Masters Legends Lament Ongoing LIV Golf-PGA Tour Fracture

"How it's going, I don't know," said six-time Masters champion Jack Nicklaus about negotiations to reunify the sport. Tom Watson and Gary Player also shared their thoughts on golf's great divide.
Apr 11, 2024; Augusta, Georgia, USA; Tom Watson watches his tee shot for the honorary start for the
Apr 11, 2024; Augusta, Georgia, USA; Tom Watson watches his tee shot for the honorary start for the / Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Network

AUGUSTA, Ga. — He didn’t say so directly, but the message was clear: Tom Watson, eight-time major winner, suggested to other former Masters winners on Tuesday night that their gathering together should not be so rare.

He was referring to the state of the game, and the divide between the PGA Tour, DP World Tour and LIV Golf League.

“We all know golf is fractured with the LIV Tour and PGA Tour doing the different things they are doing,” Watson said Thursday after he joined Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player to hit ceremonial opening tee shots at Augusta National.

“I got up at the Champions Dinner, and it was really a wonderful event,” Watson said. “We were sitting down and we were having great stories about Seve Ballesteros and people were laughing and talking. I said to Mr. (Fred) Ridley, I said, "Do you mind if I say something about being here together with everybody?”

He said, "Please do.”

“And I got up and I said—I'm looking around the room, and I'm seeing just a wonderful experience everybody is having. They are jovial. They are having a great time. They are laughing. I said, 'Ain't it good to be together again?' And there was kind of a pall from the joviality, and it quieted down, and then Ray Floyd got up and it was time to leave.

“And in a sense, I hope that the players themselves took that to say, you know, we have to do something. We have to do something.

“We all know it's a difficult situation for professional golf right now. The players really kind of have control I think in a sense. What do they want to do? We'll see where it goes. We don't have the information or the answers. I don't think the PGA Tour or the LIV Tour really have an answer right now.

“But I think in this room, I know the three of us want to get together. We want to get together like we were at that Champions Dinner, happy, the best players playing against each other. The bottom line: that's what we want in professional golf, and right now, we don't have it.”

LIV Golf is now in its third year and there are 13 players in the Masters field who are members of that league, including defending champion Jon Rahm, who hosted the dinner on Tuesday.

This is the first time, for example, that Rory McIlroy and Brooks Koepka are competing in the same tournament since last year’s British Open at Royal Liverpool.

Nicklaus said he recently saw PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan and said he didn’t want to know what is going on because “I don’t to have to lie to the press when they ask me about it.”

“The best outcome is the best players play against each other all the time,” Nicklaus said. “That's what I feel about it. And how it's going, I don't know.”

Player, who has represented Golf Saudi—which is funded by the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia, which backs LIV Golf—has nonetheless at times been critical of players who went to LIV for their lack of loyalty to the PGA Tour.

He also believes a deal is necessary.

“It's very simple. Anytime in any business whatsoever, not only in the golf business, there's confrontation, it's unhealthy,” Player said. “You've got to get together and come to a solution. If you cannot—it's not good. The public don't like it, and we as professionals don't like it, either.

“But it's a big problem because they paid all these guys to join the LIV Tour fortunes, I mean, beyond one's comprehension and the players that were loyal ... now these guys come back and play, I really believe the players, that if they are loyal, should be compensated in some way or another; otherwise, there's going to be dissension.”

There already is, which is one part of the discourse that is ongoing.


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Bob Harig

BOB HARIG

Bob Harig is a senior golf writer for Sports Illustrated. He has more than 25 years experience covering golf, including 15 at ESPN. Bob is a regular guest on Sirius XM PGA Tour Radio and has written two books, DRIVE: The Lasting Legacy of Tiger Woods and Tiger and Phil: Golf's Most Fascinating Rivalry. He graduated from Indiana University where he earned an Evans Scholarship, named in honor of the great amateur golfer Charles (Chick) Evans Jr. Bob, a former president of the Golf Writers Association of America, lives in Clearwater, Florida.