PGA Tour suspends Phil Mickelson, others for involvement in Saudi-backed LIV event

Phil Mickelson plays on the 18th during the Pro-Am at the Centurion Club, Hertfordshire ahead of the LIV Golf Invitational Series.

Steven Paston | PA Images | Getty Images

The PGA Tour has suspended 17 golfers, including major championship winners Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson, who are competing Thursday in the Saudi-backed LIV Golf event near London. The suspensions are indefinite.

The players “did not receive the necessary conflicting event and media rights release — or did not apply for releases at all,” according to an internal PGA Tour memo. The PGA Tour will also suspend any future tour players who play in LIV events, says the memo, which is dated Thursday.

“These players have made their choice for their own financial-based reasons,” the memo reads. “But they can’t demand the same PGA TOUR membership benefits, considerations, opportunities and platform as you.”

Mickelson, who’s about to turn 52, has been a major recruiter for LIV Golf, which is funded mainly by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund. He hasn’t participated in a golf tournament since February. His deal with LIV is reportedly worth about $200 million. Johnson’s deal is worth about $125 million, The New York Post reported.

Mickelson, who has won six major golf championships, is second behind Tiger Woods on the PGA Tour’s career money leader list with nearly $95 million. Johnson is third with about $74 million. (Woods declined a massive offer to join LIV, according to Greg Norman, another former PGA star who serves as the CEO of LIV Golf Investments.)

Norman, Mickelson and others have taken heat for aligning with the venture despite the Saudi government’s past human rights abuses, including its involvement in the killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi. (A Saudi court sentenced several people to prison terms over the killing.) In February, Mickelson told his biographer that he believes it’s “scary” to be involved with the Saudis, but said there were other factors at play.

Read the PGA Tour memo here.

“They execute people over there for being gay. Knowing all of this, why would I even consider it? Because this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reshape how the PGA Tour operates,” he said at the time.

Mickelson didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment from CNBC. Johnson said he had no comment.

As for whether the players will be able to rejoin the tour later, the PGA Tour memo said, “Trust that we’re prepared to deal with those questions and we’ll approach them in the same way we have this entire process: by being transparent and respecting the PGA TOUR regulations that you helped establish.”

LIV Golf in a statement called the decision “vindictive” and said it “deepens the divide between the Tour and its members.”

“It’s troubling that the Tour, an organization dedicated to creating opportunities for golfers to play the game, is the entity blocking golfers from playing. This certainly is not the last word on this topic. The era of free agency is beginning as we are proud to have a full field of players joining us in London, and beyond,” the organization said.

The LIV event in England is the first of eight scheduled tournaments. Five of them are set for the United States, including two on courses owned by former President Donald Trump.

Here is the list of players. The asterisks denote players who have already told the PGA Tour that they’re resigning their memberships. You can read the full internal memo here.

  • Sergio Garcia*
  • Talor Gooch
  • Branden Grace*
  • Dustin Johnson*
  • Matt Jones
  • Martin Kaymer*
  • Graeme McDowell*
  • Phil Mickelson
  • Kevin Na*
  • Andy Ogletree
  • Louis Oosthuizen*
  • Turk Pettit*
  • Ian Poulter
  • Charl Schwartzel*
  • Hudson Swafford
  • Peter Uihlein
  • Lee Westwood*

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