PGA punishes 17 pro-golfers for participating in Saudi-backed LIV league, puts others on notice

Decrying “money, money, and more money,” the Professional Golfers Association of America has suspended or otherwise revoked eligibility from 17 golfers, including stars Phil Mickelson, Sergio Garcia, and Dustin Johnson, who are participating in the apparently more lucrative, inaugural Saudi-backed LIV Golf event that commenced on Thursday in the London area.

The organization also warned that this prohibition will apply to any golfer who bolts in the future for the LIV Golf league, which has scheduled eight matches for 2022, with more coming in future years.

Johnson and some other luminaries had already resigned their PGA memberships in the run-up to the first LIV event.

A memo to PGA Tour members signed by PGA Commissioner Jay Monahan seems to indicate that the organization is playing hardball via its notification:

“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 a regulation,” Monahan began.

According to the memo, which alludes to various rules that seem byzantine for anyone who doesn’t follow golf closely, the pros are banned from all PGA tournament play that includes sanctioned tournaments such as the Korn Ferry Tour, PGA Tour Champions, PGA Tour Canada, and PGA Tour Latinoamerica.

The memo indicates that those who headed to the U.K. “did not receive the necessary conflicting events and media rights releases — or did not apply for releases at all — and their participation in the Saudi Golf League/LIV Golf event is a violation of our Tournament 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. 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.”

The memo goes on to reassure its members who are staying put that “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…”

The memo is vague as to whether the golf stars will be permitted to return to the PGA circuit at some point in the future.

“LIV Golf, backed by Saudi Arabia’s financial arm, shook up the golf world when it began to offer PGA Tour members insane sums of money to compete in the rival league,” Fox News reported.

“Players have reportedly been offered huge sums to join, while each LIV event offers $25 million in prize money — more than the $20 million for the PGA Tour’s flagship event — with the winner banking $4 million and the last-place player earning $120,000,” NBC News added.

NBC News also implied that Saudi Arabia is trying to enhance public perception of its authoritarian regime because “the LIV series is not just a challenge to the established golfing order but Riyadh’s latest apparent attempt to win international influence and prestige while rehabilitating a reputation tarnished by human rights concerns and the killing of Jamal Khashoggi.”

In a statement, LIV Golf — whose CEO is Greg Norman, one of the sport’s icons — called the decision vindictive and touted the beginning of an “era of free agency” for professional golfers.

According to Sports Illustrated, the LIV league gets its name because “It is the Roman numeral for 54, which has two meanings: 54 is the lowest score you could shoot if you were to birdie every hole on a par-72 course, so there is an aspirational aspect to the thinking. It is also the number of holes to be played in each event.”

Commenting before the issuance of the memo about some players jumping ship, Outkick founder Clay Travis told Fox News that “these players are capitalists, and the PGA Tour has had a default monopoly for basically all of our lives in terms of where you’re going to play pro golf in the United States, and I think what’s going on now is the PGA is trying to attack these players for leaving the PGA and going to LIV, and the way they’re doing it is by saying ‘oh my goodness; how dare you play for a Saudi-backed league’…the Middle Eastern oil oligarchs in many ways have been buying up sports rights for a very, very long time.

“As long as you haven’t been an athlete who is lecturing all of us on politics, and on your personal beliefs, I don’t think you should be held accountable as a golfer because you decide to join a league that pays you more, even if it happens to owned by a Saudi ownership, especially…when we’re talking about Joe Biden going on bended knee soon to the Middle East to beg the Saudis to give…the United States more oil so hopefully our gas prices come down,” he added.

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