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PGA Tour Draws Line in Sand, Refuses to Grant Releases for LIV Golf Events

A memo sent to PGA Tour players said disciplinary action can be taken on those who play anyway. Greg Norman called it 'anti-golfer, anti-fan, and anti-competitive.'
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The PGA Tour made a hard push back against the LIV Golf Invitational Series on Tuesday evening by telling its membership that it would not grant conflicting-events releases to its first tournament outside of London next month.

Those who decide to play in the June 9-11 event at Centurion Golf Club would be in violation of PGA Tour policy and subject to sanctions, which include fines, suspensions or possibly being denied membership.

LIV Golf Investments said it had received 170 entries, with 36 ranked among the top 150 in the Official World Golf Ranking, for its 48-man field. Player names were being withheld pending the granting of releases, and the Tour’s move suggests not all who sought permission will play.

“We have notified those who have applied that their request has been declined in according with the PGA Tour Tournament regulations,’’ said Tyler Dennis, PGA Tour senior vice president, in a memo to players obtained by Read. “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.’’

Greg Norman, CEO and commissioner of LIV Golf, released a statement Tuesday night in response.

“Sadly, the PGA Tour seems intent on denying professional golfers their right to play golf, unless it’s exclusively in a PGA Tour tournament. This is particularly disappointing in light of the Tour’s non-profit status, where its mission is purportedly ‘to promote the common interests of professional tournament golfers.’ Instead, the Tour is intent on perpetuating its illegal monopoly of what should be a free and open market," Norman said.

"The Tour’s action is anti-golfer, anti-fan, and anti-competitive. But no matter what obstacles the PGA Tour puts in our way, we will not be stopped. We will continue to give players options that promote the great game of golf globally.”

LIV Golf officials confirmed that the DP World Tour also has denied players releases to play in the first event in London.

The LIV Golf enterprise is backed by the Public Investment Fund, the Saudi Arabia wealth fund.

Among the players publicly disclosed as having sought permission to play are Phil Mickelson, Lee Westwood, Sergio Garcia and Martin Kaymer.

“I’m not surprised because they don’t want to look like they were easing up on this,’’ said a PGA Tour player who wished to not be identified and who had received the memo. “It will be interesting to see what happens now. Now guys have to make a decision about if they are going to go or not. And it’s not going to be for everybody.

“Certain players will get offered a lot of money to go, but I don’t think the Tour had any other leg to stand on. They needed to keep doubling down. If they let 30 players go to London, then it looks like they are opening up a window.’’

The PGA Tour has traditionally granted releases for such overseas events, but the Greg Norman-led LIV Golf has proven to be a disruptive force that has been the subject of considerable discussion for months.

Mickelson has not played for three months in the aftermath of comments made about the Tour and the Saudis; LIV Golf has adjusted its plans to go from a 14-event Tour this year to an eight-event schedule with one-off events, five of which will be played in the United States.

The big lure is an enormous prize fund that will see $25 million offered at each of the events, with $5 million earmarked for a team portion. The winner of the individual event will earn $4 million, with $120,000 going to last place. Some name players are also expected to receive appearance fees.