Thursday May 26, 2022

Justin Thomas, Scottie Scheffler respond to PGA Tour denying releases for golfers in Saudi-funded event

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Justin Thomas and Scottie Scheffler were among the golfers to respond to the PGA Tour denying releases for players looking to compete in the Saudi-backed LIV Golf Invitational Series inaugural event.

The debut tournament, worth a record $25 million, is set to be held at the Centurion Club in the United Kingdom next month around the same time as the PGA Tour’s RBC Canadian Open.

The PGA Tour has granted releases to players in other international events, but it won’t be the case this time, as the tour informed its players of the decision Tuesday in a short memo obtained by The Associated Press.

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PGA TOUR Commissioner Jay Monahan speaks to the media during a press conference prior to THE PLAYERS Championship on the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass on March 08, 2022, in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida.

PGA TOUR Commissioner Jay Monahan speaks to the media during a press conference prior to THE PLAYERS Championship on the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass on March 08, 2022, in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida. (Cliff Hawkins/Getty Images)

“We have notified those who have applied that their request has been declined in accordance with the PGA Tour Tournament Regulations. As such, Tour members are not authorized to participate in the Saudi Golf League’s London event under our regulations,” the memo said. “As a membership organization, we believe this decision is in the best interest of the PGA Tour and its players.”

While the decision by Commissioner Jay Monahan took many by surprise, Thomas, the 2017 PGA Championship winner, said it didn’t come as a shock. 

“I think Jay’s made it very clear from the start of what would happen or, you know, I think a lot of people are probably like, ‘I can’t believe you did this’ or, ‘Wow, you went through with it.’ But I mean this is what he said was going to happen all along,” Thomas told Golfweek at this week’s AT&T Byron Nelson in Texas. “It’s one of those things to where he just doesn’t want the competing tour, the back and forth.”

Justin Thomas hits out of a bunker on the 15th fairway in the first round of the Northern Trust golf tournament at TPC Boston, Thursday, Aug. 20, 2020, in Norton, Mass.

Justin Thomas hits out of a bunker on the 15th fairway in the first round of the Northern Trust golf tournament at TPC Boston, Thursday, Aug. 20, 2020, in Norton, Mass. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

World No. 1 Scottie Scheffler, who is fresh off winning the Masters last month, said he supported the move. 

“If you’re playing here on the PGA Tour, playing in something that could be a rival series to the PGA Tour, being a member of our Tour, it’s definitely not something where we want our membership to do because it’s going to harm the tournament,” Scheffler said, via the outlet. “I’m sure that’s why … they did not release the players. Because if we have 15 guys go over there and play that hurts the RBC and the Canadian Open.”

Hideki Matsuyama, of Japan, helps Scottie Scheffler put on the green jacket after winning the 86th Masters golf tournament on Sunday, April 10, 2022, in Augusta, Ga.

Hideki Matsuyama, of Japan, helps Scottie Scheffler put on the green jacket after winning the 86th Masters golf tournament on Sunday, April 10, 2022, in Augusta, Ga. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

Meanwhile, two-time major winner Greg Norman released a statement criticizing the decision to deny releases for his Saudi-financed invitational golf series, which he hopes to build into a full super league by 2024.

PGA TOUR GOLFERS WON’T GET RELEASES TO PLAY IN SAUDI-BACKED RIVAL LEAGUE: REPORTS

“Sadly, the PGA Tour seems intent on denying professional golfers their right to play golf, unless it’s exclusively in a PGA Tour tournament,” Norman said. “No matter what obstacles the PGA Tour puts in our way, we will not be stopped.”

Norman is the CEO of LIV Golf Investments, which is holding the inaugural event that runs from June 9-11 at the golf club outside London. During an interview with Sky Sports this week he said that 36 of the top 150 players will be playing in the event.

Greg Norman, of Australia, watches his tee shot on the first hole during the final round of the PNC Championship golf tournament on Dec. 20, 2020, in Orlando, Fla. Norman is heading up a Saudi-backed company that plans 10 new tournaments on the Asian Tour to attract top players. It could be the first step toward Norman trying again to start a world tour.

Greg Norman, of Australia, watches his tee shot on the first hole during the final round of the PNC Championship golf tournament on Dec. 20, 2020, in Orlando, Fla. Norman is heading up a Saudi-backed company that plans 10 new tournaments on the Asian Tour to attract top players. It could be the first step toward Norman trying again to start a world tour. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack, File)

Norman also defended the source of his $2 billion in financial backing which comes from the Saudis’ Public Investment Fund. 

Monahan previously granted releases to roughly two dozen players for the Saudi International in February, which occurred on the same week as Pebble Beach. But golfers who attended were required to play at Pebble Beach up to two times over the next three years. 

PGA Tour’s RBC Canadian Open is being held on the same week as the LIV Golf Invitational.

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The commissioner said if players challenge him by playing in the LIV Golf Invitational, it would lead to them being disbarred. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report

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