Lee Westwood and European golf chief Keith Pelley to face off during LIV legal hearing
Lee Westwood is due to face down the DP World Tour in a legal hearing in London this week that will effectively decide if the golfers that joined LIV Golf can be banned from the Ryder Cup.
The three-strong arbitration panel at Sports Resolutions is hearing five days of arguments, with the focus solely on the Tour’s conflicting event release regulation and Wentworth HQ’s ability to enforce that rule.
If the Tour wins then it will be permitted to suspend the rebels and ultimately stop them from qualifying for and playing in the Ryder Cup.
This arbitration dispute was initially thought only to feature the teams of lawyers from the two sides, but Telegraph Sport has learned that not only will Tour chief executive Keith Pelley be involved in person, but also Westwood, the former world No 1 and three-time winner of the Tour’s order of merit.
That could be an awkward encounter, to say the least, after the duo’s cross-media spat in Dubai last month. Westwood criticised the Tour and accused the management of “stoking up tensions” with an “anti-LIV email to all the players” he labelled “propaganda”, before Pelley hit back claiming “unfair comments” had “upset the staff”.
‘I’ve nothing to feel uncomfortable about so am happy to go in person’
When asked by Telegraph Sport about his involvement with the hearing Westwood sounded determined to front up. “We all gave written statements and thought that might be enough, but I have been asked to give evidence at the hearing and, as I’m in London on Tuesday, will go along then,” Westwood told Telegraph Sport. “They said I could do it over an internet link, but I’ve got nothing to feel uncomfortable about so am happy to go in person.”
Quizzed if he thought the experience might seem surreal, considering his 30 years as a member on the Tour and his quarter of a century of playing for Europe in the Ryder Cup, Westwood replied: “It might feel a bit odd, yes. But this probably needs to happen to get some resolution.
“There’s been plenty said and it will be good for impartial judges to decide and then we can all get on with it. I don’t know about appeals and what have you, and I may be wrong, but as far as I’m concerned this will draw a line and that will be it. We don't know when we will get a decision – it won’t be immediate – but I’ve been advised it will probably be two to three weeks.”
Westwood is one of 13 players appealing the sanctions that the Tour issued when the golfers requested “conflicting event” releases from the DP World Tour to play the inaugural LIV event in St Albans last June. Those requests were denied but the players competed at Centurion Club regardless and were fined £100,000 and suspended from the Scottish Open.
Initially Ian Poulter, Adrián Otaegui and Justin Harding appealed against the punishments and they were stayed pending a substantive appeal, allowing the players to compete in Tour events throughout.
In a Netflix documentary, Full Swing, Poulter has re-emphasised what the biennial dust-up means to him. “I love the Ryder Cup and if one day I get the opportunity to be Ryder Cup captain I would absolutely love it,” he said. “It would be devastating if it were to be taken away.”
The contention of Poulter and Co is that releases have previously been granted to play on other tours, but a DP World Tour spokesperson pointed out that these were not always given the green light.
“Every member signs up to our regulations when they pay their membership fees each year,” he said. “There are precedents where they have not been granted in the past.”
LIV Golf is paying the legal fees for its players, but the Tour is financing its legal bills through its central coffers. Sources indicate that the costs for the Tour alone have already hit seven-figures. “This is all coming from the members’ pot,” Pelley said in a briefing with journalists in Dubai. “It’s a lot of money, and it's a lot of time and resources.”
Pelley is adamant that nothing has yet been decided concerning the scale of the sanctions the rebels will face if the Tour does win the verdict. Although it is clear that indefinite bans will be on the table. “We will go through the actual hearing and to whatever the results are we will act accordingly and make the decisions only then,” he said.