A key fight in golf’s civil war will take place in London this week with the long-trailed arbitration hearing that will effectively determine if LIV players can continue to moonlight on the DP World Tour.
Starting on Monday and running through Friday, Sports Resolutions will attempt to unpick the tangled legalities that have been thrown up since LIV upset the traditional ecosystem with their launch at Centurion Club in Hemel Hempstead last June.
While no verdict is expected for several weeks from its conclusion, the optimistic hope is the hearing before a three-man panel will offer some semblance of clarity for what happens next in the bitter battles that have occurred since Greg Norman’s Saudi-backed breakaway crashed the status quo.
The Tour’s argument, laid out in legalise by CEO Keith Pelley and his director of communications Scott Crockett, centres on interpretations of their ‘conflicting event release regulation’, which requires a player to receive permission to play on a rival tour at a given time.
When a number of players from the European circuit, including Lee Westwood and Ian Poulter, teed up at Centurion eight months ago without a release, they were hit with suspensions for three events and a £100,000 fine.
Lee Westwood is among those whose future on the DP World Tour is set to be decided
Those sanctions were stayed by Sports Resolutions in July pending the outcome of this hearing, and in the meantime LIV players have been allowed to continue on the DP World Tour, leading to the tensions around ‘teegate’ between Rory McIlroy and Patrick Reed in Dubai last week.
The aim around the forthcoming hearing, pitting lawyers for 13 LIV golfers against those from the Tour, will establish if those days of uneasy co-existence become a thing of the past.
Predictably, both sides have been bullish of their chances, though there is a growing sense that the LIV rebels have an especially strong case as independent contractors, citing the long established trend of elite golfers operating across multiple tours.
Mischievously, but with a grain of plausibility, there is also a school of thought within the sport that defeat for the Tour would ultimately be favourable for them in light of the little brother relationship they hold with their strategic partners at the PGA Tour.
As Phil Mickelson recently put it: ‘I expect the players, the LIV players will win their case in the UK and we’ll open the doors for all players to play on the European Tour.
‘There’s a very good chance you’ll have more showdowns, more head-to-head competitions like you saw last week in Dubai and that would be a really good thing for the game.’
Among the loose ends that need to be tied up by the hearing is the situation for LIV golfers with aspirations to play in the Ryder Cup later this year.
Automatic qualification will be nearly impossible in the absence of playing on the Tour to accumulate points, though Pelley confirmed Honorary Members of the Tour such as Sergio Garcia would still be eligible for a captain’s pick by Luke Donald.
Ian Poulter has also been involved with LIV golf, with a hearing set to take place this week
Rory McIlroy is amongst those to have taken a firm stand against those involved with LIV
Of course, the likelihood of that scenario feels almost non-existent when Rory McIlroy has taken such a firm position against their involvement.
The player among defectors with the most realistic chance of qualification is the Spaniard Adrian Otaegui, who tamed the brutal Valderrama course last year in winning his fourth Tour event.
He played LIV’s events throughout their inaugural season, but has since rejected overtures to remain with the breakaway amid hopes of being cleared to play the Cup match in Rome this autumn.
Otaegui said: ‘For me, being in the Ryder Cup would be massive. It’s been my dream forever. And it is my number one goal this year. That’s the only thing I have in my in my head. So hopefully I will be able to. It’s a very big thing for me.
‘It would be it would be difficult (if he is prevented) because I don’t see why I couldn’t be in the team, or the (LIV) players couldn’t be in the team. So that’s obviously my that’s my point of view.
‘For me Ryder Cup is Europe against America. It’s not about LIV, about European Tour, about PGA Tour. For me, it’s the best players from Europe, against the best players from the USA and that’s how it’s always been.
There’s been players over the years in the European team who played their career in America and they managed to qualify for the European team.’
He added: ‘We’ll see what happens with the hearings. We will not know what happens until the next few weeks.’
Adrian Otaegui hopes that he will be cleared to be able to participate in the Ryder Cup
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