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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 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 number one Dustin Johnson and European stars Sergio Garcia, Martin Kaymer, Graeme McDowell and Lee Westwood.
PGA TOUR Commissioner Jay Monahan informed the TOUR membership today that players competing without releases are suspended and ineligible to participate in TOUR-sanctioned competition.
— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) June 9, 2022
All but Mickelson 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. Ian Poulter said he had not resigned and planned to appeal against his suspension.
“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.
“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.”
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.
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.
“I’m pleased,” Thomas said. “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 added: “All he (Monahan) is doing is basically going by the book. 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.”
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.
“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.”
Norman 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.”