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Ahead of PGA Tour’s richest tournament, tensions simmer between players and leadership

Amid fevered anticipation of the 50th edition of The Players Championship, the continuing rifts in men’s golf remain hard to ignore.

The sport is still reeling from the impact a breakaway organization – LIV Golf, founded in 2021 and bankrolled by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) – has had and the subsequent proposal of a partnership with the PGA Tour, which has led to further friction between the players and those in charge.

LIV Golf has stolen players away from the PGA Tour – such as multiple major winners Jon Rahm, Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson – and offers more money for less events, though it has failed in its repeated attempts to be recognized by the sport’s world ranking body.

Then last June, the PGA Tour sent shockwaves through the sport after announcing it and the DP World Tour had come to a surprise reconciliation agreement to join forces with PIF’s golf-related commercial businesses and rights.

The deadline for this partnership was initially set for December 31 but was extended into 2024. Now, with The Players set to tee off on Thursday, there is as much focus on PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan and how he will handle the proposed partnership as there is on the action at TPC Sawgrass.

“We have a shared vision to quiet the noise and unlock golf’s worldwide potential,” Monahan told the media on Tuesday ahead of the tournament in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida.

He said the deal with LIV Golf is “going to take time” but talks are “accelerating.”

“Negotiating a deal with PIF is the best outcome (for the PGA Tour),” Monahan said.

An official deal between the PGA Tour and LIV Golf is still pending. - Ben Hsu/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
An official deal between the PGA Tour and LIV Golf is still pending. - Ben Hsu/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

“I want to speak directly to our fans, our most important constituent, and ones that maybe haven’t felt their voices heard lately. All of this talk about investment and growth, I want you to know that we’re focusing that energy on bringing forth the most competitive and entertaining tour possible for you,” he added.

When asked about what he would have done differently when he looks back on how this process with the PIF has played out, Monahan said, “Obviously, when you look back to last summer, I could have handled that better and I’ve taken full responsibility and accountability for that. That’s on me.”

Schauffele: Monahan has ‘a long way to go’ to gain trust

However, Monahan’s comments do not appear to have appeased some of those who are affected by the merger, including world No. 6 Xander Schauffele.

“Trust is something that’s pretty tender, so words are words, and I would say in my book [Monahan’s] got a long way to go,” Schauffele said on Tuesday.

“He could be the guy, but in my book, he’s got a long way to go to gain the trust of the membership.”

Other players however, such as world No. 1 Scottie Scheffler, remain determined to concentrate on the future of their own tour.

Scheffler is the current world No. 1 and won The Players Championship in 2023. - Sam Greenwood/Getty Images
Scheffler is the current world No. 1 and won The Players Championship in 2023. - Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

“If guys want to go take the money and leave, then that’s their decision. I’m not going to sit here and tell guys not to take hundreds of millions of dollars,” Scheffler said.

“If that’s what they think is best for their life, then go do it. I’m not going to sit here and force guys to stay on our Tour. But at the end of the day, this is where I want to be, and we’re continuing to grow what we’re doing, and what they’re doing is not really a concern to me.

“We had a Tour. We were all together, and the people that left are no longer here. At the end of the day, that’s where the splintering comes from.”

Scheffler is bidding to become the first man ever to retain the Players Championship title, which runs this week from March 14-17.

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