PGA Tour Suspensions: “Jay Went by The Book,” Says Rory McIlroy

Rory McIlroy, PGA Tour, Mandatory Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports
Rory McIlroy, PGA Tour, Mandatory Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports /

While many want to paint PGA Commissioner Jay Monahan as the bad guy in the LIV Golf situation, Rory McIlroy came to his defense today.  With good reason.

"“Jay’s been pretty transparent in terms of he’s just going to act within the tournament regulations and the rules that are set for a PGA Tour member. All he’s doing is basically going by the book,” Rory McIlroy said."

Rory McIlroy meant the PGA Tour Handbook which outlines what’s expected of PGA Tour members and what they should expect from the PGA Tour.

“I think he’s (Monahan) done the right thing because these guys have broken rules and done things outside of the tournament regulations, and because of that, there are going to be consequences,” Rory McIlroy added.

This has to be difficult for Rory McIlroy because one of the players involved is his very good friend, Sergio Garcia.

However, the consequences, currently, are suspensions of 17 players, meaning their memberships and ability to play events on the PGA Tour are gone, at least for now.

With regard to the Tour’s regulations, which includes suspensions, David Duval, speaking to Golf Channel from the American Family Insurance Championship said, “The way I view it is simply kind of the condition of membership you’ve chosen to agree to.”

Rory McIlroy added that no one was making anybody take up PGA Tour membership.  It’s a choice.

Now, it’s hard to find all facts in this situation. The latest version of the PGA Tour rules and regulations available online is the 2019-2020 handbook. There may be changes in a later edition or this may be the most recent one.

By reading through this version, it’s clear what’s expected of players.  It’s also clear that Phil Mickelson certainly violated rules before any tournaments were held because he made public verbal attacks on the PGA Tour.  The rest of the players violated the conflicting event rule by playing in the LIV tournament this week without releases being approved.

Rory McIlroy, Phil Mickelson, Jay Monahan, Tiger Woods, LIV Golf, PGA Tour
Phil Mickelson, LIV Golf, Mandatory Credit: Paul Childs-Action Images/Reuters via USA TODAY Sports /

Other players who joined LIV, though they were not vocally against the PGA Tour, except perhaps Sergio Garcia – and his comments were not disparaging — have made a decision to participate in another golf organization which may be said to compete with the PGA Tour and therefore, might be construed by some as harming the PGA Tour.  That’s a question for lawyers to decide.

Regarding comments made by Mickelson and Greg Norman, who presumably is no longer a PGA Tour member, Section 6. E of the 2019-2020 handbook says quite clearly:

"“It is an obligation of membership to refrain from making comments that unreasonably attack or disparage others, including, but not limited to tournaments, sponsors, fellow members/players and/or PGA TOUR. Speech that could be reasonably viewed as hateful, abusive, obscene and/or divisive is expressly prohibited.”"

It continues to say that responsible expressions of disagreement are not prohibited, but follows that with:

"“Public comments that a member knows, or should reasonably know, will harm the reputation or financial best interest of PGA TOUR, a fellow member/player, a tournament sponsor or a charity are expressly covered by this section. Any violation of this section shall be considered conduct unbecoming a professional.”"

Mickelson pretty much crossed that line with his “obnoxious greed” comment.  Never mind anything else.

But there’s more.  Mickelson’s complaints about players’ media rights seem ridiculous after reading section B1 which deals with Media Rights and says:

"“The television, digital, radio, motion picture and all other media rights of all players participating in PGA TOUR cosponsored and coordinated tournaments, pro-ams or any other golf event conducted in conjunction with PGA TOUR cosponsored and coordinated tournaments (e.g., clinics, long-drive contests), or any portion thereof, are hereby granted and assigned to PGA TOUR. Based upon this grant and assignment, all such rights shall be the property of and expressly reserved by and to PGA TOUR, and any use thereof without the express written consent of PGA TOUR shall be forbidden.”"

That doesn’t mean people can’t get rights to footage from PGA Tour events.  It just protects the property of all of the players from being used without the Tour as a whole – which means all the players — being compensated in some way. And it is a way that the Tour can compensate the players.

Everyone has heard of purses going up after new rights deals are negotiated. That’s part of what the Tour does on behalf of the players as a whole. Typically the way it works.

A portion of the regulations extends to tournament play by members outside the framework of the PGA Tour and indicates that rights fees may be required.

That would include events such as The Match. It doesn’t say rights fees must be paid, although they usually are.  It indicates some negotiating room.  In theory, rights fees should be paid by LIV tournaments, although they have chosen to conflict with the PGA Tour on so many fronts that it is hard to know where to start.

Rory McIlroy, Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Jay Monahan, PGA Tour, LIV Golf
Tiger Woods, PGA Tour, (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images) /

At the PGA Championship, Tiger Woods said, for example, that he and the group behind The Match, had paid rights fees for television and verified that those fees go to all players on the PGA Tour. His tournament, the Hero World Challenge, would also fall into that category.

When Woods was asked if the rights fees were distributed back to the players, he said, “Correct.”

“We negotiate with the Tour, and whether it’s one-off day events like we have with matches under the lights like I used to do back in the old days, or it’s regular Tour events, each tournament is different. Obviously, there are right fees that have to be paid, and we understand that,” Woods said when asked about his experience with that aspect of being an organizer of a tournament.

When Woods was asked if the rights fees were distributed back to the players, he said, “Correct.”

Now, even with all the suspensions, there may be a silver lining for those who jump to LIV.

The handbook also has paragraphs that deal with players being reinstated after resigning, being suspended, or being terminated.

It deals with regular players, ages of players, foreign players, and players who have multi-season exemptions. In each case, it appears that anyone who is suspended will likely have to wait a season before they can become a PGA Tour member again.

There is also a special category for those who are terminated not related to poor performance with regard to scoring.  They have to wait for six months to request rejoining, and they then have to get the vote of two-thirds of the PGA Tour Policy Board.

So, what that means is that there may be a road back for those who left.  Maybe they read all the regulations and just decided, OK, I’m suspended or terminated for a while, but in the interim, I pick up $125 million, as reported in Dustin Johnson’s case.

It appears they may have an avenue back if they want to reapply for membership. The tour does not have to accept their application to rejoin, but it doesn’t expressly say that it’s impossible for them to rejoin.

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In other words, it’s a money grab.  The money was big enough that they all decided to risk it.  We have to see how it works for them.  The PGA Tour will be fine.  The way most of the rest of the Tour players see it is that’s 17 players I don’t have to beat.

The way the Korn Ferry Tour views it is they have better chances to advance to play PGA Tour events when there are more open spots.

The most important thing to remember in all this is what Rory McIlroy said, that Jay went by the book.  It’s what he’s supposed to do.