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PGA Tour draws hard line with rival tour, won't grant players releases to compete elsewhere


Caryn Levy

The PGA Tour has opted against granting conflicting-event releases for the inaugural LIV Golf Invitational Series tournament, the tour told its membership in a memo distributed on Tuesday evening. Players who still opt to play in the LIV event at Centurion Golf Club outside London on June 9-11 will thus be deemed in violation of the tour’s regulations and subject to disciplinary action, which could include suspension or a revocation of membership.

"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," PGA Tour Senior Vice President Tyler Dennis wrote to players in the memo. "As a membership organization, we believe this decision is in the best interest of the PGA Tour and its players."

The decision essentially forces PGA Tour members who applied for the release—including Phil Mickelson, Lee Westwood and Sergio Garcia, among others—to make a choice: play in the LIV event, or continue to be a tour member in good standing. The tour did not name players who applied for a release and made clear that players will not be punished for applying, only if they actually tee it up on June 9.

Commissioner Jay Monahan has maintained that the tour can and will suspend any player who commits to playing on LIV Golf’s upstart tour, but the conversation shifted when LIV pivoted away from asking players to sign up for multiple events and instead started presenting the eight-event Individual Series as eight individual events. Each will feature a 48-man, 54-hole tournament with $25 million purses, $4 million winners’ prizes and $120,000 for last place.

There was some belief the tour would grant exemptions for the Centurion event, particularly after all releases were granted for the Saudi International in February. But while that event was funded by the same Saudi government investment fund that is behind LIV, the PGA Tour saw it as a one-off put on by the Asian Tour; the PGA Tour is essentially treating LIV’s offering as a tour-in-the-making.

The announcement comes hours after LIV and its CEO and commissioner, Greg Norman, announced an additional $2 billion in funding for a 10-event series in 2023 and a league beginning in 2024.

A PGA Tour member is required to apply for a conflicting-event release to compete in any tournament held the same dates as a PGA Tour event. LIV’s Centurion event falls on the same date as the RBC Canadian Open, which returns to the PGA Tour schedule after two consecutive years of COVID-related cancellations. The wording of the PGA Tour handbook allows for a player to apply and receive up to three events per season, so long as they are not held in North America.

It is widely believed that the cat-and-mouse game between the two entities will eventually end up in court, with either LIV or an individual player suing the tour for monopolistic practices in punishing its members for playing in an event. The PGA Tour has maintained that, even as a 501(c)(6) non-profit organization, it is within its rights to make and enforce rules for its membership. Both sides believe the law is on their side, and this denial could well kick off a legal battle to decide who is right.

UPDATE - 8:30 p.m.: LIV Golf released the following statement from CEO Greg Norman in response to the tour's memo:

“Sadly, the PGA Tour seems intent on denying professional golfers their right to play golf, unless it’s exclusively in a PGA Tour tournament," Norman said. "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.”