PGA Tour commissioner defends suspending LIV defectors: 'It's been an unfortunate week'

Though he admitted that it was an “unfortunate week” for golf, PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan defended his move to suspend players who defected to the LIV Golf Invitational Series.

Monahan spoke on CBS during the final round of the RBC Canadian Open on Sunday, one day after Charl Schwartzel won the inaugural LIV event in London. Schwartzel, along with Dustin Johnson, Phil Mickelson, Sergio Garcia and others, have all been suspended by the PGA Tour for their involvement in the controversial Saudi Arabian-basked league.

“It’s been an unfortunate week that’s been created by some unfortunate decisions — those decisions being players choosing to violate our tournament regulations and me then communicating to our members something that I never want to communicate to our members,” Monahan said.

“But it’s my job to protect, defend and celebrate our loyal PGA Tour members, our partners and our fans, and that’s exactly what I did. I don’t think it’s a surprise to anybody given how clear I had been about how we were going to handle this situation.”

Monahan didn’t say whether those suspensions were going to be permanent, but he was steadfast in his decision. And, if more people leave, more suspensions are sure to come.

“We made a decision last week to suspend those players, and they are no longer eligible for tournament play,” Monahan said. “That, at this point, is all we’re prepared to talk to. We’ll see how things continue to develop as we go down the road here.”

Why can’t players compete in both leagues?

Several more big names in golf committed to joining the LIV Golf series this week, including Bryson DeChambeau and Patrick Reed.

Monahan and the tour have been clear on their position about the rival league from the beginning, and have denied official requests by players to compete in it.

Jim Nantz asked Monahan directly why golfers can’t compete in both leagues, something many fans have wondered. Not only do golfers need an exemption to play in a conflicting event, Monahan said he knows that those playing on the LIV Golf series actually need the PGA Tour.

“Why do they need us so badly? Those players have chosen to sign multi-year lucrative contracts to play in a series of exhibition matches against the same players over and over again,” Monahan said. “You look at that versus what we see here today, and that’s why they need us so badly. You’ve got true, pure competition … That’s why they need us. That’s what we do. But we’re not going to allow players to free ride off of our loyal members, the best players in the world.”

PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan
PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan defended his decision to suspend golfers from the Tour after leaving for the LIV Golf series. (Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

‘Have you ever had to apologize for being a member of the PGA Tour?’

Outrage and criticism continued through the first LIV Golf event this weekend in London even as almost every golfer competing there either shut down questions about Saudi Arabia’s sportswashing and human rights abuses or was willing to overlook them.

Whether they admit it or not, it all comes back to money. Schwartzel earned $4 million for his win on Saturday, and both Mickelson and Johnson reportedly signed deals worth more than $100 million.

Slain Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s fiancee spoke out and called for golfers to be banned from major championships for “supporting murderers.” A group of families and survivors of the 9/11 terrorist attacks sent a letter to Mickelson, Johnson and others on Friday calling them out for playing in the league too.

Monahan was asked about that letter specifically on Sunday in Toronto.

“I think you’d have to be living under a rock to not know that there are significant implications [of playing in the LIV Golf Invitational Series],” Monahan said. “As it relates to the families of 9/11 … my heart goes out to them.

“I would ask any player that has left or any player that would ever consider leaving, have you ever had to apologize for being a member of the PGA Tour?”

What about the majors?

Monahan didn’t have much to say about the major championships and how they will handle the golfers who have left for the LIV series.

The four major championships are operated separately from the PGA Tour. The USGA has said that those players will be able to play in the U.S. Open next week.

“From my standpoint, I’m going to spend all my time focused on our membership and our broader tournament schedule,” Monahan said. “Those decisions are up to them.”

As for the Official World Golf Rankings, Monahan had a similar feeling. That ranking system is also independent, but it’s not yet recognizing any LIV events in its point system — something that could eventually hurt players when trying to qualify for majors.

“When you look at the world golf ranking, yes there are no points on that series … Those ranking points are a critical element to why the best players in the world are out here playing in this pure and true competition against the depth of field that we have,” Monahan said.

So Monahan is holding his ground, and the PGA Tour’s issues with the new controversial series aren’t going away anytime soon.