In a surprising decision by the PGA Tour this week, golfers who sought permission to play in the first LIV Golf Invitational Series tournament have been denied their waiver requests. It is unknown at this time whether any PGA Tour players will risk punishment by going ahead with participation in the event at the Centurion Club in London from June 9-11.
"We have notified those who have applied that their request has been declined in accordance with the PGA TOUR Tournament Regulations. As such, TOUR members are not authorized to participate in the Saudi Golf League's London event under our Regulations," said PGA Tour senior vice president Tyler Dennis in a memo to players. "As a membership organization, we believe this decision is in the best interest of the PGA TOUR and its players."
The belief was that the PGA Tour, which must grant permission to its members to play in events outside the PGA Tour itself, would approve the waivers for the first of eight LIV Golf events this year before denying them at a later date when the league moved to North American turf. Instead, PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan has laid down the law early, denying his membership the ability to participate in the big-money events from the jump.
"Sadly, the PGA Tour seems intent on denying professional golfers their right to play golf, unless it's exclusively in a PGA Tour tournament," said LIV Golf CEO Greg Norman in a statement. "This is particularly disappointing in light of the Tour's non-profit status, where its mission is purportedly 'to promote the common interests of professional tournament golfers.' Instead, the Tour is intent on perpetuating its illegal monopoly of what should be a free and open market. The Tour's action is anti-golfer, anti-fan, and anti-competitive. But no matter what obstacles the PGA Tour puts in our way, we will not be stopped. We will continue to give players options that promote the great game of golf globally."
This decision by the PGA Tour is slightly unusual. Many golfers -- including Phil Mickelson, Bubba Watson, Bryson DeChambeau and Dustin Johnson --to play in the Saudi International, an event on the Asian Tour. However, the PGA Tour sees LIV Golf differently, ostensibly because it is not a one-off event but the beginning of a rival league. The PGA Tour only allows players three waiver requests a year.
The DP World Tour appears to agree as it has followed the lead of the PGA Tour and taken the same position by denying players their waiver requests for the first LIV Golf event. It was originally thought the DP World Tour would grant these requests given their financial circumstances are far different than those of the PGA Tour, but they made their decision known shortly after the PGA Tour's went public.
If players choose to defy those denied waivers and play the event anyway, Monahan has consistently maintained in private that players could be suspended and permanently banned from the PGA Tour.
"Our PGA Tour rules and regulations were written by the players, for the players," said Monahan at the Players Championship earlier this year, implying that suspensions and bans would hold up in a court of law. "They've been in existence for over 50 years. I'm confident in our rules and regulations, my ability to administer them, and that's my position on the matter. ... We're confident in our position, and we're going to keep moving forward as a PGA Tour and focus on the things that we control."
PGA Tour players who either requested waiver releases or were linked with the league include Lee Westwood, Sergio Garcia, Jason Kokrak, Kevin Na and Robert Garrigus. Then there's Mickelson, of course, who is by far the biggest name involved, seemingly the linchpin for the entire thing and will undoubtedly end up being the poster boy in a court of law for how this all shakes out.
LIV Golf is a Saudi Arabia-financed league that is laboring to create an alternative golf tour while luring some of the top players in the world to its events. It was reported that Phil Mickelson helped write the operating agreement for the league before he disappeared from public view following some controversial comments about the folks running the league he allegedly helped start. The 48-golfer, 12-team LIV Golf events -- five of which are slated to be played in the United States later this year -- will have purses of $20 million, including a $5 million payout to the top team at each event.
Norman has been adamant that legally-speaking golfers, who are considered independent contractors, could not be banned from the PGA Tour. The Tour obviously sees that differently. While this waiver denial is certainly surprising for the first event -- the PGA Tour grants waivers all the time to events not held on North American soil -- this was always going to come to a head at some point later on when the leagues clashed with conflicting events on the same dates in the United States.
This entire saga has been one that would likely head to court since the day it began. Now, it seems that is likely to happen sooner than originally thought.