The LIV Golf Invitational Series is off for a month, purposely staying away from the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup playoffs for the next three weeks—and clearly with the idea long ago that perhaps those who joined the controversial new venture might be able to compete in these tournaments.
It was clear when PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan issued indefinite suspensions to those who played in LIV events that doing both would not be allowed.
And then what was likely inevitable became reality last week when 11 LIV Golf players sued the PGA Tour for anti-competitive practices, with three of them—Talor Gooch, Hudson Swafford and Matt Jones—seeking a temporary restraining order seeking the ability to play in the FedEx Cup playoffs because they have qualified via previous results.
So much for a quiet period in the war that is the PGA Tour vs. LIV Golf. The first playoff event starts this week at the FedEx St. Jude Invitational, with a ruling expected on Tuesday.
A good number of the PGA Tour players have spoken out against the “LIV 11,’’ clearly annoyed that they are—as members of the Tour—being sued by their peers. There’s a strong sense among them that if LIV was the choice of those who left, they should stick with it—and not want to “have their cake and eat it, too,’’ which has become the cliché of choice.
“Their version is cherry-picking what events they want to play on the PGA Tour,’’ Billy Horschel said at the Wyndham Championship. “Obviously, that would be the higher-world-ranking events and bigger purses. It’s frustrating. They made a decision to leave and they should go follow their employer. I know there are guys a lot more angry and frustrated about it than me.’’
Said Will Zalatoris: “What they’re doing over there is detrimental to our Tour. You can’t have it both ways. A lot of guys will be pretty frustrated if they’re allowed to do both.’’
There is a good chance that the three players seeking to be allowed to play this week under the a temporary injunction will be granted that opportunity. If it happens, then the PGA Tour likely will make the decision to expand the field to 128 players.
A couple of thoughts on all this:
> The LIV players who went with the “play less, more free time’’ argument for making the move did themselves no favors. They make for easy fodder now that a lawsuit has been filed. All who signed on to LIV were fully aware that the League schedule was going to 14 events next year and that they are required to play all the events. The PGA Tour requires 15 events for membership and you can play the ones you want.
And those 15 include the four majors. A LIV player who is exempt for the four majors would be playing 18 events. He will all but certainly be required to play the Saudi International tournament on the Asian Tour. And there are rumblings that the contracted players are either requested or required to play two of the Asian Tour’s International Series events. That would bring them to 21 total.
This was a poor talking point all along, and it looks worse now that some LIV players also want to be able to play in PGA Tour events.
> There is also the other side. Not all LIV players went down the road of saying they wanted to play less or suggested they didn’t want to compete in PGA Tour events. Several had hoped there could be an agreement with the PGA Tour to do both. Phil Mickelson, for all of his issues with PGA Tour policy, did not resign his membership. He said from the beginning in an interview with Sports Illustrated that he wished to remain a member and pointed out that as a Lifetime Member, he was not required to play 15 events. He felt he could do both.
Kevin Na praised the PGA Tour for all it had done for him but resigned his membership because he didn’t want any legal tussles. Others were appreciative of their time on the Tour and not suggesting their move was due to problems with the Tour. Gooch, for example, said at the very first event outside of London that he hoped to do both.
“I’m fortunate to have gotten to a point where I’m one of the better players on the PGA Tour currently, and I just don’t see how it benefits the fans, the game of golf to start throwing out bans, suspensions, things of that nature,’’ Gooch said. “I’m hopeful, and that’s why I haven’t submitted my resignation from the Tour, because I’m hopefully to continue to play the PGA Tour. And I’m hopeful that both LIV Golf and the PGA Tour can coincide. I don’t see any reason that can’t happen.’’
> From nearly the moment he signed on as CEO of LIV Golf Investments and as commissioner of the League, Greg Norman has said he felt LIV could operate within the structure of a bigger golf picture. He called it “additive’’ and said he had no problem with LIV players competing in PGA Tour events. He also made it clear he felt golfers were independent contractors and that they should be able to play where they want.
But Norman has been far from conciliatory in many of his recent comments. And there is a sense of vindictiveness coming through related to his years-ago quest to start a World Golf Tour that was effectively halted by then-PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem.
If anything, Norman should be playing nice. LIV has gotten off to a better start that ever envisioned. It has attracted far more players than it believed possible and will continue to do so, perhaps at a slow drip, but hurtful to the PGA Tour nonetheless. Still, cooperation from the PGA Tour—and the major championships—should be Norman’s goal. It only enhances LIV Golf if those things happen.
*Finally, there is Davis Love III, who a few weeks ago suggested players might consider boycotting events and has been quite vocal in his comments about the new venture.
“The whole situation is unfortunate. I didn’t try to single out the U.S. Open as the players striking or not—threatening not to play,’’ he said. “I was saying that if the LIV guys sue and are allowed to play on the PGA Tour, that the players are enough fed up with it, we understand that we make the rules on the PGA Tour and the commissioner’s enforcing our rules and we don’t want those guys playing, come and cherry-picking our tournaments, that we hold all the cards, not Jay or not (PGA of America CEO) Seth Waugh or (USGA CEO) Mike Whan.
“They don’t hold all the cards, we hold all the cards. If we say to the FTC and to Washington, no, we support the rules, we don’t want those guys playing, we don’t care what the courts say, our only option really, the nuclear option is to say, well, fine, if they have to play in our events, we just won’t play.’’
That is pretty bold, and while not backing off, Love did say in a Fire Pit Collective podcast that he could see the two sides trying to work together.
“Yes, 100 percent there can be a solution,’’ Love said. “I think Jay has enough forgiveness and grace in his personality and in his heart, that he doesn’t have a rift, he would love to figure out a way. So yes, if wasn’t the week before the major championships, if it wasn’t up against the core PGA Tour season, it could work.
“We could move our eight $25 million tournaments around and move their eight $25 million events around and not require they play every one of their 14 and we not require that you have to play 15 over here. Things can change, yes.’’
The LIV plan all along has been not to compete with the PGA Tour’s legacy events, to avoid weeks before majors (although it played its first one the week prior to the U.S. Open), to have several tournaments (this year it’s five) that come after the FedEx Cup playoffs.
Two weeks ago, I outlined a way in which the two entities might get along, requiring considerable comprise. LIV would need to lower its number of events from 14; the PGA Tour would need to lower its 15-event requirement from members who play LIV. The sides need each other too much.
For now, such a meeting of the minds seems a long way off. There is too much venom, too much animosity. In the meantime, a lawsuit that could take years will play out in the background, and the noise will not subside.
Getting the Call From Tiger
Webb Simpson had hoped to make the U.S. Presidents Cup team this year as the event is being played in his Charlotte backyard at Quail Hollow Country Club. But injury issues got in the way as he has dropped from 27th in the world to 74th. Simpson didn’t play from the Sony Open in Hawaii until the Players Championship and has never caught up.
The next best thing is being an assistant captain and Davis Love III made that official when he named Steve Stricker and Simpson as captains along with previously-named Zach Johnson and Fred Couples.
Stricker captained the U.S. team to victory at last year’s Ryder Cup and was also the winning Presidents Cup captain in 2017. Couples was a three-time winning Presidents Cup captain. Johnson is the 2023 Ryder Cup captain and was an assistant in 2018. And Love has been a Ryder Cup captain twice while assisting numerous times.
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Love cited the need to get some new blood into the pipeline as well as the local knowledge of Quail Hollow that Simpson would bring.
But it was Tiger Woods—apparently quite involved behind the scenes according to Love—who inadvertently let the secret out early.
Simpson said he was at a hot dog place in Wilmington, North Carolina, with his family two weeks ago when Woods called. Simpson told him he needed to call him back.
“He just referenced me living in Charlotte, Quail Hollow’s my home, that he thought it would bring a lot to the team,’’ Simpson said. “It meant a lot. But honestly, I got done with the phone call and I’m like, I don’t know if that was official or not. I don’t know if he’s rooting for me to be an assistant or if I am an assistant. So I just waited. And I saw Zach on Wednesday, the next day in Detroit, and Zach and I had a laugh about it.
“Davis still hasn’t called me, so I don’t know. Then Davis gave me a shout maybe the next night. But I feared not being part of it, but there was a part of me that’s like, if I don’t make the team and Davis goes in a different direction, that’s fine. But it’s going to be hard to see the Presidents Cup happen there and not be part of it in some way. So I was really relieved to get a chance to be a part of it.’’
1. Joohyung, Kim, who goes by Tom, became a special temporary member of the PGA Tour after the British Open by virtue of having earned more than the 125th finisher in points last year. Because he was not a full member, Kim was not eligible for the FedEx Cup playoffs even though he had easily earned enough points—until his Wyndham Championship victory. With a win comes immediate Tour membership. And Kim will be in the field this week at the FedEx St. Jude Invitational, 34th in the standings, with an excellent chance to advance to the Tour Championship.
2. It’s good to be Scottie Scheffler. Not only is the reigning Masters champion ranked No. 1 in the world, he heads into the FedEx Cup playoffs in the top spot. And he locked up a couple of other honors, the season-long $1 million Aon Risk Reward Challenge as well as the Comcast Business Tour Top 10, which brought another $4 million bonus.
3. Ashleigh Buhai overcame a triple bogey on Sunday at Muirfield to win a playoff at the AIG Women’s British Open over In Gee Chun. The playoff lasted four holes – all, unfortunately, the 18th at Muirfield – where she won with a par. It was her first LPGA Tour victory after three wins on the Ladies European Tour.
4. The 87 players who made the cut at the Wyndham Championship is the most since the PGA Tour reduced the number from 70 and ties to 65 and ties at the start of the 2019-20 season. The previous most was 84 earlier this season at the AT&T Byron Nelson.
It’s not unusual for players to switch caddies during a season. It’s actually quite common. But it is unusual for a player who is having a good deal of success to do so—especially in the middle of a tournament.
That is what happened with Will Zalatoris and his caddie, Ryan Goble, on Friday at the Wyndham Championship, where Zalatoris decided then to move on from the caddie he’s used for most of his pro career.
Zalatoris, who has runner-up finishes at both the PGA Championship and the U.S. Open and will be in a strong position to contend for the FedEx Cup title, said after completing his third round on Saturday that it was “the toughest decision I’ve had to make in my golf career.’’
Ranked 14th in the world and with seven top-10s this season, Zalatoris said he feared hurting a friendship and didn’t rule out bringing Goble back at some point. His coach, Josh Gregory, was on the back for the weekend and Zalatoris has lined up another veteran caddie, Joel Stock, for the FedEx Cup playoffs.
That Zalatoris could already say that on Saturday suggests he had a plan in mind recently.
“We were guys that we would love to have dinner together and hang out and what was going on on the course was starting to bleed off the course and that’s not what you want,’’ said Zalatoris, who shot 66-68 over the weekend. “He’s an incredible friend, I love him to death and I told him I had to do what’s best for me. … I think it was just getting a little unhealthy for both of us and obviously it hurts.’’
Alternate Travel Plans
Shane Lowry, like many, figured he had missed the 36-hole cut at the Wyndham Championship when he completed his round on Friday. He was at 1 under and all indications were the cut would come at 2 under. So Lowry headed South from Greensboro, North Carolina, to a home he has in Florida. Oops.
Due to storms and weather delays, the cut was not determined until Saturday morning. As it turns out, when play resumed at 6:45 a.m., Chris Gotterup was looking like he would make a bogey that would drop him to 1 under and bring the cut number down a stroke. Other factors were in play—Austin Smotherman would have also impacted the cut but he double bogeyed his final hole—and Lowry clearly had an idea it was going to change.
So he scheduled a private flight to get him back to Greensboro in time for the start of the third round.
He landed just after 9 a.m. and had plenty of time to be on site for his 11:20 a.m. tee time.
Lowry did little to take advantage of the situation, shooting rounds of 74-71 to finish tied for last.
The Masters Countdown
The first round of the Masters is in 241 days, which leaves plenty time those yet to qualify to earn an invitation to the 2023 tournament at Augusta National. The FedEx Cup playoffs provide plenty of incentive. A victory in either of the next two events earns an automatic invitation to the Masters. So does making it to the Tour Championship, where the top 30 in the final FedEx Cup points standings also earn an invitation. Tom Kim’s win on Sunday at the Wyndham also means a Masters invite for him.
Last week, the PGA Tour announced its 2022-23 schedule, with nine events this fall that will earn full FedEx Cup points, thus meaning an invitation to the Masters with a victory. The top 50 in the Official World Golf Ranking at the end of 2022 will also get an invitation. Winning the 2023 tournaments leading up to the Masters as well as being in the top 50 in the world two weeks prior are the other ways to get in.
> The joys of travel, according to Collin Morikawa.
> When Will Zalatoris has a short putt …
> The pain at the end of the PGA Tour’s regular season is real.
> The more we see, the more we believe that change is inevitable at Augusta’s par-5 13th.
The PGA Tour’s playoffs are here starting with this week’s FedEx St. Jude Invitational at TPC Southwind near Memphis. This is the first of three playoff FedEx Cup playoff events, with the top 125 in the regular season FedEx list having qualified for this tournament. It will have a 36-hole cut to the top 65 and ties.
Only two players moved into the top 125 after the Wyndham – Tom Kim, whose victory at the Wyndham gave him full PGA Tour membership and moved him to 34th in points. And Max McGreevy, who despite missing 15 of 21 cuts in 2022, shot a final-round 65 to tie for fifth and move from 126th to 104th.
Rickie Fowler, despite missing the cut, hung on to the 125th spot and will make the playoffs.
The points are increased for the playoffs, with 2,000 going to the winner instead of 500. That means a playoff event is worth four times that of a regular event, hence the possibility for more volatility.
The top 70 in points following the FedEx St. Jude advance to the BMW Championship next week in Wilmington, Delaware. From there, the top 30 head to the Tour Championship in Atlanta, where the 2021-22 FedEx Cup champion will be decided.
This is the first year for the FedEx St. Jude to be part of the playoffs. For years, it was a regular stop on the PGA Tour before transitioning to a World Golf Championships event. Last year, as a WGC tournament, the event was won by Abraham Ancer—who is now part of LIV Golf and won’t be competing.
The true “defending champion’’ would likely be considered Tony Finau, who won the first playoff event last year at the Northern Trust—which is no longer on the schedule.
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