The PGA Tour has drawn a line in the sand. Now the biggest question in men’s professional golf is this: Who’s going to cross it?
On Tuesday, the Tour denied waivers for its members to play in the inaugural LIV Golf event, which is scheduled for Centurion Golf Club just outside of London in a month’s time. In doing so, they made it clear that its pros won’t be able to have it both ways — at least, not without some lawyers involved.
The timing of the denial took some players by surprise; there had been speculation that PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan would wait until the first U.S.-based event in Oregon in July to deny waivers. But his decision to bar his players from competing elsewhere was inevitable.
“I would say I’m not surprised by it,” Jordan Spieth said ahead of this week’s Byron Nelson. “I don’t think anybody’s really surprised by the Tour’s stance on it. And I believe that they’re likely getting the best legal advice possible to know what the steps are going forward.”
“If you’re playing here on the PGA Tour … it’s definitely not something where we want our membership to do because it’s going to harm the tournament that we have opposite that. I’m sure that’s why they didn’t release the players,” added World No. 1 Scottie Scheffler. “Because if we have 15 guys go over there and play, that hurts the RBC Canadian Open.”
The Canadian Open is the same week as the LIV event.
Justin Thomas echoed his peers’ lack of surprise and said he hoped the decision would deter pros from leaving the PGA Tour. He recognized some pros will make the leap anyway but added he’s fed up with all the chatter about their departure.
“It’s like, look, if you want to go, go,” Thomas said. “I mean, there’s been plenty of guys that have been advocates of it and have just talked it up all the time and they have been guys behind the scenes that are saying, I’m going, I’m doing this. And like, my whole thing is just go, then. Like, stop going back and forth or like you say you’re going to [leave].”
Back to the original question, then? Who’s leaving?
Estimates vary, so I chatted with Joel Dahmen, a Tour vet with a solid sense of where players stand. He said he thought most pros’ minds were already made up before the waiver decision came down.
“I don’t think it will change players going,” he said. Asked to put a number on it, Dahmen’s estimate was fairly high. “I think 20ish are probably going.”
If he’s right, that number will almost certainly guarantee collective legal action (more on that here) from those players or from LIV if, as Monahan has promised, they’re suspended or banned from PGA Tour play.
Was Dahmen himself tempted by the league and the massive purses it promised? Does he expect others will continue to go, too?
“The money is very tempting. But it’s the morality of it all and the money coming from Saudi will turn most people off,” he said. “I think some people are worried about the golfing world hating them and all the stuff they would have to hear on social media and at events.”
“I think people will slowly jump ship if some random guys are winning 10+ mil a year.”
That last bit seems particularly important. Whether or not his estimate is close to accurate, that number could just be a starting point. Once events are actually conducted and massive prize money is paid out, LIV’s pull could grow more enticing.
As to the identity of its starting crop of pros? LIV CEO and commissioner Greg Norman has promised several top pros. He said during a press tour on Tuesday that among its 170 entries for the event at Centurion were 36 pros ranked inside the top 150 in the world, plus 19 in the top 100 and six in the top 50. But it’s not clear how many of those pros would still play given the Tour’s position.
Among those pros who have publicly confirmed they’d applied for waivers are Phil Mickelson, Lee Westwood and Sergio Garcia. They haven’t said whether a waiver denial would affect their decisions, either.
Norman had suggested that it would begin announcing player commitments next week, in the lead-up to the PGA Championship. Golf fans will be watching to see how many pros are involved — and who those pros are.