Tom Watson’s LIV Golf speech at Masters Champions Dinner? It caused a ‘pall’

Tom Watson

Tom Watson hits his ceremonial tee shot on Thursday at the Masters.

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AUGUSTA, Ga. — Tom Watson says his words on golf’s state of affairs ended the “joviality” at Tuesday’s Masters Champions Dinner. 

They also ended the night inside the Augusta National clubhouse.   

Speaking Thursday after he, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player started this year’s Masters with ceremonial tee shots, Watson had been asked to comment on “what’s going on in golf.” The reporter had noted that the Masters marks the first tournament since last July’s Open Championship where a number of pros from LIV Golf are playing with pros from the PGA Tour, a scenario that started when Saudi-backed LIV was formed in 2022 and the Tour banned players who jumped to the upstart.    

In response to the question, Watson revealed a moment at the Champions Dinner, an annual gathering of previous winners and Augusta National chairman Fred Ridley

“Well, we all know golf is fractured with the LIV Tour and the PGA Tour doing the different things they are doing,” he said.

“You know, I got up at the Champions Dinner, and it was really a wonderful event. We were sitting down and we were having great stories about Seve Ballesteros and people were laughing and talking. I said to Mr. Ridley, I said, ‘Do you mind if I say something about being here together with everybody?’ He said, ‘Please do.’

“And I got up and I said — I’m looking around the room, and I’m seeing just a wonderful experience everybody is having. They are jovial. They are having a great time. They are laughing. I said, ‘Ain’t it good to be together again?’

“And there was kind of a pall from the joviality, and it quieted down, and then Ray Floyd got up and it was time to leave.

“And in a sense, I hope that the players themselves took that to say, you know, we have to do something. We have to do something.”

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This Masters is the third year where the PGA Tour-LIV fight has been discussed. In 2022, LIV was two months away from kicking off, but there was talk; then, Phil Mickelson, a three-time green jacket winner, missed the event, after comments involving the league. Last year, there was curiosity; it was the first commingling of PGA Tour stars and LIV stars.

This year, the Masters defending champion, Jon Rahm, is playing five months after he took a nine-figure deal to leave the PGA Tour and join LIV. Also, it has been 10 months since the PGA Tour agreed to a funding deal with LIV’s backer, the Saudi Arabia Public Investment Fund, though those negotiations continue.   

“We all know it’s a difficult situation for professional golf right now,” Watson said. “The players really kind of have control, I think, in a sense. What do they want to do? We’ll see where it goes. We don’t have the information or the answers. I don’t think the PGA Tour or the LIV Tour really have an answer right now.

“But I think in this room, I know the three of us want to get together. We want to get together like we were at that Champions Dinner, happy, the best players playing against each other. The bottom line, that’s what we want in professional golf, and right now, we don’t have it.”

Later in the press conference, Nicklaus and Player echoed Watson when asked what outcome they’d like to see in the PGA Tour-LIV Golf fight. Nicklaus said he often talks with PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan

“The best outcome is the best players play against each other all the time,” Nicklaus said. “That’s what I feel about it. And how it’s going, I don’t know, I don’t think I’m — I don’t want to be privy to it. I talked to Jay not very long ago, and I said, ‘Jay,’ I said, ‘don’t tell me what’s going on because I don’t want to have to lie to the press and people that ask me questions.’

“I said, ‘How are you doing?’ He said, ‘We’re doing fine.’ “I said, ‘OK, that’s all I want to know.’ “If Jay thinks we’re doing fine, we’ll get there, I think we’ll get there. And I certainly hope that happens, the sooner the better.”

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Player said the confrontation was unhealthy. 

He said should LIV players one day come back to the PGA Tour, the latter should be compensated for not originally leaving. 

“It’s very simple: Anytime in any business whatsoever, not only in the golf business, there’s confrontation, it’s unhealthy,” Player said. “You’ve got to get together and come to a solution. If you cannot — it’s not good. The public don’t like it, and we as professionals don’t like it, either.

“But it’s a big problem because they paid all these guys to join the LIV Tour fortunes, I mean, beyond one’s comprehension and the players that were loyal, three of us and others.

“Now these guys come back and play, I really believe the players, that if they are loyal, should be compensated in some way or another; otherwise, there’s going to be dissension.”

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