The LIV Golf Invitational Series is off for a month, purposely staying away from the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup playoffs for the next three weeks—and clearly with the idea long ago that perhaps those who joined the controversial new venture might be able to compete in these tournaments.
It was clear when PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan issued indefinite suspensions to those who played in LIV events that doing both would not be allowed.
And then what was likely inevitable became reality last week when 11 LIV Golf players sued the PGA Tour for anti-competitive practices, with three of them—Talor Gooch, Hudson Swafford and Matt Jones—seeking a temporary restraining order seeking the ability to play in the FedEx Cup playoffs because they have qualified via previous results.
So much for a quiet period in the war that is the PGA Tour vs. LIV Golf. The first playoff event starts this week at the FedEx St. Jude Invitational, with a ruling expected on Tuesday.
A good number of the PGA Tour players have spoken out against the “LIV 11,’’ clearly annoyed that they are—as members of the Tour—being sued by their peers. There’s a strong sense among them that if LIV was the choice of those who left, they should stick with it—and not want to “have their cake and eat it, too,’’ which has become the cliché of choice.
“Their version is cherry-picking what events they want to play on the PGA Tour,’’ Billy Horschel said at the Wyndham Championship. “Obviously, that would be the higher-world-ranking events and bigger purses. It’s frustrating. They made a decision to leave and they should go follow their employer. I know there are guys a lot more angry and frustrated about it than me.’’
Said Will Zalatoris: “What they’re doing over there is detrimental to our Tour. You can’t have it both ways. A lot of guys will be pretty frustrated if they’re allowed to do both.’’
There is a good chance that the three players seeking to be allowed to play this week under the a temporary injunction will be granted that opportunity. If it happens, then the PGA Tour likely will make the decision to expand the field to 128 players.
A couple of thoughts on all this:
The LIV players who went with the “play less, more free time’’ argument for making the move did themselves no favors. They make for easy fodder now that a lawsuit has been filed. All who signed on to LIV were fully aware that the League schedule was going to 14 events next year and that they are required to play all the events. The PGA Tour requires 15 events for membership and you can play the ones you want.
And those 15 include the four majors. A LIV player who is exempt for the four majors would be playing 18 events. He will all but certainly be required to play the Saudi International tournament on the Asian Tour. And there are rumblings that the contracted players are either requested or required to play two of the Asian Tour’s International Series events. That would bring them to 21 total.
This was a poor talking point all along, and it looks worse now that some LIV players also want to be able to play in PGA Tour events.
There is also the other side. Not all LIV players went down the road of saying they wanted to play less or suggested they didn’t want to compete in PGA Tour events. Several had hoped there could be an agreement with the PGA Tour to do both. Phil Mickelson, for all of his issues with PGA Tour policy, did not resign his membership. He said from the beginning in an interview with Sports Illustrated that he wished to remain a member and pointed out that as a Lifetime Member, he was not required to play 15 events. He felt he could do both.
Kevin Na praised the PGA Tour for all it had done for him but resigned his membership because he didn’t want any legal tussles. Others were appreciative of their time on the Tour and not suggesting their move was due to problems
with the Tour. Gooch, for example, said at the very first event outside of London that he hoped to do both.
“I’m fortunate to have gotten to a point where I’m one of the better players on the PGA Tour currently, and I just don’t see how it benefits the fans, the game of golf to start throwing out bans, suspensions, things of that nature,’’ Gooch said. “I’m hopeful, and that’s why I haven’t submitted my resignation from the Tour, because I’m hopefully to continue to play the PGA Tour. And I’m hopeful that both LIV Golf and the PGA Tour can coincide. I don’t see any reason that can’t happen.’’
From nearly the moment he signed on as CEO of LIV Golf Investments and as commissioner of the League, Greg Norman has said he felt LIV could operate within the structure of a bigger golf picture. He called it “additive’’ and said he had no problem with LIV players competing in PGA Tour events. He also made it clear he felt golfers were independent contractors and that they should be able to play where they want.
But Norman has been far from conciliatory in many of his recent comments. And there is a sense of vindictiveness coming through related to his years-ago quest to start a World Golf Tour that was effectively halted by then-PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem.
If anything, Norman should be playing nice. LIV has gotten off to a better start that ever envisioned. It has attracted far more players than it believed possible and will continue to do so, perhaps at a slow drip, but hurtful to the PGA Tour
nonetheless. Still, cooperation from the PGA Tour—and the major championships—should be Norman’s goal. It only enhances LIV Golf if those things happen.