Golf’s PGA Tour suspends participants in Saudi-backed LIV series

US PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan suspends 17 players indefinitely as LIV Golf calls the move ‘vindictive’ saying the ‘era of free agency is beginning’.

The PGA Tour has suspended the players participating in the inaugural Saudi-backed LIV Golf Invitational Series.

This includes Phil Mickelson, who counts six major championships among his 45 PGA Tour wins, former world number one Dustin Johnson and 15 others.

A two-page memo issued by PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan on Thursday said the suspended players are no longer eligible to compete in all PGA Tour events, the Presidents Cup, and all tours sanctioned by the PGA Tour – including the Korn Ferry Tour, PGA Tour Championship, PGA Tour Canada and PGA Tour Latinoamerica.

“These players have made their choice for their own financial-based reasons. But they can’t demand the same PGA Tour membership benefits, considerations, opportunities and platform as you,” Monahan said in the letter to PGA Tour members. “That expectation disrespects you, our fans and our partners.”

LIV Golf, run by retired professional golfer Greg Norman and funded by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, responded to the tour’s decision by calling it vindictive and divisive.

“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,” LIV Golf said. “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.”

At issue is players competing without a conflicting event release from the PGA Tour. The 48-player LIV Golf event conflicts with the PGA Tour’s RBC Canadian Open.

Players typically receive three such releases a year for tournaments overseas, but Monahan denied releases for the LIV Golf Invitational because it is an eight-tournament series that has five events in the United States.

The tour does not allow releases for events in North America.

“We have followed the tournament regulations from start to finish in responding to those players who have decided to turn their backs on the PGA Tour by willfully violating a regulation,” he wrote.

Both the PGA Tour and DP World Tour declined requests from members who asked for releases to compete this week at Centurion Club, where $25m is up for grabs, including $4m for the winner.

At a news conference to promote the new Saudi-financed tournament, a reporter raised the question of the oil-rich kingdom’s human rights record.

The 2010 US Open champion, Graeme McDowell, replied: “If Saudi Arabia want to use the game of golf as a way for them to get to where they want to be, and they have the resources to accelerate that experience, I think we’re proud to help them on that journey.”