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Report: PGA Tour has granted player releases for Saudi International

January 07, 2023
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Ross Kinnaird

Some PGA Tour players have requested and been granted conflicting-event releases to play in the Saudi International, according to a report from the Golf Channel.

The event is sanctioned by the Asian Tour and notably sponsored by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, which is the primary backer of LIV Golf.

A provision in the PGA Tour Player Handbook and Tournament Regulations 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 last year’s Saudi Invitational.

However, the regulations also state such requests can be denied. Last year’s Saudi International field proved to be an indicator of future LIV Golf members: Phil Mickelson, Cameron Smith, Dustin Johnson, Matt Wolff, Ian Poutler, Lee Westwood, Joaquin Niemann, Arabham Ancer, Bubba Watson, Paul Casey, Sergio Garcia, Kevin Na, Patrick Reed, Jason Kokrak and Henrik Stenson all competed at the event. The International’s winner, Harold Varner III, also defected to the breakaway circuit. Given the symmetry between the event and LIV Golf, it would have been understandable had the tour turned down the requests.

Conversely, at the heart of the antitrust lawsuit between the PGA Tour and LIV Golf is the tour’s ability to deny event releases. “The purpose of this action is to strike down the PGA Tour’s anticompetitive rules and practices that prevent these independent-contractor golfers from playing when and where they choose,” the original complaint from 11 LIV Golfers alleged. To turn the release down could have hampered the tour’s argument in the suit.

There were a number of players who competed at the Saudi International who did not join LIV in its inaugural season, including Tony Finau, Shane Lowry and Tommy Fleetwood. It is unclear if those are the players that have requested to play again this year.

The Saudi International begins Feb. 2, opposite the PGA Tour’s AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, and is expected to include a number of LIV Golf members, highlighted by Smith, the reigning Open and Players champ.