News

LIV Golf updates: Suspensions, player rumors, media dust-ups as play begins in London

Phil Mickelson and Greg Norman at the conclusion of his Thursday round.

Golf news tends to come in a steady trickle. This week? The fire hydrant on your street has exploded. There’s golf news shooting in every direction! The landscape of professional golf is changing in real time. Guys are joining LIV. They’re resigning from the PGA Tour. Ditching the Ryder Cup. Golf’s biggest organizations are releasing their responses. And more is coming.

How to make sense of it? Read on! We’ve got you covered. (Today’s news is below, with previous days’ events slotted below that.)

THURSDAY

PGA Tour issues suspensions

Among the biggest questions associated with LIV’s debut was how and when the PGA Tour would respond to players officially teeing it up in an unsanctioned, unapproved event.

They didn’t have to wait long. A release from PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan came through as the pros were on their second holes on Thursday and Monahan didn’t mince words: The Tour players in the LIV field were immediately suspended from participating in any PGA Tour events. The duration of their suspensions was not immediately clear.

“These players have made their choice for their own financial-based reasons,” the statement reads. “I know you are with us, and vice versa. Our partners are with us, too. The fact that your former TOUR colleagues can’t say the same should be telling.”

There was a list of suspended pros at the bottom of the letter:

Sergio Garcia

Talor Gooch

Branden Grace

Dustin Johnson

Matt Jones

Martin Kaymer

Graeme McDowell

Phil Mickelson

Kevin Na

Andy Ogletree

Louis Oosthuizen

Turk Pettit

Ian Poulter

Charl Schwartzel

Hudson Swafford

Peter Uihlein

Lee Westwood

Of those, all but Gooch, Jones, Mickelson, Ogletree, Poulter, Swafford and Uihlein have resigned their PGA Tour memberships.

LIV responds

It didn’t take more than a few minutes for LIV to issue a response, calling the PGA Tour’s decision “vindictive” and “troubling” and adding that this “certainly is not the last word on this topic.” See more below (and read more here):

Tour stars react

At the RBC Canadian Open, Rory McIlroy and Justin Thomas reacted to the suspensions.

McIlroy was no-nonsense in his approach. “I think at this point, Jay’s been pretty transparent in terms of he’s just going to act within the tournament regulations and the rules that are set for a PGA Tour member,” McIlroy said. “All he’s doing is basically going by the book.

Said Thomas: “I’m pleased. I think anybody that’s shocked clearly hasn’t been listening to the message that Jay and everybody’s been putting out. They took that risk going into it, whether they thought it was a risk or not.”

Thomas added that it’s clear LIV has found the key to his peers’ loyalty through their wallets.

“They’re obviously throwing so much money at people that it’s very hard to turn down,” he said. “I don’t care what you say in terms of ‘people play for different reasons.’ It doesn’t matter who you are or what it is; everything has a number. They’re reaching that number for some people, and I hope that they don’t get others. But I think a very strong core group of us is very stable and firm in our position, and I hope that it stays that way.”

McIlroy added that he’ll check it out.

“Yeah, of course I’ll see it and watch it and see what all the fuss is about.”

Consider it competitive research. You can read more here.

Play begins in London

The shotgun start, cabbies and all, went off with only minor hitches. There was a new F1-style scoreboard. The event was streamed on YouTube, Facebook, on LIV’s website and through various other apps. I had the YouTube stream on and saw it peak at just over 100,000 concurrent viewers. That seemed surprisingly high to me, although when I tweeted exactly that a whole bunch of people pushed back to tell me that in fact that was a very low number. I’ll let you decide for yourself.

Phil Mickelson on the first tee during LIV’s debut.

Getty Images

Charl Schwartzel leads at five under par. Phil Mickelson shot one under. The on-the-ground authority on all things LIV was Mr. Sean Zak, who wrote this on site:

It didn’t take long to realize the transgressions that sent Mickelson into a hiatus earlier this year had been completely forgiven by the fans on site. He received the loudest ovation everywhere he went. Hundreds crowded around the first tee, 30 minutes ahead of his arrival.

You can read the rest of his piece here.

Hints in promo video?

LIV’s promo video, narrated by Dennis Quaid (props if he was on your LIV bingo card) included shots of its London competitors plus, curiously, Matthew Wolff and Bubba Watson. There have been so many names tossed around that we’d stop short of guaranteeing anything, but their inclusion was certainly noteworthy given no other shots or personalities seemed to be in there by accident.

Phil’s biographer led away by security

Alan Shipnuck, author of “Phil: The Rip-Roaring (and Unauthorized!) Biography of Golf’s Most Colorful Superstar,” was “physically removed” from Mickelson’s post-round press conference. Shipnuck was credentialed to be at the event but was blocked from Mickelson’s remarks by multiple men as LIV CEO Greg Norman looked on from behind him (see video below.)

James Corrigan of The Telegraph corroborated Shipnuck’s account.

“This whole situation is messy and ridiculous,” Shipnuck told Golfweek via email. “If I have another boring golf question for Phil I’ll ask it because I did fly 6,000 miles to be here and I’m not inclined to be silenced by Greg Norman and his goons.”

It’s the second time this week that security have clashed with journalists after the Associated Press’ Rob Harris was led away from the media center on Tuesday.

Interesting sidenote: the USGA released its press conference list for next week’s U.S. Open and Phil Mickelson is first man up. We’ll see if and how the USGA handles his appearances differently.

Podcast time!

I recorded a Drop Zone podcast with Kevin Clark, senior writer for The Ringer, who helped break down the latest LIV revelations, walked me through what golf can learn from Formula 1, dished on his unsuccessful golf gambling formula and made a slew of F1-driver-to-professional-golfer crossover comparisons (think Rickie Fowler-Daniel Ricciardo). You can listen on Spotify or Apple Podcasts or in the embed below.

WEDNESDAY

Phil speaks

Our Sean Zak was in attendance for Mickelson’s Wednesday morning press conference. He reports that Mickelson came wearing stubble, all black and just a single logo: his own.

Here’s an excerpt from Zak’s piece:

Seated next to his teammates — three students auditing Careful Answers 101 — Mickelson was methodical. He often paused after listening to a question, structuring his thoughts for five or six seconds before sharing them. He even interrupted a two-part question, asking that he receive just one question at a time. It was, both in transcript and in visual form, reminiscent of a deposition.

Mickelson was largely mum on topics pertaining to the PGA Tour; he declined to say whether he was suspended, although he did reiterate his intention to keep his lifetime membership.

Mickelson also addressed his major championship plans. He said he voluntarily skipped the Masters and watched from his house in Montana after skiing each morning. He added that he could have played the PGA Championship but chose not to defend his title. And he intends to tee it up in next week’s U.S. Open.

Bryson DeChambeau, Patrick Reed reportedly jumping to LIV

On Wednesday morning the Daily Telegraph reported that an announcement is “imminent” introducing Bryson DeChambeau and Patrick Reed as LIV’s latest members. Their first appearance is expected to come at Pumpkin Ridge in Portland, Ore. Like most other big names associated with LIV, their contracts will span multiple years.

DeChambeau’s agent confirmed his participation:

Uncomfortable questions continue

Lee Westwood and Ian Poulter were asked whether they’d play a tournament hosted by Vladimir Putin. They each sidestepped the question.

Justin Thomas speaks

Justin Thomas addressed the media from the RBC Canadian Open on Wednesday morning and tried to find some middle ground.

“I don’t dislike D.J. now,” he said. “I don’t think he’s a bad dude. I’m not going to treat him any differently. It’s like, he’s entitled to choose as he wishes.

“And I think that the day and age that we live in now, it’s just so negative that you see it in everything. Sport, politics, whatever it is, it’s like if you disagree with someone you just feel that you’re entitled to like, hate them and talk bad about them and just bash their decision, when everybody’s entitled to their own opinion, you know what I mean?

“Like I said, it doesn’t make him a bad person. Now I’m disappointed and I wish that he and others wouldn’t have done it, but that’s their decision. I’ve said it all along, it’s like guys can do as they wish. If they want to go they can go, if they want to stay they can stay.”

Rory McIlroy speaks

Rory McIlroy had a press conference after his pro-am round at the RBC Canadian Open, too. He was only asked one-and-a-half questions about LIV but reiterated his disinterest in joining the breakaway league.

“I think my stance on it has been pretty clear from the start. It’s not something that I want to participate in. I certainly understand the guys that have went. I understand what their goals and their ambitions are in their life. I’m certainly not knocking anyone for going. It’s their life, it’s their decision, they can live it the way they want to.

“But for me I want to play on the PGA Tour against the best players in the world. And I think for me, speaking to a few people yesterday and one of the comments was, anything, any decision that you make in your life that’s purely for money usually doesn’t end up going the right way. Obviously money is a deciding factor in a lot of things in this world, but if it’s purely for money, it never seems to go the way you want it to.

“And I’ve had that before a couple of times in my life and there’s other things that are a part of it too. But it’s a weird time in professional golf, and I said it a couple weeks ago, we’re just going to have to see how this season plays out and if any other guys decide to go another direction than the established tours, I guess, and see what the, I guess see what the consequences are.”

TUESDAY

Ari Fleischer is running press conferences

With LIV, you never quite know the names that’ll pop up. Sure enough, there was former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer moderating press conferences on Tuesday.

Pros talk about ‘sportswashing’

Not all went smoothly. Associated Press journalist Rob Harris was escorted out of the media center after a kerfuffle near the end of a press conference. In the previous presser he’d asked Graeme McDowell what he thought of LIV’s role as doing PR for the Saudi government given its record on human rights. You can see how that went down:

Several of the players were asked about sportswashing, including Talor Gooch, who followed the lead of others suggesting that was outside his area of expertise:

Dustin Johnson headlines PGA Tour resignations

In his first media appearance since joining LIV, Dustin Johnson announced that he was resigning his PGA Tour membership.

“At this time it’s hard to speak on what the consequences will be, but for right now I resigned my membership from the Tour,” Johnson said. “I’m going to play here, you know, for now. That’s the plan. What the consequences will be, obviously I can’t comment on how the Tour’s going to handle.” 

He was far from the only one: The Associated Press reported that Sergio Garcia, Branden Grace, Louis Oosthuizen and Charl Schwartzel had each already resigned their membership. Kevin Na took to Twitter to explain his own decision.

There are potential advantages to resigning membership — the PGA Tour has greater say over what its members can and cannot do — but not every LIV participant had done so. Mickelson, who is a lifetime PGA Tour member, told Sports Illustrated he isn’t giving his up.

“I worked really hard to earn that lifetime membership,” he said. “And I’m hopeful that I’ll have the ability to play wherever I want, where it’s the PGA Tour, LIV or wherever else I want.”

The USGA responds, won’t block LIV golfers

Among the biggest questions surrounding players departing the Tour was their ability to participate in major championships. This is where things get tricky; while the PGA Tour doesn’t actually run any of golf’s four grandest events, it has close alliances with the four bodies that do: Augusta National, the PGA of America, the USGA and the R&A.

The U.S. Open is next week, so the USGA’s answer came first and it came in the form of a statement on Tuesday essentially outlining that because it considers itself the “most open championship in the world,” it would not block any LIV participant who was already qualified from participating.

“Regarding players who may choose to play in London this week, we simply asked ourselves this question — should a player who had earned his way into the 2022 U.S. Open, via our published field criteria, be pulled out of the field as a result of his decision to play in another event? And we ultimately decided that they should not,” the statement continued.

“Our decision regarding our field for the 2022 U.S. Open should not be construed as the USGA supporting an alternative organizing entity, nor supportive of any individual player actions or comments. Rather, it is simply a response to whether or not the USGA views playing in an alternative event, without the consent of their home tour, an offense that should disqualify them for the U.S. Open.”

Coincidentally we had USGA CEO Mike Whan on the Drop Zone podcast just a couple days before this all went down; he spoke to LIV’s tenuous future and outlined why he thinks it faces challenges.

“I haven’t heard about one TV deal, I haven’t heard about one title sponsor, I haven’t heard about one revenue-generating thing. And that’s fine, it might be a really cool payday for a few guys for a while. But for me to believe this will be around long-term … it’s going to have to be a business.”

You can listen to that complete interview on Apple Podcasts, on Spotify or at the embed below.

The USGA statement seemed to leave open the possibility that criteria could be changed in the future. There are several outstanding questions that would factor into players’ qualifications for majors, including LIV’s status in the eyes of the Official World Golf Ranking, pros’ status with the PGA Tour and DP World Tours and, well, there are a lot of moving parts. But the LIV pros sure seem resigned to whatever awaits.

“I can’t answer for the majors, but hopefully they’re going to allow us to play,” Johnson said. “Obviously, I’m exempt for the majors, so I plan on playing there, unless I hear otherwise.”

Phil Mickelson appears

We hadn’t seen Mickelson in the public eye since the Saudi International in February. He made his return at LIV’s draft party with some stubble and a leather jacket:

The draft happens

Here’s the vibe from the draft, which was hosted by Shane O’Donoghue and Kirsty Gallacher:

And here are the draft results:

MONDAY

Phil Mickelson joins LIV, opens up

After months of speculation, Phil Mickelson officially joined LIV. The announcement came with a statement that was part apology, part reflection and part announcement.

Mickelson also opened up in a Sports Illustrated interview in which he revealed his intentions to play all eight LIV events in 2022 as well as the remaining majors (the U.S. Open and Open Championship). He stayed big picture with his regrets, referencing “a lot of mistakes” without getting into specifics. He brushed quickly past the concerns his critics have about partnering up with the Saudi Arabian government, which is funding LIV. But there was one area he volunteered freely: his own gambling past.

Harig asked Mickelson if his decision to play LIV (and receive a reported nine-figure deal to do so) came as a result of “financial difficulties.” Mickelson said it hadn’t — but he went out of his way to acknowledge that he’d struggled with gambling and addiction nonetheless.

“My gambling got to a point of being reckless and embarrassing,” he said. “I had to address it. And I’ve been addressing it for a number of years. And for hundreds of hours of therapy. I feel good where I’m at there. My family and I are and have been financially secure for some time.

“Gambling has been part of my life ever since I can remember,” he added. “But about a decade ago is when I would say it became reckless. It’s embarrassing. I don’t like that people know. The fact is I’ve been dealing with it for some time. Amy has been very supportive of it and with me and the process. We’re at a place after many years where I feel comfortable with where that is. It isn’t a threat to me or my financial security. It was just a number of poor decisions.”

LIV announces broadcast team

The league hasn’t secured a broadcast TV deal and its current plans are to stream LIV events through Facebook and YouTube. On Monday they announced the voices behind those plans

Longtime Premier League lead voice Arlo White will serve as lead commentator. The 49-year-old Brit, who also serves as the broadcast voice of Emmy-winning Apple TV show “Ted Lasso,” doesn’t have a background calling golf.

He’ll be joined by a team of analysts that includes Golf Channel’s longtime LPGA presence Jerry Foltz, who left the network just ahead of last week’s U.S. Women’s Open. Dom Boulet, a former Asian Tour pro-turned-commentator, will join them in the booth. Former long drive champ Troy Mullins and former pro Su-Ann Heng are among the on-course reporters.

You can read more about the broadcast here.

Tiger Woods turned down ‘mind-blowingly enormous’ LIV sum

This came via Greg Norman in a Washington Post profile. In the interview, LIV’s CEO told the Post the 15-time major champion refused an “enormous” offer to join.

From the Post story: The tour’s consultant also pitched representatives for Woods, who once staged his own public coup with the PGA Tour over marketing rights. Norman says Woods turned down a deal that was “mind-blowingly enormous; we’re talking about high nine digits.”

High-nine digits! I’ll let you parse out exactly what that means. But it sounds like a lot of money.

On Tuesday, Woods announced that he wouldn’t be playing in next week’s U.S. Open, writing that his body “needs more time to get stronger for major championship golf.” He’s planning to make his return at the JP McManus Pro-Am and then play the Open Championship.

What does that have to do with LIV? Plenty, but only indirectly. Woods won’t have to answer questions on the subject. Golf’s national attention won’t be split between Tigermania and LIV’s consequences. Instead, those coming from London’s LIV events will bear the brunt of the scrutiny at America’s national championship.

Stay tuned — we’ll keep you updated as golf news continues to flood the streets.

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