Phil Mickelson faces threat of PGA Tour ban over help to 'set up' Saudi Super Golf League
Jay Monahan, the PGA Tour’s commissioner, will use Tuesday’s mandatory players’ meeting to emphasise that any pro signing with the Super Golf League will face a lifetime ban, despite the Saudi-funded circuit assuring would-be renegades that Monahan is not in a legal position to carry out his threat.
Monahan will address the members at the Honda Classic in Florida with speculation rising that he will reference the statements credited to Phil Mickelson, which have overshadowed this week’s $12 million Genesis Invitational here at Riviera Country Club.
While the overwhelming majority of the headlines picked out Mickelson calling the Saudis “scary mother-------” to be involved with – but at the same time indicating he was prepared to overlook “their horrible human rights record” to gain leverage against the PGA Tour – what might be of more interest to Monahan and his staff at Sawgrass HQ is another of his admissions.
In a conversation with the author of the forthcoming book Phil: The Rip-Roaring (and Unauthorized) Biography of Golf’s Most Colorful Superstar Mickelson claimed that he and three other top players had hired attorneys to draw up a players’ operating plan for the SGL.
It is one thing to be courted by the breakaway circuit, but it is another to help build it and this could give Monahan grounds for punishing the 51-year-old regardless if he has yet put pen to paper. In his row over media rights and what he sees as the leading players being shortchanged, Mickelson has accused the Tour of “obnoxious greed” and of “running a dictatorship” and this increasingly bitter scenario has led Golf Digest, the leading American publication, to run an article entitled: “Has Phil Mickelson done enough to be suspended by the PGA Tour?” Tom Allen, a lawyer practising in employment law, concludes he has.
“They have some pretty strict rules, they are pretty clear this falls squarely in that,” Allen said. “The PGA Tour can decide whatever they deem appropriate. Setting up a competing tour, trying to undermine this tour, he’s exposed to sanctions.”
When contacted by Telegraph Sport about a Mickelson ban, a Tour spokesperson responded: “As per our standard operating procedure, we don’t have any comment regarding potential disciplinary action.” Except, as Allen told Golf Digest, there is nothing “standard” about Mickelson’s actions.
“It’s like a conspiracy, guys can talk about something, but once you start acting on it, it’s something else. You now have actual concrete evidence and those comments are no longer just criticism,” Allen said. “You would take away players, tour sponsors – sponsors that make the purses what they are. That will really be enough. You’ve taken steps that are actions unbecoming a PGA Tour member.”
At LIV Golf investments, however, there is a wholly contrasting belief. The entity fronted by Greg Norman and set up to run the Saudi golf mission, with the $500 billion sovereign wealth fund at its disposal, has repeatedly told its targets that they are not risking being cast into the golfing wilderness.
“The tours can’t ban any players,” an insider said. “The Saudis have had the best lawyers on it and they’re certain they can’t. Especially the PGA Tour. They lose their charitable status if they try to do that.”
A legal battle awaits, therefore. Meanwhile, where will Mickelson be seen next? He has not played since the Saudi International three weeks ago and not on the PGA Tour since January. He is not entered in the Honda and there is a body of opinion suggesting he will not play until the Masters in April.
With the SGL seemingly enticing players nearing the end of their career - England’s Lee Westwood and Ian Poulter are mulling over offers - it is appropriate that the final day of this tournament will feature a top five of a leaderboard all of whom are under 30 years of age.
The Chilean Joaquin Niemann continues to lead the way, shooting a 68 to move to 19-under and extend his lead to three over American Cameron Young (69). Norwegian Viktor Hovland (65) is three future back with Justin Thomas (70) on 12-under and Collin Morikawa (68) on 11-under.
Paul Casey is in a tie for 12th on eight-under after a 66 and Rory McIlroy is eyeing another top 10 on seven-under following a 67.