The feud between the PGA Tour and upstart LIV Golf is getting increasingly personal.
The PGA Tour is weighing possible “lifetime” bans for mutineers bolting to Greg Norman’s Saudi-backed LIV Golf, sources told Front Office Sports.
Many older golf stars find a second, lucrative career on the 50-and-over Champions Tour. Former Masters winner Bernhard Langer has amassed $32.7 million on the senior tour.
The PGA Tour’s take-no-prisoners approach would likely result in lawsuits. But it underlines the high-stakes battle between the PGA Tour and LIV.
On Thursday, Commissioner Jay Monahan upped the ante by suspending 17 members “who have decided to turn their backs” on the PGA Tour.
To underline his point, Monahan suspended the players just as the action was getting underway at LIV’s inaugural 54-hole tournament at London’s Centurion Club.
The Commissioner didn’t mention lifetime bans. But he said LIV players will no longer be eligible to play in PGA Tour tournament play, including the Champions Tour and Presidents Cup.
Nor will players who resigned their membership be able to slide in to PGA tournaments via sponsor exemptions.
Among the big names suspended: Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson, Sergio Garcia, and Kevin Na.
“These players have made their choice for their own financial-based reasons,” stated Monahan. “But they can’t demand the same PGA Tour membership benefits, considerations, opportunities and platform as you. That expectation disrespects you, our fans and our partners.”
LIV fired back immediately in the high-stakes PR battle between the rival golf tours. It hinted at legal action to come.
“Today’s announcement by the PGA Tour is vindictive and it deepens the divide between the Tour and its members. It’s troubling that the Tour, an organization dedicated to creating opportunities for golfers to play the game, is the entity blocking golfers from playing,” LIV said in a statement.
“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.”
The PGA Tour suffered two key defections this week when Bryson DeChambeau and Patrick Reed, two young major tournament winners, joined the breakout league.
The salaries being offered to lure PGA Tour stars to LIV are astronomical.
The power-hitting DeChambeau will make over $100 million, guaranteed, for jumping to LIV, according to Dan Rapaport of Golf Digest.
Johnson will get a reported $125 million. Mickelson will bank $200 million.
In an interview, Norman told the Washington Post that Tiger Woods, still the biggest name in golf, turned down a “mind-blowingly enormous offer” in the high nine digits to join the Saudi-funded venture.
LIV streamed its maiden event live on YouTube Thursday. But the upstart league faces an uphill battle landing a media rights deal in the U.S. market.
The PGA Tour currently has deals with ESPN+, CBS Sports and NBC Sports in the U.S. LIV just lost chief commercial officer Sean Bratches, the respected former ESPN executive, who was spearheading media rights negotiations.
ESPN issued a public statement of support for the PGA Tour to Front Office Sports on Thursday.
“We’re proud of our long-term partnership with the PGA TOUR, and very excited to be the home of PGA TOUR Live on ESPN+,” said a spokesman.
Sponsors have been playing hardball as well.
“Effective immediately, Rocket Mortgage has ended its sponsorship agreement with Bryson. We wish him well in his future success,” the company stated.
Previously, RBC (Royal Bank of Canada) dropped endorsers Johnson and Graeme McDowell for joining LIV. Ditto for UPS and Lee Westwood.