Declaring the PGA Tour was not going to allow LIV Golf Invitational Series participants to “free-ride” off the structure and cachet of his organization, Commissioner Jay Monahan defended the decision to suspend players who defected from his circuit to play in the inaugural event of the Saudi-backed venture.
Monahan was making an appearance Sunday on CBS’s telecast of the final round of the Canadian Open, one day after the conclusion of LIV Golf’s debut, staged near London. The 52-year-old commissioner emphasized the benefits, as he saw them, for PGA Tour players to stay put — and mentioned that those who have already signed with the deep-pocketed rival might regret that decision.
“It’s been an unfortunate week that was created by some unfortunate decisions, those decisions being players choosing to violate our tournament regulations,” Monahan told CBS’s Jim Nantz. “… It’s my job to protect, defend and celebrate our loyal PGA Tour members, our partners and our fans, and that’s exactly what I did. I don’t think it was a surprise to anybody, given how clear I had been about how we were going to handle this situation.”
Asked by Nantz why players couldn’t compete on both circuits — a stance questioned by LIV Golf CEO Greg Norman — Monahan began his reply with a question of his own: “Why do they need us so badly?”
“Because those players have chosen to sign multiyear, lucrative contracts to play in a series of exhibition matches against the same players over and over again,” Monahan continued. “You look at that, versus what we see here today, and that’s why they need us so badly.
“You’ve got true, pure competition — the best players in the world here at the RBC Canadian Open, with millions of fans watching. And in this game, it’s true and pure competition that creates the profile and the presence of the world’s greatest players. That’s why they need us. That’s what we do. But we’re not going to allow players to free-ride off our loyal members, the best players in the world.”
When both events teed off Thursday, Monahan released a letter explaining that the suspensions, which LIV Golf decried as “vindictive,” were a matter of following the PGA Tour’s regulations. The tour had denied releases last month for players who applied for a waiver to compete at the LIV Golf event in England. A number of players who defected, including American star Dustin Johnson, resigned their memberships in the PGA Tour rather than face further sanctions.
As to whether players such as Johnson and fellow LIV Golf participant Phil Mickelson could one day be allowed back onto the PGA Tour, the commissioner demurred Sunday. His tour could face legal challenges to its suspensions.
“We’ll see how things continue to develop,” he told Nantz, “as we go down the road here.”
The PGA Tour had allowed a number of its members to play in February’s Saudi International. Asked to explain why that was acceptable but participation with LIV Golf is not, Monahan pointed to the fact that the February competition was “a single event recognized by a sanctioned tour,” in that case the Asian Tour.
“This series is a group of events, predominantly based in North America,” Monahan said of the LIV Golf venture, which is being underwritten by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund and is guaranteeing massive payouts to participating players.
“Why is this group spending so much money, billions of dollars, recruiting players and chasing a concept, with no possibility of a return?” Monahan said during the interview. “At the same time, there’s been a lot of questions, a lot of comments about ‘growth of the game.’ And I ask: How is this good for the game that we love?”
Monahan also posed a rhetorical question to players who have left for LIV Golf or were considering it: “Have you ever had to apologize for being a member of the PGA Tour?”
Critics of the Saudi-backed venture have said it represents a “sportswashing” effort by a repressive regime eager to use golf to gin up goodwill and shift the topic away from allegations of human rights abuses. Norman caused a furor last month when he downplayed the 2018 assassination of Saudi dissident and Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi by telling a London audience, “Look, we’ve all made mistakes.” At a news conference ahead of the LIV Golf event, Northern Ireland’s Graeme McDowell said Khashoggi’s killing was “reprehensible” but noted professional golfers are “not politicians.”
While Monahan was speaking on CBS, Rory McIlroy was sitting atop a star-studded leader board at the Canadian Open en route to a crowd-pleasing victory in Toronto.
McIlroy, also of Northern Ireland, has emerged as one of the sharpest critics among PGA Tour players of the Saudi venture and its participants. In February, McIlroy blasted Mickelson and, with top tour players appearing then to have closed ranks behind that circuit, declared LIV Golf was “dead in the water.”
Charl Schwartzel, the 2011 Masters winner, prevailed at LIV Golf’s first event Saturday and earned $4.75 million on top of an undisclosed amount for joining the circuit.
“Where the money comes from is not something … that I’ve ever looked at, playing in my 20 years career,” the 37-year-old South African said. “I think if I start digging everywhere where we played, you could find fault in anything.”
Next up for the series is its first American stop, a tournament outside Portland, Ore., that starts at the end of June. In all, five of the eight LIV Golf events scheduled for this year will be in the United States, including a pair to be held at courses owned by Donald Trump.
The LIV Golf field is expected to be augmented by former major champions Bryson DeChambeau and Patrick Reed. The tournament will be staged at the same time as the PGA Tour’s John Deere Classic in Silvis, Ill. More established names could also be on their way to LIV Golf, which would give it more credibility and could lead to a crucial change if its events become eligible for points in the Official World Golf Ranking.
LIV Golf players are sacrificing the opportunity to climb or hold steady in the world rankings, which could affect their ability to qualify for majors.
Monahan — who is a member of the OWGR’s eight-person governing board — said on Sunday of that predicament, “Those ranking points are a critical element to why the best players in the world are out here, in this pure and true competition against the depth of field that we have.”