The Commercial Appeal
PGA Tour will need a path back for LIV players
PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – When it comes to delivering his message, Jay Monahan is more mechanic than missionary, at ease in a boardroom but less so in the pulpit. He is defensive by disposition, on record as saying he wakes each day thinking someone is trying to steal his lunch.
Meeting the press at The Players Championship, the PGA Tour commissioner’s words suggested he knows the tide has turned in his favor in the war with LIV Golf. His body language, however, hinted at a man who might consider a padlock in a sock among his negotiating tools, a slouchy wariness spiked with a faint whiff of almost amiable menace.
Like most executives, Monahan is disinclined to tackle speculative questions. What has happened, or what will happen, is fair game. What might happen is for backroom conversations, particularly in the charged environment in which Monahan now exists. At TPC Sawgrass, he swatted away those abstract inquiries with a practiced hand.
“Getting into hypothetical situations given where we currently are is not a worthwhile effort,” he replied when asked about the possibility of merging with LIV, against which the tour is locked in bitter litigation. “I think any other hypotheticals are just not worth talking about.”
“I know this is hypothetical,” another questioner began gamely, asking about the status of the DP World Tour’s arbitration case as it seeks to bar Liv-allied players from its events.
“I can’t speak to, you know, what’s happening with the resolution panel,” Monahan said. “I’m going to leave that for you guys to understand, and I’m not going to comment on it.”
The third such query he fielded was on how the PGA Tour might handle requests to return by players who have defected to LIV.
“The players that are playing on that tour are contractually obligated to play on that tour, so any hypotheticals at this point really aren’t relevant, and I think you know me well enough to know I’m
not a big fan of hypotheticals,” he responded. “But our position, to answer your question directly, has not changed.”
Experience has taught Monahan that the problem with hypotheticals is that they often become theticals. So while the tour’s position hasn’t changed, it will.
Only LIV’S most punch-drunk parasites continue to delude themselves that the Saudi-financed league has a pathway to success.
The combination of a lousy product, no audience traction and perilous legal exposure for its secretive owners doesn’t portend a long life. However the end eventually comes – whether slow and agonizing (like the 1996 Masters) or in a sudden, crushing blow (say, the 1987 Masters) – it poses the same problem for Monahan: how to rehabilitate LIV players back into the PGA Tour’s ecosystem.
There’s no sentiment favoring that in the locker room, where attitudes have
hardened amid costly litigation and public sniping. Nor it is considered a pressing issue, since no LIV player has publicly asked to return. But what happens when one or more do so?
LIV’S ranks include many of stout resume, albeit weak character. There are others to whom fans might still relate, if only they could see them in action. And more they’d simply like to root against, since LIV selfishly signed all the jerks, or at least the ones with a profile as such. Eventually, whether under pressure from fans or top players – or simply to avert the possibility of another rival league taking shape with less amoral baggage – the PGA Tour will want to recycle LIV’S refugees. Privately, some executives admit as much with a weary resignation.
That will eventually become Monahan’s problem to solve, but it is not his solution to initiate.
There is no chance the commissioner will announce to players who remained loyal that a guy who cashed out for tens of millions of dollars last year is coming back. Any move to allow LIV players back has to originate in the locker room. Monahan’s team will have to create the mechanisms to facilitate it and devise whatever sanctions are required beforehand, but the desire to see it happen starts, or ends, with members.
Any rehab process promises to be messy, both in punishments to be served and processes to return. Are there periods of suspensions? Should playing privileges be re-earned on other tours? There are those who want to see clawbacks of the cash bestowed by the Saudis, a notion that is entirely fanciful.
Complicating matters is the reality that some LIV players, like Phil Mickelson, would be as welcome in a PGA Tour locker room as foot fungus. Bryson Dechambeau too, still a litigant in the LIV antitrust suit. Or Patrick Reed, for reasons so numerous that only a serially censured attorney could ignore them. Yet any process to return can’t draw lines in the sand that exclude some while embracing others. Anyone resistant to seeing some of their former peers would just have to hope that shame would prevent them from showing face again, an optimistic outlook given their priors.
At TPC Sawgrass there are renewed whispers about multiple LIV players having buyer’s remorse, especially in light of the lucrative new structure taking shape at their former workplace. As noted by the judge in California’s Northern District, LIV contracts are iron-clad and escaping wouldn’t be easy for players. But breaches go both ways if LIV falls short of what players were promised, whether in expenditures, team prize money payments or schedule commitments. The potential for players seeking a path back is not as remote as it might once have seemed.
The Players Championship is without its defending champion this week, Cam Smith being among those who departed. Whether he will be here for some future tournament is another matter. There will come a day when that question – about Smith, and all of his fellow travelers at LIV – has to be addressed. Those elected to represent PGA Tour players had best start addressing themselves to possible answers.