The world’s leading golf competition has suspended some of the sport’s biggest stars for taking part in a lucrative new tournament bankrolled by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund.
The US PGA Tour on Thursday said that 17 golfers, including six-time major winner Phil Mickelson and former world number one Dustin Johnson, had not received clearance to appear at the debut LIV Golf event being held at the Centurion Club outside London. The $25mn prize pot is the biggest in the sport.
Jay Monahan, commissioner of the US PGA Tour, said in a letter to members: “These players have made their choice for their own financial-based reasons. But they can’t demand the same PGA Tour membership benefits, considerations, opportunities and platform as you.”
Of the 17 golfers penalised by the PGA for taking part at LIV, 10 had already resigned their memberships.
LIV Golf Investments is controlled by Saudi’s Public Investment Fund, which has earmarked $2bn to help reshape the global game.
LIV’s arrival is a challenge to the PGA Tour’s role as the dominant force in golf. The new group has launched a condensed format with new franchise teams competing against each other, complementing the individual contest. Teams are playing for more than $250mn in prize money at the eight-event series, which LIV is funding with roughly $400mn in seed money.
However, the new series of tournaments has been marred by concerns over the source of its funds because of Saudi Arabia’s history of human rights violations, while senior figures in the game say that the dispute risks turning into a legal battle between LIV and the PGA Tour.
LIV Golf said the PGA move was “vindictive” and that it “deepens the divide between the Tour and its members”.
“It’s troubling that the Tour, an organisation dedicated to creating opportunities for golfers to play the game, is the entity blocking golfers from playing,” said LIV. “This certainly is not the last word on this topic.”
Tiger Woods, the sport’s biggest star, resisted LIV’s efforts to recruit him, while Rory McIlroy said this week that “boatloads of cash” had enticed some of his rivals to the Saudi-backed group.
LIV chief executive Greg Norman, the former world number one, sparked controversy last month when asked about the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi agents in 2019. “We’ve all made mistakes,” Norman said at the time.