- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 9, 2022

A new era of golf began Thursday.

In London, 48 players — some famous and some unknown — teed off in a brand new golf league. The LIV Golf Invitational Series has turned the sport on its head, enticing players with Saudi-funded paydays, intriguing fans and infuriating the golf establishment. 

But, in the United States, just minutes after the shotgun start at the Centurion Club in London, the PGA Tour made an announcement that ensured the fracas between the 93-year-old tour and the deep-pocketed breakaway league would continue for months and potentially years to come. 

PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan announced the suspensions of 17 golfers who are competing in the opening LIV Golf tournament. The players, including Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson, will not be allowed to participate in future PGA Tour events or the Presidents Cup. 

“These players have made their choice for their own financial-based reasons,” Monahan wrote in a memo to the tour’s members. “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.”

The suspensions do not apply to golf’s four majors — the Masters, PGA Championship, U.S. Open or British Open — each of which has its own governing body. The USGA decided earlier this week that eligible golfers who defected for the LIV tour will be allowed to play at The Country Club in Brookline, Massachusetts, next week. 

Monahan added that any other PGA golfers who play on the new tour — such as Bryson DeChambeau and Patrick Reed, who will reportedly make their LIV debuts later this month — are also subject to the same punishments. Even the players who recently resigned from the tour to play in LIV tournaments, such as Johnson, Kevin Na and Sergio Garcia, were included in the suspension.

The suspension news was far from a surprise, as Monahan did tell golf agents last week that players who spurn the PGA will face repercussions after he previously denied conflicting-event releases to those who wished to play in tournaments on both tours. However, Monahan didn’t go as far as handing down the lifetime bans that he previously floated, although it’s unclear when — or if — the suspended players would be welcomed back. 

LIV Golf, run by CEO Greg Norman and funded by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, called the PGA Tour’s punishment “vindictive.” 

“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 Golf 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.”

Just before Monahan’s announcement spread online, tens of thousands of fans flooded into the YouTube livestream as golfers took to their first tees at 9 a.m. on the East Coast (2 p.m. in London). A few hours later, more than 100,000 viewers tuned in. 

According to Apex Marketing Group, the YouTube livestream for the entire first round averaged 93,000 viewers, while the broadcast on Facebook averaged 3,300 viewers. The total viewership is far less than the 375,000 viewers that PGA Tour first rounds average, according to Apex, but those events have the advantage of being broadcast on television, not solely online. 

Charl Schwartzel, the 2011 Masters champion and one of the 17 golfers who were suspended by the PGA Tour, led the pack with a 5-under-par 65. Johnson and Mickelson, who reportedly signed low nine-figure deals to play on the controversial tour, both shot 1 under and are tied for seventh. 

As the two biggest names at the tournament, Mickelson and Johnson both had their moments during an up-and-down round, as Lefty and DJ both made long birdie putts that got loud cheers from the reportedly meager crowd. 

The inaugural event, in addition to only being 54 holes compared to the standard 72, debuted the added twist of a team competition on top of the individual tournament. The golfers were split into teams of four that were drafted by 12 captains and given strange names like Niblicks, Torque and Cleeks.

Stinger GC, led by South Africans Schwartzel, Hennie du Plessis (4 under), Branden Grace (2 under) and captain Louis Oosthuizen, was atop the team leaderboard through the first round.

The $25 million purse — triple that of this weekend’s RBC Canadian Open on the PGA Tour — will be split among all 48 players, as the three-round tournament style doesn’t have any cuts. The winner will receive $4 million, while the top three teams will split $5 million.

• Jacob Calvin Meyer can be reached at jmeyer@washingtontimes.com.

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