LIV golfers, PGA Tour pros set for awkward clash at BMW PGA
A week ago, Rory McIlroy’s victory at the Tour Championship served as something of a statement: The man who had put the PGA Tour’s future on his back was putting an exclamation-point ending on its season.
But this past weekend, LIV dominated golf’s headlines. With the PGA Tour in its two-week “offseason,” a new batch of LIVers stepped into the arena. World No. 2 Cameron Smith gave the controversial breakaway circuit increased credibility. The competition heated up, too: debutants Joaquin Niemann and Anirban Lahiri made it into a three-way playoff only to lose to Dustin Johnson. The Saudi-backed league’s most significant week yet served as a reminder that LIV and the PGA Tour are on separate tracks headed in different directions, with no compromise in sight.
But the DP World Tour (formerly European Tour) exists somewhere in the in-between. While it initially moved to fine and suspend LIV players from participating in its events, that move was temporarily halted by an English arbiter. Because a hearing on the matter isn’t set until February, a handful of LIV golfers have played in DP events this summer. Now, more than a dozen are set to tee it up in this week’s BMW PGA Championship, arguably the flagship event of the circuit’s season. And with the FedEx Cup Playoffs in their rearview, a handful of high-profile PGA Tour members are making the trip to Wentworth, too, setting up an awkward cross-circuit clash.
McIlroy didn’t mince words about his expectations for the trip.
“I hate what [LIV] is doing to the game of golf,” he said in his champion’s press conference at East Lake. “I hate it. I really do. Like, it’s going to be hard for me to stomach going to Wentworth in a couple of weeks’ time and seeing 18 of them there. That just doesn’t sit right with me.”
McIlroy isn’t the only one anticipating tension. U.S. Open champ Matthew Fitzpatrick offered a toned-down version of the same sentiment. “It’s going to be odd seeing certain people at Wentworth,” he said.
Now that Wentworth is upon us, all eyes will be on how players from rival tours interact — or don’t.
“I’m sure some guys will be tense about it [because] we’re going to go out there and play,” Sergio Garcia told Golf Digest. “What I’m going to do is support the European Tour and that’s all I can do. Whoever doesn’t like it, too bad for them.”
It’s a sign of the times that McIlroy and Garcia are on such opposite sides; just a year ago the two were Ryder Cup teammates in a particularly meaningful edition at Whistling Straits. Another of their teammates from last year, Ian Poulter, is among the players joining LIV in an antitrust lawsuit against the PGA Tour. He’ll be in the field, too.
Martin Kaymer is taking a different approach. The former World No. 1 (and former European Ryder Cupper) is skipping the BMW PGA because he feels he isn’t wanted.
“Of course, there will be friction there, that’s why I’m not going,” Kaymer told Golf Digest on Thursday at the LIV event. “I don’t know why I should fly to England, [and] be on the golf course for four or five days where you are not that welcome, I would say.”
Per a report from Golf Channel, LIV pros entered in the field “will be docked a six-figure fine but are not prohibited from competing.” DP World Tour CEO Keith Pelley also reached out to participating LIV pros to inform them they wouldn’t be required to play in Wednesday’s pro-am. He also made an ask:
“Out of respect for our partners, our broadcasters and your fellow competitors, we would kindly ask you to consider not wearing LIV Golf-branded apparel during your participation at Wentworth,” he wrote in a memo. Some LIV contracts include stipulations about wearing LIV-branded clothing whenever they compete.
So who will be there? LIV pros in the field include Abraham Ancer, Garcia, Talor Gooch, Kevin Na, Poulter, Patrick Reed and Lee Westwood. The PGA Tour players expected to attend include McIlroy, Fitzpatrick, Jon Rahm, Viktor Hovland, Shane Lowry and Billy Horschel.
The rest of the golf world will be watching.