No sooner had players competing in the breakaway LIV Golf Invitational London teed off on Thursday than they were suspended by the PGA Tour.
The $25 million-event in St Albans – the biggest prize pot golf has known – is the first of eight tournaments this year bankrolled by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, worth a combined $255m.
But the LIV International Series, featuring the likes of six-time Major winner Phil Mickelson, former world No 1 Dustin Johnson and Sergio Garcia, is being staged in defiance of the main established tours.
And barely 30 minutes after the first shots had been struck, PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan banished 17 players who have joined the ‘rebel’ series.
“These players have made their choice for their own financial-based reasons,” said Monahan as he announced the indefinite suspensions and other sanctions. “But they can’t demand the same PGA Tour membership benefits, considerations, opportunities and platform as you. That expectation disrespects you, our fans and our partners.”
LIV Golf responded by saying the PGA Tour had deepened the fracture in the global game.
“Today’s announcement by the PGA Tour is vindictive and it deepens the divide between the tour and its members,” LIV Golf said in a statement.
“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.
“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.”
Nine of the 17 players named by Monahan had already resigned their PGA Tour membership.
But Thursday’s suspensions, and LIV Golf’s response, appeared to herald a courtroom battle that has long looked the most likely way of resolving this split in world golf.
Players asked for releases to compete in the event in St Albans, northwest of London, and were rejected by the PGA Tour, in part because the event conflicts with this week’s PGA Tour Canadian Open.
Monahan warned players who take part in future LIV Golf tournaments, five of which are scheduled for US venues, will face the same fate.
Those involved will also be barred from the Presidents Cup and the PGA playoffs in August.
The DP World Tour, as the European Tour is now known, has yet to announce what, if any sanctions it will impose on the ‘rebels’.
All 48 players in the inaugural LIV field at the Centurion Club in St Albans, including European Ryder Cup stars Lee Westwood, Ian Poulter and Graeme McDowell, teed off at the same time in a ‘shotgun start’, with 16 groups of three spread around the course.
© Agence France-Presse