LIV golfers can’t “ride free” outside of the PGA Tour, says Jay Monahan

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LIV golfers can't "ride free" outside of the PGA Tour, says Jay Monahan

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Commissioner Jay Monahan stated that PGA Tour participants would not allow participants in the LIV Golf Invitational Series to “break free” from his organization’s structure and cachet, and defended the decision, players who had migrated from his circuit , to be suspended for attending the inaugural event of the Saudi Arabia-backed company.

Monahan appeared on the CBS televised broadcast of the Canadian Open finals on Sunday, a day after the conclusion of LIV Golf’s debut, which took place near London. The 52-year-old commissioner underscored the benefits he sees for PGA Tour players in staying there – noting that those who have already signed with the deep-pocketed rival may regret the decision.

“It’s been an unfortunate week caused by some unfortunate decisions, and those decisions were players who chose to violate our tournament rules,” Monahan told CBS’ Jim Nantz. “…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. I don’t think it came as a surprise to anyone considering how clearly I had spoken about how we would handle this situation.”

When asked by Nantz why players couldn’t compete at both circuits – a stance LIV Golf CEO Greg Norman questioned – Monahan began his response with a question of his own: “Why do they need us so badly?”

“Because those players chose to sign multi-year, lucrative contracts to play the same players over and over again in a series of exhibition matches,” continued Monahan. “They see that in comparison to what we’re seeing here today and that’s why they need us so badly.

“You have real, pure competition – the best players in the world here at the RBC Canadian Open, in front of millions of fans. And in this game, it is true and pure competition that creates the profile and exposure of the world’s best players. That’s why they need us. That’s what we do. But we will not allow players to become free riders from our loyal members, the best players in the world.”

With both events teeing off on Thursday, Monahan released a letter explaining that the suspensions LIV Golf described as “vindictive‘ were a matter of compliance with PGA Tour regulations. The tour had last month denied releases to players who had requested a waiver to play the LIV Golf event in England. A number of players who defected, including American star Dustin Johnson, resigned from the PGA Tour rather than face further sanctions.

The commissioner contradicted on Sunday whether players like Johnson and his LIV Golf colleague Phil Mickelson could one day be admitted to the PGA Tour again. His tour could be legally challenged because of its suspension.

“We’ll see how things develop,” he told Nantz, “if we continue here.”

The PGA Tour allowed a number of its members to play at the Saudi International in February. When asked why that was acceptable but participation in LIV Golf was not, Monahan pointed out that February’s competition was “a single event recognized by a sanctioned tour,” in this case the Asian Tour.

“This series is a group of events primarily based in North America,” Monahan said of the LIV Golf project, which is underwritten by the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia and guarantees massive payouts to participating players.

“Why is this group spending so much money, billions of dollars, recruiting players and pursuing a concept with no possibility of return?” Monahan said during the interview. “At the same time, there were a lot of questions and comments about ‘growth of the game’. And I ask: how is that good for the game we love?”

Monahan also posed a rhetorical question to players who have joined or thought about LIV Golf: “Have you ever had to apologize for being on the PGA Tour?”

Critics of the Saudi-backed company have said it represents a “sports-laundering” effort by a repressive regime eager to use golf to foment goodwill and steer the issue away from allegations of human rights abuses. Norman made a splash last month when he downplayed the 2018 killing of Saudi dissident and Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi by telling a London audience, “Look, we all made mistakes.” At a press conference outside the LIV Golf Event, Northern Ireland’s Graeme McDowell said Khashoggi’s killing was “reprehensible” but noted that professional golfers “are not politicians”.

As Monahan spoke on CBS, Rory McIlroy sat on a star-studded leaderboard at the Canadian Open en route to audience success in Toronto.

McIlroy, also from Northern Ireland, has become one of the harshest critics of the Saudi company and its participants among PGA Tour players. In February, McIlroy blew up Mickelson and, when the top Tour players seemed to be locked behind this circuit at the time, declared LIV Golf was “dead in the water”.

Charl Schwartzel, the 2011 Masters winner, prevailed in LIV Golf’s first event on Saturday, earning $4.75 million in addition to an undisclosed amount for joining the circuit.

“Where the money comes from is nothing… I’ve never looked at it when I’ve played in my 20-year career,” said the 37-year-old South African. “I think if I start digging everywhere we’ve played, you might find fault with everything.”

Next up for the series is its first American stop, a tournament outside of Portland, Oregon, beginning in late June. A total of five of the eight LIV golf events scheduled for this year will be held in the United States, including a pair held on Donald Trump golf courses.

The LIV golf field is expected to be joined by former Major champions Bryson DeChambeau and Patrick Reed. The tournament will be played at the same time as the PGA Tour’s John Deere Classic in Silvis, Illinois. It could also be more established names on their way to LIV Golf, which would give it more credibility and could result in a game-changer if its events are eligible for points in the Official Golf World Ranking.

LIV golfers are sacrificing the opportunity to rise or maintain their place in the world rankings, which could affect their ability to qualify for Majors.

Monahan – who is a member of the OWGR’s eight-member board – said of that predicament on Sunday: “These ranking points are a crucial element in why the best players in the world are out here in this pure and true competition against the depth of field we do to have.”

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