The ugly business of LIV Series will disfigure golf for YEARS to come

DEREK LAWRENSON: The ugly business of the Saudi LIV Series will disfigure golf for YEARS to come… PGA chief Jay Monahan has come down hard, but it’s Greg Norman who is the ‘vindictive’ one

  • The PGA Tour announced the suspension of 17 defected players on Thursday
  • The Saudi rebels played the opening round of the LIV Golf Series inaugural event
  • Tour commissioner Jay Monahan announced the punishments after they teed off
  • He clearly hopes by taking a tough line he will stem the tide of Saudi defectors
  • But the breakaway league will throw another few million dollars on to the fire
  • Golf finds itself locked in an ugly battle full of vindictiveness and controversy

The gloves are well and truly off. Make no mistake, the unprecedented statement released by the PGA Tour, suspending indefinitely their 17 members competing in the LIV series event at St Albans, marks the opening salvo in a battle of wills for the very soul and the future of men’s professional golf.

Bear in mind that the PGA Tour are an organisation so secretive they had never previously revealed the name of anyone who had been suspended, whatever the transgression.

Now, in a document full of righteous fury, the rebels who have been banned are not only named but shamed by their actions. 

The gloves are off between Jay Monahan’s (left) PGA Tour and Greg Norman’s (right) LIV Series

Dustin Johnson (left) and Phil Mickelson (right) are among those who have joined LIV Golf

A bombshell letter from the PGA Tour announced that all defecting members to rebel Saudi Invitational series have been suspended, in a huge shake-up for golf’s biggest names 

‘They’ve decided to turn their backs on the PGA Tour by wilfully violating a regulation,’ fumed the commissioner, Jay Monahan.

Neither will there be any back-door route to making the odd appearance via a sponsor’s exemption. In a strident declaration to all PGA Tour members, Monahan said: ‘These players have made their choice for their own financial-based reasons.

‘They can’t demand the same PGA Tour membership benefits, considerations, opportunities and platform as you. That expectation disrespects you, our fans and our partners.’

Monahan accused players of ‘willfully violating regulation’ by joining the Saudi breakaway

Monahan was expected to take a tough line once the LIV action got under way but few expected it to be this strong. It is clearly a reaction to the drip, drip effect of the last few days, as more players with personality such as Patrick Reed and Rickie Fowler signalled their intent to join the rebels.

He is clearly hoping this will stem the tide but it is hard to argue against wave upon wave of dollars and an opponent with limitless wealth. 

Monahan even asks the question on everyone’s lips: What’s next? Sadly, he provides no answer. But we can surely take it as read that the DP World Tour, their strategic alliance partner, will take a similarly tough line. They really have no choice.

So, it’s goodbye to tour life for the likes of 25-year-old Sam Horsfield and 49-year-old Richard Bland. The end of the Ryder Cup careers and any future captaincy prospects for the likes of Lee Westwood, Sergio Garcia, Ian Poulter and Graeme McDowell.

Sam Horsfield (left) and Richard Bland (right) could face suspension from the DP World Tour

There is only one way this will change and that is through the courts. Will the legal system side with the argument of the LIV rebels, that they are independent contractors and should be able to play where they like? 

Or the PGA Tour, who cite their own regulations, written by their own members, stating they can’t play in conflicting events without the required releases? 

You can be sure the Saudis will throw another few million dollars on to the fire to fuel any such litigation.

Where do the four majors, all run by separate organisations, stand in all this? You might well ask. Quite rightly, the eligible rebels will be able to play in the US Open next week and the 150th Open next month. The rules were written long before anyone stuck a tee peg in the ground at Centurion and those who met the criteria should be able to play.

Ian Poulter is among the European legends who could see their Ryder Cup careers end

But what happens next year? The four bodies might well be glad that it’s a long nine months before the Masters. Maybe the inevitable court case between the PGA Tour and LIV will have run its course by then, we will have an idea what the future looks like and they can write their rules accordingly.

For their part, LIV put out a statement of their own calling the PGA Tour’s actions ‘vindictive and troubling’, rather ironic from an organisation who appear motivated by both.

Would Greg Norman, the face of Saudi golf, be bothering with all this if he had won the odd American major or two and hadn’t been snubbed by the PGA Tour all those years ago, when he tried to start a global tour of his own?

Former player Norman is the face of the Saudi golf breakaway league

Would the Saudis be exercising their financial muscles to quite this extent if the DP World Tour had sided with them rather than the PGA Tour when they came calling a couple of years ago?

What an ugly landscape it all leaves, one that is going to disfigure the sport for years to come. What must big business be thinking, all those blue-chip sponsors who love the game more than any other sport precisely because it’s usually above all hostility and controversy?

What about the average fan, peering in from the outside and seeing very wealthy participants consumed by the idea of getting still wealthier? Can you think of a bigger turn-off than that?

It was Paul McGinley in these pages a year ago who predicted golf was in for a rough ride and that it would soon be time to don tin hats. Clearly, and in no uncertain terms, that time has arrived.

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