LIV Golf players denounce their suspensions from the PGA Tour: “It makes no sense.”
HERTFORDSHIRE, England — The memo came just after the start of the very first round of the LIV Golf Invitational Series on Thursday, and as several PGA Tour players who have since been suspended admitted they expected penalties, there was a surprise.
As part of Commissioner Jay Monahan’s memo to players saying the 17 PGA Tour members in the 48-player LIV field would be suspended indefinitely, he also said those who opted out of membership would not be allowed to participate in PGA Tour events via a sponsor waiver.
This was seen as a possible loophole, as typically four to eight spots each week at regular PGA Tour events are considered unlimited, meaning they can be given to any player.
While a few years ago the Tour instituted a rule that stated that all sponsor exemptions had to be approved, there was no doubt that a seasoned pro would be turned down.
It’s no longer the case now.
So, for example, if the Rocket Mortgage Classic wanted to invite Dustin Johnson – who is no longer a member of the PGA Tour – he will be prohibited from doing so.
This came as a surprise to tournament officials contacted by SI.com/Morning Read who said sponsors and tournament directors were not informed in advance.
“We all knew something was coming up and we wondered about the idea of inviting players who are no longer members,” said a tournament official who did not wish to be identified. “We knew this loophole existed and you can certainly understand that tournaments might want to get the best players possible.”
The tournament official suggested surprise that this edict was not first addressed to the title sponsors and tournament directors, although it is understood that this might be the right way to go. “We thought at one point they might want to circle the wagons and get us all okay.”
Not so far.
Monahan’s memo was stern, but also did not state the length of the suspensions. It’s a clear warning to those considering doing so in the future that their return to the PGA Tour – if they choose – might not be so easy.
Sergio Garcia, who resigned from his membership, didn’t seem embarrassed. Phil Mickelson, who said Wednesday that as a life member of the PGA Tour he should be allowed to retain that honor and play whenever he chooses, said he would not comment on PGA Tour business. Graeme McDowell admitted he quit shortly before the first round. And Ian Poulter has said he will appeal his suspension.
“It’s (Monahan’s) decision,” Garcia said. “There’s nothing I can do. If that’s how he wants to go, that’s how he wants to go.”
Garcia didn’t seem bothered. He hopes to still have the chance to compete in European Tour events and be eligible for the Ryder Cup. But he has moved to LIV Golf and seems at peace with it.
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“That’s one of the reasons I quit because I didn’t want to get into legal battles,” he said. “I am very happy to be here for several reasons. It will allow me to do what I love, which is to play golf. It’s going to allow me to see my family more, spend more time with my 4 and 2 year olds, spend as much time as possible, and I make a good living doing it.
“For me, it’s a win/win. I’m excited for what’s to come. Excited to finally be here to play and see the reaction of people and players and everything. So it’s very exciting.”
McDowell further disputed the memo. It wasn’t until 30 minutes before the start of the round that he informed the PGA Tour that he was resigning his membership.
It’s not something he wanted to do, he said.
“I don’t think it’s healthy for the sport,” McDowell said of the suspensions. “We are here because we believe that we are independent contractors and that we should be allowed to compete and play wherever we want anywhere in the world. A guy like Sergio García has done that for the last five years of his life. I’ve been doing it for the last 20 years of my life without hesitation or argument from anyone.
“But we are in the midst of a competitive threat. We have a compelling option that is not acceptable by major world tours. We have a situation. So it’s disappointing. There’s not much we can do about that, obviously. As gamers, we’re here to understand the consequences of what might be in store for us, and you know, obviously we’re trying to function as best we can and the LIV team has done a great job of helping us deal with those potential consequences, and said they would support us through these processes. ”
McDowell said the decision to quit was difficult because he didn’t want to.
“I wanted to keep my spirits up and kind of stay on the Tour because I really didn’t feel like I had to quit or I should quit. It was a very difficult decision. Honestly, I quit out of an abundance of caution because I feel like it puts me in a less contentious position in terms of being dragged into anything unnecessarily.
“But like I said, I didn’t want to quit. I love the PGA Tour. It’s been great for me. It’s not about “the PGA Tour is a bad tour”. It’s about being able to add additional opportunities to my golf career. Really hard.”
Poulter looked surprised. The Englishman and Ryder Cup star has not resigned from his PGA Tour membership.
“I will appeal, for sure,” he said. “It doesn’t make sense, given the way I’ve been playing golf all this time.
“I didn’t quit because I didn’t feel like I did anything wrong. I played all over the world for 25 years. It’s no different, I’m committed to playing around the world like I’ve done for so many years, so it’s a shame if they see it as different.
“Of course it’s going to be sad, when you feel like you haven’t done anything wrong and you want to promote the game of golf. It’s a power struggle and it’s just disappointing.
When asked if he or his team might consider legal action — and commissioner Greg Norman and LIV said they would support such efforts — Poulter said it was possible.
“I’m sure we’ll sit down and assess the process and figure out what’s the right thing to do,” he said. “I don’t feel like I did anything wrong. What did I do wrong or different from the past?”