PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Commissioner Jay Monahan says he has the right to strip PGA Tour membership from players who would join the proposed rival league backed by Saudi Arabia.
Greg Norman, CEO of LIV Golf Investments, the group behind the potential league, insists Monahan can’t ban players if they join the golf league.
This suggests that if the Super Golf League does launch, the battle between the PGA Tour and the league would not play out on the golf course but in the courtroom. But that’s down the road.
For now, Monahan said the PGA Tour will forge ahead away from the league and the noise associated with it.
“I told the players we’re moving on and anyone on the fence needs to make a decision,” Monahan told the Associated Press on Wednesday, adding that any player joining the Saudi league would lose his Tour membership. “All this talk about the league and about money has been distracting to our players, our partners and most importantly our fans. We’re focused on legacy, not leverage.”
Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and the players who have supported the PGA Tour over the Saudi Arabia-backed Super Golf League
Monahan met with players at a mandatory meeting on Tuesday at PGA National Resort. According to a player who attended the meeting, Monahan, when asked what would happen if a player signed up with the Saudis, “pointed to the door. We knew what that meant.”
But in a memo sent last week to select players and agents, Norman said any ban of a player would be “utterly impermissible under competition and other laws.” Among the bullet points in the memo, Norman wrote that the PGA Tour would violate antitrust laws were it to ban players, and the Tour will likely crumble under public pressure supporting players. He also accused the PGA Tour of being resistant to “entertain constructive dialogue for the betterment of the game and stakeholders across all sectors, particularly players.”
“Finally,” Norman wrote, “you should know that LIV Golf Investments is on the side of the players. None of us should stand for these egregious acts of bullying by the PGA Tour.”
On Thursday, Monahan received a letter from Norman warning the PGA Tour that this “certainly is not the end” of the rival league.
Ten minutes before the player meeting at PGA National Resort, Phil Mickelson, who has long been associated with the Saudi Arabia golf league, apologized in a statement for “reckless” comments concerning the league and the PGA Tour he made to Alan Shipnuck, the author of the soon-to-be-released “Phil: The Rip-Roaring (and Unauthorized!) Biography of Golf’s Most Colorful Superstar.”
Mickelson told Shipnuck that he and three other players commissioned lawyers to draw up plans for the league and said he hoped to use the league that is guaranteeing exorbitant amounts of money as leverage against the PGA Tour.
“(The PGA Tour has) been able to get by with manipulative, coercive, strong-arm tactics because we, the players, had no recourse,” Mickelson told Shipnuck. “And the Saudi money has finally given us that leverage.”
Mickelson said he would try to do so despite acknowledging the Saudi Arabian regime’s history of committing human rights atrocities. In his statement, Mickelson, who said he was going to take time away from the game, also praised LIV Golf Investments, which shares “my drive to make the game better.”
Since releasing his statement, Mickelson’s longtime sponsors KPMG and Amstel Light severed their relationship with the member of the World Golf Hall of Fame.
No player has publicly said they are joining the league while a chorus of the game’s biggest names, including Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm, Justin Thomas, Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth and Brooks Koepka, have said they would not join the league.
Koepka, however, said Tuesday he doesn’t think the Saudis will go away.
“I think it’s going to still keep going. I think there will still be talk,” the four-time major winner said. “Everyone talks about money. They’ve got enough of it. I don’t see it backing down; they can just double up, and they’ll figure it out.
“They’ll get their guys. Somebody will sell out and go to it.”