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PGA suspends players from LIV Golf event

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Professional golf came to a crossroads on Thursday as an insurgent Saudi-backed tour hit a tree-lined course outside London and the PGA Tour suspended players who had defected , turning what would normally be a sleepy weekday on the golf schedule into one of the strangest and most important days in the history of a sport suddenly on the brink of seismic change.

After poaching players with tens of millions of dollars guaranteed and promising fans more action than traditional tournaments, LIV Golf staged the first round of its inaugural tournament at the Centurion Club in England amid criticism that it was taking part to an attempt to clean up the Saudi government’s global reputation.

Moments after the first balls flew through the air, PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan sent a note to members from the tour’s headquarters in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, announcing that the tour had suspended all 17 of its players attending LIV Golf and, with several other stars set to depart, vowed it would do the same with the rest .

The Saudi-backed LIV Invitational golf series kicked off its first tournament on June 9, attracting several PGA Tour players with significant financial rewards. (Video: Reuters)

Everything you need to know about the LIV Golf Invitational Series

The Tour’s immediate and strong response underscored the existential threat that LIV Golf poses to the business model that professional golf has revolved around from the days of Arnold Palmer to the reign of Tiger Woods to Jack Nicklaus.

Initiated by former professional golfer Greg Norman and backed by a Saudi investment fund, LIV Golf has attracted a number of PGA Tour stalwarts by offering signing bonuses and massive purses; shorter, seamless events; a lighter schedule; and guaranteed cash prizes and appearance fees that are foreign to almost any form of professional golf. The Rebel Tour does not intend to turn a profit in the short term, instead aiming to gain an instant foothold in the sport. He used nine-figure contracts to lure Phil Mickelson – a six-time major winner and one of golf’s most familiar faces, who infamously called the Saudis ‘scary mother ——-‘ in an interview with his biographer – and Dustin Johnson, two of the game’s greatest players.

The PGA Tour has argued to its players that the move to LIV Golf will cost them stability and legacy. LIV Golf can offer guaranteed money on par with athletes in other sports, although many believe the money is tainted by the atrocities of a repressive Saudi government.

Insurgent players will initially compete in a series of eight events across the world. Two tournaments, including the season finale, will be played on courses owned by former President Donald Trump, from whom the PGA Tour has walked away. With a handful of players, including big winners Patrick Reed and Bryson DeChambeau, set to move to LIV Golf at its next tournament on June 30 in Portland, Oregon, the series threatens to reconfigure the order of a well-behaved sport.

“It’s a shame this is going to fracture the game,” star Rory McIlroy, perhaps the loudest defenseman on the PGA Tour, told reporters Wednesday at a press conference ahead of the Canadian Open. “The professional game is the showcase of golf. If the general public doesn’t know who’s playing where and what tournament is going on this week and who’s, you know, “Oh, he’s playing there, okay, and he’s not at those events.” It gets so confusing. I think everything has to try to become more cohesive, and I think it was on a pretty good trajectory until that happened.

Players joining LIV will likely face the same tough questions their peers asked this week, when golfers deflected questions from reporters about the Saudi government’s alleged killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and other rights concerns. of man.

Northern Ireland’s Graeme McDowell told a news conference that “Khashoggi’s situation” was “reprehensible” but he believed LIV Golf could be a force for good.

Dustin Johnson leaves PGA and joins Phil Mickelson on Saudi-backed tour

“I just try to be a great role model for the kids,” McDowell said. “We are not politicians. I know [reporters] hate that expression, but we really aren’t, unfortunately. We are professional golfers.

This stance, experts say, is exactly what the Saudis want as they seek to change the subject of alleged human rights abuses.

“The Saudis want normality. They want to be seen as supporters of a game that many people love to watch and play. So they will expect players to behave as they would in any other tournament,” said Dan Hough, a University of Sussex politics professor who specializes in integrity and corruption in the sport. “It’s going to be a lot more about speaking positively about the tournament they’re involved in from a golf perspective.”

In his note to PGA Tour players, Monahan pointedly referred to LIV Golf as the “Saudi Golf League” and called LIV Golf attendees “players who have decided to turn their backs on the PGA Tour.”

“These players made their choice for their own financial reasons,” Monahan wrote. “But they can’t demand the same PGA TOUR membership benefits, considerations, opportunities and platform that you do. This expectation disrespects you, our fans and our partners.

Monahan told the players he was sure fans and sponsors “are tired of all this talk of money, money and more money”. But the tour has tried to appease players with its own financial incentives. He collected scholarships, improved end-of-season bonuses and introduced the Player Impact program, which pays out money to stars based on a combination of performance and off-course promotion.

The tour, however, cannot financially compete with LIV Golf’s deep pockets or its guaranteed money for appearances, which violates the PGA Tour’s entrenched pay-for-performance philosophy. His best lure may be the promise of playing non-tour events such as the four majors, the Ryder Cup and the Presidents Cup, which is scheduled for September. The organizations running these events have not come up with any definitive decisions on how to deal with breakaway players.

Bryson DeChambeau and Patrick Reed would join Saudi-backed LIV Golf

The United States Golf Association, which administers the US Open, said this week this will allow already qualified players to play next week in Brookline, Mass. PGA of America CEO Seth Waugh, whose organization manages the PGA Championship, said last month that he doesn’t believe LIV Golf is “good for the game” and that his group supports “the ecosystem current golf course.

The PGA Tour also acknowledges that it could receive a legal challenge from the suspended players, backed by LIV. Mickelson, who took months into self-imposed exile after his controversial comments were published, said he intended to keep the lifetime exemption his performance earned him.

“You probably have more questions,” Monahan wrote in his Thursday note to players. “What next? Can these players come back? Can they possibly play PGA Tour champions [the tour’s senior circuit]? Trust that we have prepared to deal with these matters…”

Meanwhile, the new league – whose name LIV refers to the Roman numeral of its 54-hole events and rhymes with “give” – struck a cheerful tone in its first round. Without a traditional television deal, it was streamed on YouTube, Facebook, and LIV’s website. The event began with a shotgun start, placing trios at every tee box on the course as men in Beefeater gear sounded an opening horn.

“I feel so happy for the players. I’m so glad we’ve brought free will to golf,” Norman said at the start of the first broadcast.

Said Johnson: “I’m just excited to get it started. It’s a new chapter for golf. The fans are going to love it, all the players here are going to love it.

But in a statement edited by LIV Golf with the first round underway, the crisis rocking the sport has been laid bare.

“Today’s announcement by the PGA Tour is vindictive and it deepens the rift between the Tour and its members,” the statement read in part. “…This is certainly not the last word on this subject.”