PGA Tour says Saudi-paid players no longer eligible for tour

Sports

(AP) — Dustin Johnson, Phil Mickelson and other PGA Tour members who teed off in the Saudi-funded golf league Thursday are no longer eligible for PGA Tour events under penalties Commissioner Jay Monahan shared soon after the first tee shot was struck.

Still to be determined is whether those players are ever welcome back.

The ban includes participation in the Presidents Cup, which would involve the South African trio of Louis Oosthuizen, Charl Schwartzel and Branden Grace.

The USGA already has said eligible players can still compete in the U.S. Open next week. The PGA Tour does not run the majors.

In a memo sent to tour members, Monahan said that even if players resigned from the tour ahead of the first LIV Golf Invitational outside London, they will not be allowed to play PGA Tour events as a nonmember by getting a sponsor exemption.

Nine players have resigned from the PGA Tour, a list that includes Johnson and Sergio Garcia. Mickelson, who earned lifetime membership with his 45 PGA Tour titles, has not.

“These players have made their choice for their own financial-based reasons,” Monahan wrote. “But they can’t demand the same PGA Tour membership benefits, considerations, opportunities and platform as you. The expectation disrespects you, our fans and our partners.”

At issue is players competing without a conflicting event release from the PGA Tour. Players typically receive three such releases a year, but Monahan denied releases for the LIV Golf Invitational because it is an eight-tournament series that has five events in the United States.

The tour does not allow releases for events in North America.

“We have followed the tournament regulations from start to finish in responding to those players who have decided to turn their backs on the PGA Tour by willfully violating a regulation,” he wrote.

The player penalties come after days of heated interviews and debates over so-called “sportswashing” — an attempt by the Saudi government to distract from the country’s human rights abuses.

At a press conference for the Liv Golf tour, English professional golfer Ian Poulter was asked, “Is there anywhere in the world you wouldn’t play. If Vladimir Putin had a tournament, would you play in it?”

He replied, “that is speculation. I am not going to comment on speculation.”

A reporter again asked, “Just in the generality is there any way you wouldn’t play on a moral basis. If the money was right? Is there anywhere you wouldn’t play?”

Poulter said, “I don’t need to answer that question.”

The reporter then asked English professional golfer Lee Westwood, “Lee do you want to answer? Would you have played in apartheid South Africa for example?”

Westwood replied, “You are just asking us to answer a hypothetical question.”

Reporter: “They are moral questions.”

Westwood: “I don’t want to answer a question on that.”

The awkward exchange around the elephant in the room.

Liv Golf courting PGA players with deals that dwarf their previous earnings reignites an old debate, should athletes be putting profits over patriotism?

“You know, you’re away from your family 30-35 weeks a year. It has to be worth it financially, otherwise, it’s a big sacrifice you’re making for no return,” Graeme McDowell, a professional golfer from Northern Ireland, said. “So, you’re always weighing up from a business point of view, ‘what is the best financial outcome for me, for my time spent?'”

The NBA spent years investing in the Chinese market, then found itself at a crossroads when the league was accused by both Democrats and Republicans of suppressing players’ and owners’ free speech during the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong.

And that’s not the only example of “sportswashing” to come out of China.

The United States held a diplomatic boycott of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics.

And football fans from around the world will be cheering on their favorite team during the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar, a move widely criticised due to the country’s human rights violations.

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