PGA Tour suspends members for playing LIV Golf event

Dustin Johnson and Phil Mickelson playing the LIV Golf Invitational at Centurion Club
Several big winners Dustin Johnson and Phil Mickelson are in the same group at the Centurion Club on Thursday

The PGA Tour has suspended all of its members participating in the Saudi-funded LIV Golf Invitational this week.

The tournament, taking place at the Centurion Club near London, is the most lucrative in the game’s history with a prize pool of $25m (£20m).

Six-time Major winner Phil Mickelson is among the biggest names affected.

LIV Golf issued an immediate response calling the PGA Tour “vindictive” and said it “deepens the rift between the Tour and its members.”

The statement adds: “It is troubling that the Tour, an organization dedicated to creating opportunities for golfers to play the game, is the entity that keeps golfers from playing.

“It is certainly not the last word on this subject. The era of free agency begins as we are proud to have a full group of players joining us in London and beyond.”

The PGA Tour released its statement 30 minutes into play at the Centurion, where 48 players are participating in the first of eight scheduled LIV Golf invitational events.

McIlroy and Thomas welcome decision

Rory McIlroy and Justin Thomas, who are both playing at the PGA Canadian Open this week, welcomed the PGA’s decision.

“Anyone who’s shocked clearly didn’t listen,” said two-time winner Thomas.

“They took that risk whether they thought it was a risk or not.

“I have great confidence and great faith in the PGA Tour and where we’re going and continuing to grow, and these guys just aren’t going to be a part of it.”

Thomas added: “They obviously throw so much money at people that it’s very hard to say no.

“No matter who you are or what it is, everything has a number. They hit that number for some people and hopefully they don’t get others.

“But I think a very strong core of us are very stable and firm in our position, and I hope it stays that way.”

McIlroy, from Northern Ireland, said: “I think it’s the right thing because these guys have broken the rules and done things outside of the tournament regulations, and because of that there will be consequences, I suppose.”

England’s Ian Poulter, who was competing at the LIV event this week, said he would appeal the PGA’s decision: “It’s a shame if they take it as something.

“When you feel like you’ve done nothing wrong and want to promote the game of golf, it would be incredibly disappointing if it happened that way.

“I’m going to appeal for sure. It makes no sense. Having two Tour cards and the ability to play golf anywhere in the world, what’s wrong with that?”

Graeme McDowell said he resigned from the PGA Tour “30 minutes before it starts” at the LIV event on Thursday.

“It was a difficult decision but it puts me in a less contentious situation,” he said. “I didn’t want to quit, the PGA Tour has been great. It’s about wanting to add more tournaments to my golf career.”

Speaking after playing on Thursday, Mickelson said: “As I said at my press conference yesterday, I’m not going to discuss all PGA Tour matters publicly.”

Suspension affects 17 players

Former world number one Greg Norman is the managing director of LIV Golf, which has £1.6 billion in funding from the Saudi Public Investment Fund.

The first seven events all have the same $25 million prize, with the winner taking home $4 million, while a team element will see the top three teams split $5 million. The eighth event is a $50 million tag team championship and will be played in October at the Trump Doral in Miami.

The PGA Tour had refused waiver requests from its members to play in the new series and threatened to ban those who rebelled.

The move affects 17 players, including life member Mickelson and fellow American Dustin Johnson, who announced on Tuesday he had resigned from the Tour. Mickelson did not deny receiving $200 million to star in the series, while Johnson reportedly received $150 million.

Crucially, the PGA Tour closed a loophole that would have potentially allowed players who resigned from the Tour to participate in events through sponsor exemptions.

Sergio Garcia, Martin Kaymer, Graeme McDowell and Lee Westwood have, like Johnson, already resigned and will all be affected by this decision.

PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan said in the statement that was sent to all Tour members: “In accordance with PGA Tour Tournament Rules, players who compete this week without a release are suspended or no longer eligible to participate in PGA Tour tournament play, including the Presidents Cup.

“The same fate applies to all other players who participate in future Saudi Golf League events in violation of our regulations.

“These players made their choice for their own financial reasons.

“But they can’t demand the same PGA Tour membership benefits, considerations, opportunities and platform that you do. That expectation disrespects you, our fans and our partners.”

The players will be removed from the FedEx Cup points list after the Canadian Open ends on Sunday.

The Europe-based DP World Tour, when contacted by BBC Sport, declined to comment.

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