PGA chief slams Saudi-funded league as exhibition series

Golf

PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan described it League funded by Saudi Arabia that has registered DustinJohnson, Phil Mickelson and Bryson DeChambeau as a “series of exhibition games” that spends billions of dollars on players with no return on their investment.

Monahan also said players who paid an exorbitant amount of money “would have to live under a rock” not to know they were being criticized for the source of the money. LIV Golf is backed by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund.

“I would ask any player who has left, or any player who would ever consider leaving, ‘Have you ever had to apologize for being on the PGA Tour?'” said Monahan, from Toronto in the CBS broadcast of the RBC Canadian Open.

It was Monahan’s first public statement since Thursday when Greg Norman’s LIV golf streak began and Monahan suspended all PGA Tour members who played at Centurion Golf Club outside of London.

The LIV Golf Series has eight tournaments this year – five in the United States – each with a purse of $25 million, 54-hole no-cut events and 48-man fields. Charl Schwarzel won the first Saturday and earned $4.75 million.

Some players received not only prize money, but also huge contract fees. The Daily Telegraph reported Johnson received $150 million, while Mickelson did not deny a report that he was paid $200 million for the startup. It was not clear that they have been committed for many years.

Norman announced in the last few days DeChambeau and Patrick Reed have signed up and are expected to play the first US event in Oregon later this month. None of the top 10 players in the world have expressed an interest in the new league.

Monahan said he suspended the players for violating tournament rules. They were denied release to compete in the London event and decided to play anyway. Players typically receive three releases for overseas events and two dozen for the Saudi International.

Monahan said this was a single event related to a recognized tour (Asian Tour) compared to a series of events that pose a direct challenge to the PGA Tour by playing in the United States

“It’s my job to protect, defend and celebrate our loyal members of the PGA Tour, our partners and our fans, and I’ve done just that,” said Monahan.

Norman and some players at the LIV Golf event have spoken about being free agents, being able to play wherever they wanted and positioning the new league as a complement to world golf rather than competing with the PGA Tour .

Johnson, Sergio Garcia and Graeme McDowell were among those who resigned from the PGA Tour. Mickelson, who was already at the country club on Sunday in preparation for the US Open, has announced he will retain the lifetime membership he’s earned with 45 wins and six majors.

When asked why players couldn’t play both tours, Monahan responded with a question of his own.

“Why do you need us so badly?” he said. “These players have chosen to sign multi-year, lucrative contracts to play the same players over and over again in a series of exhibition matches. You see that in comparison to what we’re seeing here today.”

At the Canadian Open, Rory McIlroy, Justin Thomas and Tony Finau battled for the title, and Justin Rose challenged to shoot 59 or less until he had to settle for 60.

“You have real, pure competition here at the RBC Canadian Open, the best players in the world, in front of millions of fans. And in this game, it’s a true and pure competition that creates the profiles and presences of the greatest players in the world. And that’s why they need us. We do,” Monahan said.

“But we will not allow players to drive away from our loyal members.”

It was still unclear how the situation would continue. The USGA said so will not deny a player who has earned his place in the field at the US Openand the R&A is likely to acknowledge the ‘open’ nature of next month’s British Open at St Andrews.

Lawsuits are likely when PGA Tour players attempt to enter an event after being banned for registering and playing at LIV Golf. Norman has said that LIV Golf would support its players.

Monahan didn’t say if there’s a way back for players who joined Norman’s league or how it will affect players who have never been on the PGA Tour.

Monahan was particularly biting on the money that came from Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, which has been accused of “sports laundry” for using such a tour to divert attention from its history of human rights abuses.

He was asked how big the problem of funding source was.

“It’s not a problem for me because I don’t work for the Saudi Arabian government,” said Monahan, a veiled comment about the notion of being a free agent. “But it’s probably a problem for players who have chosen to take that money. I think you have to ask yourself a question: why.

“Why is this group spending so much money — billions of dollars — recruiting players and chasing a concept with no possibility of a return?” he said. “At the same time, there were a lot of questions, a lot of comments about the growth of the game. And I’m like, ‘How is this good for the game?'”

Associated Press coverage.


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