The PGA Tour is denying releases to golfers who asked to play in the first of a series of Saudi-funded tournaments next month in England, a bold move by Commissioner Jay Monahan in trying to quash Greg Norman’s latest bid to start a lucrative rival league.
The first LIV Golf Invitational is scheduled for June 9-11 at Centurion Golf Club outside of London, with a 48-man field competing for a $20 million purse over 54 holes. The winner gets $4 million — to date the richest prize in golf — and last place gets $120,000.
The tour informed the players who are seeking releases late Tuesday afternoon, then notified all players of the decision in a short memo, which was obtained by The Associated Press.
“We have notified those who have applied that their request has been declined in accordance with the PGA Tour Tournament Regulations,” the memo said. “As such, Tour members are not authorized to participate in the Saudi Golf League’s London event under our regulations.
“As a membership organization, we believe this decision is in the best interest of the PGA Tour and its players.”
While the names of players who have signed up have not been released, Phil Mickelson said through his agent he asked for a conflicting event release to the London event. Lee Westwood confirmed last week he asked the PGA Tour and European tour for a release.
The Daily Telegraph reported that Sergio Garcia, Martin Kaymer and Ian Poulter also were among those who sought releases.
Norman is the CEO of LIV Golf Investments, funded primarily by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund. He told Sky Sport earlier Tuesday he would have six of the top 50 players in the world at the London event and 19 of the top 100.
Now that Monahan has staked his position, it’s up to the players to decide if they still want to go and risk losing PGA Tour membership.
“Sadly, the PGA Tour seems intent on denying professional golfers their right to play golf, unless it’s exclusively in a PGA Tour tournament,” Norman said in a statement, calling the decision “anti-golfer, anti-fan and anti-competitive.”
He also said “no matter what obstacles the PGA Tour puts in our way, we will not be stopped” and will “continue to give players options.”
When asked the tour’s next step, Monahan said, “I can tell you what we’re going to do — keep hosting the best events with the best players, with the world’s greatest fans and partners.”
The first LIV event, one week before the U.S. Open, is scheduled for the same week as the RBC Canadian Open, the fourth-oldest national open in golf. Norman won it twice.
PGA Tour guidelines typically allow for players to get three releases to play in tournaments around the world.
Monahan granted releases to about two dozen players for the Saudi International on Feb. 3-6 — the same week as the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am — with the caveat that players going to the event would be required to play Pebble Beach as many as two times over the next three years.
But his decision Tuesday painted the LIV Golf Invitational in a different light as the first of eight such events with $20 million purses, along with a $5 million prize fund for a team component.
Norman has postponed the league concept of 12 four-man teams for a few years after the top players said they were not interested.
He has presented the LIV Golf Invitational series this year as separate tournaments in which players could compete as often as they liked.
Five of the tournaments are scheduled for the United States, a direct challenge to the PGA Tour because its regulations do not allow for any releases for tournaments held in North America. The first is scheduled for July 1-3 near Portland, Oregon. Others are in suburban Chicago and suburban Boston, as well as two courses owned by former President Donald Trump in New Jersey and Miami.
The U.S. events, particularly the Portland one, were seen as the first real test of the PGA Tour stating where its players could compete.
Instead, Monahan fired the first shot in denying releases to London. The next step is whether players will challenge him by playing the LIV Golf Invitational anyway. Monahan has said that would lead to players being disbarred.
The move was not entirely surprising. Monahan had said in late February that he told players the PGA Tour was moving on “and anyone on the fence needs to make a decision.”
The tour denied the releases on the same day Norman announced an additional $2 billion investment to expand the LIV Golf series to 10 tournaments next year and a full season of 14 tournaments in 2024 and 2025. He said details of those additional tournaments would be disclosed later.
“We have a long-term vision and we’re here to stay,” said Norman, who tried to start a World Golf Tour in 1994.
The latest effort suffered a big hit in February when the top 10 players in the world all said they were sticking with the PGA Tour. Rory McIlroy, a staunch opponent to the Saudi league, referred to it as a “pre-Champions tour,” noting that most of those interested were in the twilight of their careers.