week, the RBC Canadian Open is a shining example of what you have created with the Tour: a star-studded field, a committed sponsor, sold-out hospitality offerings, record crowds and a global broadcast distribution. 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.
‘Please reach out with any questions, and please know that we remain committed to you – our players – as well as our fans and our partners.
Bolded players have resigned