ORLANDO, Fla. – The whispers have turned to more overt hypotheticals in recent weeks and sparked a conversation that seemed impossible just a few weeks ago – is there a path back to the PGA Tour for players who joined LIV Golf and, if so, what would that path look like like?
To be abundantly clear, there have been no players who joined the breakaway circuit who have publicly professed a desire to come back to the PGA Tour, and based on player reaction at last week’s season opener for LIV Golf in Mexico, life is still good for those who crossed the line and cashed in.
The drumbeat of speculation that began in recent weeks, however, has only picked up momentum – so, if only as a theoretical exercise, how would the LIV defectors — who were either suspended by the Tour for violating conflicting-event and media release policies or resigned their membership — be reintegrated?
“It might be the most difficult question you could ask about all this stuff going on at the moment,” Adam Scott observed. “I think it seemed pretty clear that there is not a path as far as [Tour commissioner Jay Monahan] said. There’s no path at the moment, and I haven’t heard of any discussion to try to create one, to be honest.”
The starting point for any possible reconciliation begins at the Tour’s highest levels and on this front, Monahan has been purposely forthright.
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“They’ve joined the LIV Golf series and they’ve made that commitment. For most of them, they’ve made multiyear commitments,” explained Monahan last fall, when asked if a LIV player would be welcomed back. “Every player has a choice, and I respect their choice, but they’ve made it. We’ve made ours. … I think they understand that.”
But that hard line doesn’t resonate across the Tour. While the circuit is currently content with the status quo for the suspended LIV players, with multiple ongoing lawsuits and building animosity on both sides, there is a glimmer of opportunity among some players that the road to LIV Golf could be a two-way avenue.
“I don’t know what that looks like, but I would say there should be [a path back],” Rickie Fowler said. “The Tour was never created to be closed off. Now there may be, whether there are suspensions or a period of time where they may not be able to try [to rejoin]. But I think there should always be a way back in.”
“Currently, there’s not a path, but you can always make a path,” Max Homa said. “There definitely could be. Should be? I’m not sure.”
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Scott and Homa, not to slight Fowler, are two voices worth heeding, because, with the current leadership structure, they will have a say on whether the LIV players could be reintegrated. Both are player directors – Scott on the Tour’s policy board, Homa on the advisory council.
Webb Simpson is also on the policy board — one of five player directors. He said that while there have been no official conversations about creating a pathway back, there has been plenty of speculation related to the subject.
“It definitely comes up in conversations among players,” Simpson said. “I think there’s a way forward.”
In theory, that path would likely start with a player like Talor Gooch.
Although the Tour has been reluctant to give exact details on the various suspensions, the legal paper trail paints an unwelcoming picture.
According to the original antitrust complaint filed against the Tour in August in US District Court, Gooch was informed on June 30, 2022, following his start at the first LIV event in London, that he was suspended from playing the Tour and any affiliated tours through March 31, 2023. On July 23, 2022, two weeks after playing the second LIV event, Gooch was informed by the Tour that his suspension had been extended through March 31, 2024.
“The PGA Tour has threatened to impose further disciplinary sanctions on Gooch if he continues to play in LIV Golf events when he is not playing the Tour,” the complaint read. (Gooch later withdrew from the complaint altogether.)
All in all, Gooch has now played nine LIV tournaments, but it remains unknown if the Tour issued similar penalties for each start. This is compelling math because, according to court documents, Gooch’s contract with LIV Golf expires at the end of this year, which is as good a starting place as any for a possible reintegration.
“If I was in charge, I’d say yes, there’s a path back,” Billy Horschel said. “But you’re going to have to jump through some hoops.”
Among the penance players might face, Horschel suggested a one-year suspension from any Tour-sanctioned events and some sort of public apology. “Have them come to PGA Tour headquarters and have them address all the employees,” he explained. “At least for the players who said things that weren’t true about the Tour or sued [the Tour].”
Others suggested LIV players would need to requalify for the Tour via Q-School, the Korn Ferry Tour or exemptions, and that some sort of monetary fine would be involved; although, given the reported value of some LIV deals, it might take a hefty fine to have an impact.
Even Scott said he was open to considering the idea of a path back, although, he conceded, it wouldn’t be easy for either the LIV players or those who remained loyal to the Tour.
“I sit more on the side of giving people second chances, generally. People can make mistakes and people can get a second chance and make a right out of things,” Scott said. “I don’t know if that always works out. It certainly doesn’t in some areas of life; you don’t get a second chance.”
Perhaps the greatest unknown is how the players who remained loyal to the Tour — bypassing the untold riches some stars collected to play the Saudi-backed league — would react to some version of reconciliation.
“If you’re a player who stayed out here, I think it would be natural to be annoyed with a player who came back. However, I miss having all those guys. They bring a lot to the game of golf,” Homa said. “If I put my pettiness aside – and maybe a little bit of financial jealously – if I believe in what I say, that I’d like to leave this game better after I’m done, then that – talking about having the best players all at the same events – grows the game more.”
If there is a path back, and the desire for such a concession at the circuit’s highest level seems lukewarm at best, would the Tour be inclined to treat all defectors equally – from Phil Mickelson to Peter Uihlein to Dustin Johnson? While continuity would be the likely avenue for any return, there are those who would be inclined to an à la carte policy.
“The Tour has the ability to do a case-by-case basis,” Horschel said. “I would have no problem with case-by-case. Is that right? I don’t know.”
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In other words, will the unpopular, litigious or particularly polarizing players who bolted for LIV be welcomed back with the same zeal as those who weren’t as outspoken and were able to maintain long-held friendships? It all speaks to the delicate balance that any reintegration would demand.
Monahan’s hard line makes some players uncomfortable, but without some form of conciliation, the lure of a better deal, be it with LIV Golf or some other form of competition, would only grow.
Scott also warns that the most contentious time in the Tour’s modern history will require a uniquely measured approach. There might be a path back for the LIV players, but it’s going to require calmer heads on both sides of the divide and, at the moment, the temperature in the room feels too hot.
“I think the dust would really have to settle for the PGA Tour to start looking at pathways back. To see it clearly,” Scott said. “There’s animosity going on, and when there’s emotion involved, it’s hard to make rational, fair decisions.”