PGA Tour suspends Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson, Sergio Garcia and others for defecting to LIV Golf
Aitor Alcalde/LIV Golf
The PGA Tour announced Thursday that it is suspending any current and future tour members who defect to LIV Golf.
In a memo to PGA Tour members, PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan said he was “responding” to those listed in this week’s LIV Golf Invitational field, including Dustin Johnson, Phil Mickelson and Sergio Garcia, saying they are no longer able to compete in tour-sanctioned events.
“Simultaneous to you receiving this memo, the 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,” Monahan wrote.
“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."
Monahan did not specify how long the suspensions would be. Others listed as suspended were Lee Westwood, Kevin Na, Talor Gooch, Charl Schwartzel and Louis Oosthuizen. This includes players who upon announcing they were competing in the LIV event resigned their membership from the PGA Tour.
In response to Monahan's memo, LIV Golf released the following statement: "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 entity blocking golfers from playing. This certainly is not the last word on this topic. The era of free agency is beginning as we are proud to have a full field of players joining us in London, and beyond.”
Monahan has long promised that any tour member who competes in a tournament on a rival league without a conflicting-event release would face disciplinary measures from the PGA Tour, and the tour denied said releases to players who requested them to compete in LIV Golf’s inaugural London event this week.
In the memo, Monahan specifically stated that players who had resigned their membership would be removed from the FedEx Cup Points List starting next week. These players also will not be permitted to play in PGA Tour tournaments as a non-member via a sponsor exemption or any other eligibility category. This was a question raised in the wake of the player resignations, with some wondering if those players who resigned could somehow still get into PGA Tour events through other critiera. Additionally, the memo explains that LIV golfers who did resign would not have a negative impact on members in good standing in terms of positions on priority rankings, tournament eligibility or eligibility to compete in the FedEx Cup Playoffs.
The PGA Tour, like any other employer or organization, has the discretion to enact rules of conduct of its members, employees and independent contractors. One of the provisions in the PGA Tour Player Handbook and Tournament Regulations is that each PGA Tour member acknowledges the commissioner, the tour’s policy board and the appeals committee have the authority to permanently ban a member from playing in a tour co-sponsored, approved or coordinated tournaments if the member violates its regulations. The handbook also provides that a player ceases to be a member of the PGA Tour if, in the judgment of the policy board, the member commits a serious breach of the Tournament Regulations, the PGA Tour’s Code of Ethics, or otherwise conducts himself in a manner unbecoming of a professional golfer.
One such regulation generally prohibits tour players from playing in events when there is a PGA Tour-approved or sponsored event taking place at the same time. Per the handbook, players who reach the 15-event minimum (which a member must meet as a condition of their membership voting rights) are eligible for three conflicting-event releases per season, which is why so many tour players were allowed to play in the Saudi Invitational earlier this year. However, the regulations also state such requests can be denied.
The tour is adamant they have the legal authority to issue disciplinary measures, and LIV Golf CEO Greg Norman has openly expressed his desires for players to challenge that authority. Norman additionally telegraphed his litigation threats in an open letter to the tour.
“Surely you jest,” Norman wrote in a February letter. “And surely, your lawyers at the PGA Tour must be holding their breath…for decades, I have fought for the rights of players to enjoy a career in which they are rewarded fully and properly for their efforts. They are one-in-a-million athletes. Yet for decades, the Tour has put its own financial ambitions ahead of the players, and every player on the tour knows it. The Tour is the Players Tour not your administration’s Tour. Why do you call the crown jewel in all tournaments outside the Majors “The Players Championship” and not “The Administration’s Championship?
“But when you try to bluff and intimidate players by bullying and threatening them, you are guilty of going too far, being unfair, and you likely are in violation of the law.”
Antitrust issues are not new to the tour. In fact, the FTC concluded after a four-year investigation in the early 1990s that the tour had violated antitrust laws—partially due to the aforementioned rule stipulating permission for a conflicting-event release—and recommended federal action. But no action was ultimately taken, a circumstance credited to the work of then-tour Commissioner Tim Finchem (a lawyer himself who worked in President Jimmy Carter’s administration) and the tour’s lobbying mastery. Coincidentally, this clashed with Norman’s first try to challenge the PGA Tour through his attempt to launch the World Tour.
There was a 2015 class-action lawsuit brought by caddies against the tour using antitrust and intellectual property claims, an effort that proved unsuccessful. The tour has also successfully defended itself against antitrust claims from Morris Communications Corporation regarding the tour’s limitations on real-time scoring, and it prevailed in former tour player Harry Toscano’s Clayton Act antitrust lawsuit against the Senior PGA Tour.
Given the edict laid out by Monahan in his memo, he believes the tour will come out on top of this battle, too.
“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 competitions you display each and every week,” Monahan continued, “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 … It’s about lifting up those who choose to not only 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 the same should be telling."
The following players are suspended or otherwise no longer eligible for PGA Tour tournament play:
*- have informed the PGA Tour that they have resigned their membership