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‘Doomsday Scenario’: Would PGA Tour Players Strike to Combat LIV?

  • Davis Love III says Tour stars could boycott events if LIV golfers allowed to play.
  • It would be the first player work stoppage in Tour history.
Tony Finau, winner of two PGA Tour events this season | Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

The war between the PGA Tour and LIV Golf could degenerate into a “doomsday scenario” where Tour players stage the first work stoppage in history.

That’s the warning from pro golfer Davis Love III as the fight moves from the golf course to the courtroom.

Earlier this week, Phil Mickelson and 10 other golfers from the Saudi-backed LIV filed an antitrust lawsuit against the PGA Tour, alleging the Tour has “harmed the careers” of LIV defectors such as Mickelson and Bryson DeChambeau. 

But Love III, U.S. captain for next month’s Presidents Cup, warns it’s actually PGA Tour players who could take a radical step: boycotting events in which LIV golfers are allowed to play.

Such a nuclear option could explode at marquee events like the FedEx Cup Playoffs — and golf’s four major tournaments: The Masters, U.S. Open, British Open, and PGA Championship.

Love III makes it clear that the threat of a group boycott is meant to support, not hurt, golf’s organizing bodies as they decide whether LIV players can tee it up at the same tournaments as Tour stars.

“The ultimate trump card is the players can just say no,” Love III told Front Office Sports in an interview. “Until somebody sorts this out — the courts, the majors, or the PGA Tour — we stand firm. I’m telling you there’s current players who feel this way. [LIV players] can go do whatever they want. But they can’t play with us — and hurt our business.”

Would Tour Players Go On Strike?

How many of the Tour’s 175 card-carrying members would agree to boycott? The PGA Tour isn’t unionized, and Tour players are essentially independent contractors.

But Love III believes there’s enough anger bubbling up among Tour players to give it a try. Such a work stoppage could cripple the competitive playing fields at tournaments. The threat alone underlines the bitter schism dividing the global golf industry.

  • Across the PGA, LIV, and DP World Tour (formerly the European Tour), friendships are being shattered, attitudes are hardening, and key executives are lawyering up for a legal battle that could take years.
  • Many LIV critics accuse Saudi Arabia of trying to “sportswash” its history of human rights abuses by launching what amounts to a hostile takeover of the golf industry through the country’s bottomless Public Investment Fund.

However, LIV chief executive officer Greg Norman maintains LIV does not want to “destroy” the PGA or European tours, but rather peacefully coexist within the global golf ecosystem. 

It’s hypocritical for corporate sponsors to dump LIV players, Norman told Tucker Carlson of Fox News, when many of these companies do billions of dollars in business with Saudi Arabia.

“The PGA Tour, I think, has about 27 sponsors doing $40-plus billion worth of business on an annual basis in Saudi Arabia. Now, why doesn’t the PGA Tour call the CEOs of each one of those organizations saying, ‘We can’t do business with you because you are doing business with Saudi Arabia?’ Why are they picking on the professional golfers?”

Golf’s Great Divide

Player strikes and accusations of jealousy and greed are standard in NFL, MLB, or NBA labor disputes — but they’re jarring in the genteel, white-shoe business of pro golf, where respect for precedent and tradition still reigns.

For somebody like the 58-year-old Love III, it comes down to loyalty. 

The American golf tour has been good to Love III, and he’s been good for the Tour.

  • He proudly captained the U.S. Ryder Cup teams in 2012 and 2016 and serves on the players’ advisory council.  
  • The son of a pro golfer, he’s won 21 times on the Tour (including the 1997 PGA Championship) and ranks 15th on the all-time money list with $45 million.

Love III says Norman wasn’t interested in the advisory council when he was on the Tour, but now fancies himself the great liberator: “Greg Norman should be a leader of the PGA Tour. Not tearing it down.”

The choices of 67-year-old Norman are one thing — his competitive days are done. But Love III can’t understand why LIV recruits in their primes like DeChambeau, Brooks Koepka, and Patrick Reed would turn their backs on the organization that helped make them stars — or risk being barred from the four majors — as well as bi-annual team competitions like the Ryder and Presidents Cup. 

It’s a shame that former U.S. standouts like Reed and Dustin Johnson might not be able to compete for their country in future Presidents and Ryder Cups, said Love III. And what if their Saudi paymasters change their minds and pull out after a couple of years? Then LIV players could be facing lifetime bans — with no more guaranteed money. 

When he watches the awkward explanations of LIV defectors, Love III notes they can’t admit they’re in it for the money. 

“If you say you’re not doing it for the money, then why are you doing it? To play 54-hole exhibition events with nobody watching? Well, then why are you doing it if it’s not for the money? I think that’s a little bit of BS.”

LIV Ready to Talk U.S. Media Deal

For its part, LIV is moving forward. During its second U.S. event at former president Donald Trump’s Bedminster golf club in New Jersey, executives from the nascent golf tour said they finally feel the wind at their backs.

Will Staeger, LIV’s chief media officer, said he’s ready to commence formal negotiations this fall for a U.S. media rights deal for 2023. 

  • In a short period, LIV has signed deals with 26 TV partners in 180 countries worldwide. 
  • Staeger said internal research indicates LIV’s first three events attracted younger attendees and streaming viewers than the PGA Tour’s aging fan base.
  • LIV has hired golf commentator David Feherty from NBC Sports. It flirted with superstar TNT analyst Charles Barkley at Bedminster.

“We have high expectations. We’re very proud of our product,” Staeger told FOS.

It’s debatable whether Fox Sports, which sacked Norman as its golf analyst in 2016 after only a year in the booth next to Joe Buck, would want in.

Norman was surprised at his dismissal by Fox, which scapegoated him for its own coverage failures.

On the other hand, the Australian golf legend has a good relationship with the Murdoch family, and Fox is one of the few major U.S. networks without live golf.

But who’s to say streaming giants like Amazon, Google, and Apple wouldn’t throw their hats in the ring?

Major Decisions

By now, every pro golfer in the world has heard of LIV’s guaranteed nine-figure contracts, all-expenses-paid accommodations, and plush party jets. 

In his interview with Carlson, Norman said he’s now turning away players eager to jump ship to LIV. 

Just ask 56-year-old John Daly, who “begged” Norman to join LIV only to be rejected (for what Daly believes is his age).

LIV golfers were allowed to compete in majors like the U.S. Open and British Open this year. But that could change in 2023. 

For now, all eyes will turn to Augusta National Golf Club, home of the Masters Tournament. 

  • The 2023 Masters scheduled for April 6-9 is the next major on the schedule.
  • Several of the juicier revelations in the 105-page LIV lawsuit allege Augusta Chairman Fred Ridley is supporting his friends at the PGA Tour, while declining to meet with Norman.
  • Would the notoriously independent Masters ban former green jacket winners like Mickelson, Reed, Johnson, and Sergio Garcia?

Whatever Augusta decides will most likely impact subsequent decisions by the USGA, R&A, and PGA of America. 

Meanwhile, things are getting ugly fast, said Love III, especially with LIV golfers suing their former comrades on the PGA Tour. And sponsors are forced to choose sides.

“As Stewart Cink said to me last week, ‘I just keep hoping I wake up and this all goes away. But I don’t know how it can at this point. Hopefully cooler heads — and peace — will prevail eventually.”

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