When the new LIV Golf series backed by Saudi Arabia formally debuted this year, it raised plenty of questions on who would jump from the PGA Tour to this new league. With the tour guaranteeing appearance fees in the millions, it wasn’t a huge surprise some of the biggest stars in golf like Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka and Bryson DeChambeau have decided to join.
However, some critics are pushing back against the new league, citing Saudi Arabia’s track record on human rights issues — including those pertaining to capital punishment, human trafficking, discrimination against religious minorities and strict interpretation of Sharia law.
The PGA Tour had warned players there would be repercussions of playing in LIV Golf events, and responded by suspending those who are indefinitely.
But can they legally do that?
Dr. Richard Franza, dean of the Hull College of Business at Augusta University, said golfers are independent contractors and the suspensions may end up being challenged in court.
“Nothing will be resolved until it goes to court,” said Franza. “I think there are three things that could determine if it goes to court or not. First — if someone who is playing LIV Golf wants to play in a PGA Tour event and they are barred. Second — if somehow the stance on majors changes, which I think is very plausible. Third — will these guys be included in the Official World Golf Rankings? This is important because the OWGR help determine automatic entry into the majors.”
Right now, golf’s four majors, the Masters, U.S. Open, PGA Championship and The Open Championship, are not run by the PGA Tour and have indicated they would not bar those playing in the LIV Golf series.
It’s apparent to most that this is a money move by the players. With the millions of dollars being guaranteed to Mickelson, Johnson and others, they are securing their future.
However, players could also be drawn to the series only having eight events, and the fact that there is a team component. Additionally, each tournament is just three rounds, compared to the four in a PGA Tour event.
Franza noted that, by leaving, players may be challenging the PGA Tour to change how they do business.
“I think in the grand scheme of things the guys would like to stay with the PGA Tour. But for some of them, it’s a way to try to get the PGA Tour to change things. I don’t know if the LIV players are looking for guarantees or not, but they’re probably looking for bigger purses, although purses have already gotten pretty big. I think they may want different events that aren’t all stroke play events,” added Franza.
The PGA Tour has recently announced significant prize money increases for some of their tournaments as a response to the LIV Golf series.