Justin Thomas and Rory McIlroy have welcomed the PGA Tour’s decision to suspend players competing in the LIV Golf Invitational Series, a move branded ‘vindictive’ by the Saudi-backed breakaway.
Within 30 minutes of the first shots being struck in the £20million event – the most lucrative golf tournament in history – the PGA Tour sent a memo to all members informing them that 17 players competing at Centurion, despite being refused permission, were being suspended.
The list included six-time major winner Phil Mickelson, who holds Lifetime Membership of the PGA Tour, former World No 1 Dustin Johnson and European stars Sergio Garcia, Martin Kaymer, Graeme McDowell, Ian Poulter and Lee Westwood.
PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monhan crashed the Saudis’ party on the opening day of the inaugural event as he accused the defectors of making ‘their choice for their own financial-based reasons’ and claimed the tour’s ‘legacy can’t be bought or sold’.
Monahan’s stance received the support of US PGA champion Thomas and four-time major winner McIlroy, who spoke to reporters after completing their first rounds in Canada.
‘All he (Monahan) is doing is basically going by the book,’ said McIlroy, who has been one of the most outspoken against the Saudi-backed breakaway in recent months.
Rory McIlroy (left) and Justin Thomas (right) have welcomed the suspension of Saudi rebels from the PGA Tour on Thursday
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
Dustin Johnson (left), Phil Mickelson (right) and Co teed off in the inaugural LIV Golf Series
‘I think that the majority of the membership that are here this week and that haven’t went and played elsewhere really appreciate that.
‘So I think he’s done the right thing because these guys have broken rules and done things outside of the tournament regulations, and because of that, there are going to be consequences, I guess.’
‘I’m pleased,’ Thomas added. ‘I think anybody that’s shocked clearly hasn’t been listening to the message that Jay and everybody’s been putting out. They took that risk going into it, whether they thought it was a risk or not.
‘Like I’ve said the whole time, I have great belief and great confidence in the PGA Tour and where we’re going and continuing to grow to, and those guys just aren’t going to be a part of it.’
McIlroy and Thomas, who are both in the world’s top ten, backed the stance while competing at the RBC Canadian Open on the PGA Tour this week
Ten of the 17 rebels had already resigned from the Tour and those players will be removed from the FedEx Cup points list following the end of the RBC Canadian Open on Sunday.
Crucially, they will also not be allowed to exploit a potential loophole and play PGA Tour events as a non-member via sponsor’s exemptions.
Mickelson and Poulter are among those who have not announced their resignation from the Tour.
Six-time major champion Mickelson is among those who have not announced their resignation
Poulter, seven-time Ryder Cup Team Europe member, revealed he intended to appeal against his suspension.
He said on Thursday night: ‘I will appeal for sure if that’s exactly what it says (in the PGA letter).
‘It makes no sense how I have played the game of golf all this time. I haven’t done anything wrong. I am playing the game I love and they’re going to take that opportunity away. It’s disappointing.’
Ian Poulter on Thursday evening revealed he intended to appeal against his suspension
In a letter addressed to tour members, Monahan outlined his tough stance and made it clear the same punishment will apply to players who enter future LIV competitions, with Bryson DeChambeau and Patrick Reed expected to join in the coming weeks.
‘These players have made their choice for their own financial-based reasons,’ PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan wrote.
‘But 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.
Bryson DeChambeau (pictured) and Patrick Reed are expected to join in the coming weeks
‘In accordance with the PGA Tour’s Tournament Regulations, the players competing this week without releases are suspended or otherwise no longer eligible to participate in PGA Tour tournament play, including the Presidents Cup.
‘Their participation in the Saudi Golf League/LIV Golf event is in violation of our Tournament Regulations. The same fate holds true for any other players who participate in future Saudi Golf League events in violation of our Regulations.’
LIV Golf swiftly hit back with a statement which read: ‘Today’s announcement by the PGA Tour is vindictive and 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.
‘This certainly is not the last word on this topic. The era of free agency is beginning as we are proud to have a full field of players joining us in London, and beyond.’
PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan accused players of ‘wilfully violating regulation’
Johnson’s decision to resign his PGA Tour membership means he is no longer eligible for the Ryder Cup. The situation regarding suspended players is unclear, with the PGA of America not immediately replying to a request for clarification.
Meanwhile, the DP World Tour, formerly known as the European Tour, have remained publicly silent on the matter and Westwood and Poulter on Wednesday admitted they were unsure about the future of their Ryder Cup careers.
Addressing the question of whether the 17 suspended players would be able to return to the PGA Tour in the future, Monahan said: ‘Trust that we’re prepared to deal with those questions and we’ll approach them in the same (way) we have this entire process: by being transparent and respecting the PGA Tour regulations that you helped establish.
Johnson’s decision to resign from PGA Tour means he is no longer eligible for the Ryder Cup
‘I am certain our fans and partners – who are surely tired of all this talk of money, money and more money – will continue to be entertained and compelled by the world-class competition you display each and every week, where there are true consequences for every shot you take and your rightful place in history whenever you reach that elusive winner’s circle.’
Greg Norman, the face of the Saudi series, pledged last month he would ‘defend, reimburse and represent’ any players sanctioned and the whole saga has long-since looked destined to end in a legal battle.
‘We are going to back up the players, we are going to be there for them, for whatever that is,’ Norman said. ‘We’re ready to go. We don’t want to go, but we’re ready to go.’
PGA TOUR LETTER IN FULL
‘PGA Tour members,
I wish to provide you with an update and share information regarding the current and former PGA Tour players who are participating in the Saudi Golf League’s event in London today.
‘Thank you for your trust, patience and loyalty. We have followed the Tournament Regulations from start to finish in responding to those players who have decided to turn their backs on the PGA Tour by willfully violating regulation.
‘Simultaneous to you receiving this memo, players (listed below) are being notified that they are suspended or otherwise no longer eligible to participate in PGA Tour tournament play, including the Presidents Cup. This also applies to all tours sanctioned by the PGA Tour: the Kom Ferry Tour, PGA Tour Champions, PGA Tour Canada and PGA Tour Latinoamerica.
‘As you know, players listed below did not receive the necessary conflicting event and media rights releases – or did not apply for releases at all – and their participation in the Saudi Golf League/LIV Golf event is in violation of our tournament regulations.
‘The same fate holds true for any other players who participate in future Saudi Golf League events in violation of our regulations.
‘Also, in accordance with PGA Tour Tournament Regulations, the players who have resigned their memberships will be removed from FedExCup Points List when the official statistics following the RBC Canadian Open are posted on Sunday evening.
‘To be clear, these players will not be permitted to play in PGA Tour tournaments as a non-member via a sponsor exemption or any other eligibility criteria.
‘For those who haven’t yet resigned, we will ensure they will not negatively impact your tournament eligibility, your position in the Priority Rankings or your eligibility to compete in the FedExCup Play-Offs.
‘We will update you as we work through this process.
‘You probably have more questions. What’s next? Can these players come back? Can they eventually play PGA Tour Champions? Trust that we have prepared to deal with those questions, and we’ll approach them in the same way we have this entire process: by being transparent and respecting the PGA Tour regulations that you helped establish.
‘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 platforms as you.
‘The expectation disrespects you, our fans, and our partners. You have made a different choice, which is to abide by the Tournament Regulations you agreed to when you accomplished the dream of earning a PGA Tour card and – more importantly – to compete as part of the preeminent organization in the world of professional golf.
‘I am certain our fans and partners – who are surely tired of all this talk of money, money and more money – will continue to be entertained and compelled by the world-class competition you display each and every week, where there are true consequences for every shot you take and your rightful place in history whenever you reach that elusive winner’s circle.
‘You are the PGA Tour, and this moment is about what we stand for: the PGA Tour membership as a whole.
‘It’s about lifting up those who choose not only to benefit from the Tour, but who also play an integral role in building it. I know you are with us, and vice versa. Our partners are with us, too. The fact that your former Tour colleagues can’t say that should be telling.
‘This week, the RBC Canadian Open is a shining example of what you have created with the Tour: a star-studded field, a committed sponsor, sold-out hospitality offerings, record crowds and a global broadcast distribution. These elements are part of the Tour’s DNA, built by the likes of Jack and Arnie, furthered by Tiger and countless others – whose legacies are inextricably linked with each other and with the PGA Tour. This collective legacy can’t be bought or sold.
‘Please reach out with any questions, and please know that we remain committed to you – our players – as well as our fans and our partners.
Bolded players have resigned