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LIV Golf tees off amid smears and controversy

Dustin Johnson, at No 13 in the world, is the highest ranked player in the field and stands to earn $125 million from the series Reuters/Paul Childs
Dustin Johnson, the world No 13, is the highest ranked player in the field and stands to earn $125 million from the series

Rival PGA Tour bans players for chasing ‘boatloads of cash’

Heated politics have overshadowed play in what is fast becoming golf’s most controversial tournament in history – the Saudi Arabian-funded LIV Golf Series.

Teeing off on June 9, the LIV Series’ inaugural UK event clashed directly with the start of the RBC Canadian Open, an event with bigger names but a smaller budget.

That schedule clash was indicative of a wider conflict between aspiring disruptors LIV Golf and established tours like PGA Tour, the pre-eminent circuit in professional golf.

Almost as soon as the first players teed off, PGA Commissioner Jay Monahan announced: “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.”

All current and future LIV players were barred from participating in PGA Tour events.

Among those suspended were lifetime member Phil Mickelson, former world number ones Dustin Johnson and Lee Westwood, Sergio Garcia and 13 others.

LIV Golf soon hit back, accusing the PGA of being “vindictive.”

A statement by LIV 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.”

Alluding to future legal action, LIV added: “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.” 

Mickelson, the highest profile player to be suspended, refused to comment on his suspension during a press conference following day one of the London event: “Any PGA Tour matters I’m not going to discuss publicly,” he said.

Not only has the mens-only LIV series caused a schism in the golf world’s professional scene, but it has also been marred by accusations that Saudi Arabia is using the event to distract from its poor record on human rights — so-called “sportswashing.”

Among the accusations routinely levelled against the kingdom are that of unequal treatment of women.

Despite reforms in recent years, women in the country must still obtain a male guardian’s approval to get married, leave prison or access certain healthcare services.

Asked by AGBI whether LIV Golf — backed to the tune of £1.8 billion by majority stakeholder the Saudi Arabian Public Investment Fund (PIF) — had plans to introduce a women’s version of the tournament, a representative said: “It’s definitely on the path. We’re exploring all opportunities right now.”

But the spokesperson stopped short of providing any more details or a timeline.

The LIV Golf Series has also made headlines for the seismic sums of cash being thrown at players to seal their involvement.

Phil Mickelson, one of golf’s great players, was reportedly paid $200 million to participate in the tournament, while world number 13 Dustin Johnson, the highest-ranked player in the tournament, netted a reported $125 million to play.

And the prize money for the tournament, too, has raised eyebrows: $4 million for the winners, and a minimum of $120,000 to the losers.

But other top players have been reticent to get involved, despite the eye-watering sums being offered.

Greg Norman, the CEO of the LIV Series, revealed last week that Tiger Woods turned down $500 million to be the face of the new tour. 

Meanwhile, Rory McIlroy, another legend of the game, said: “We all know why everyone’s playing in London this week. It’s boatloads of cash and it’s money up front. I get it and for some guys that’s really enticing.”

On Thursday, McIlroy also welcomed the suspension of LIV players from the PGA tour, saying: “I think it’s 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.”

The St Albans leg of the seven-leg series will conclude on June 11. Four following legs will be held in the United States, one in Thailand, and one in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.

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