American Phil Mickelson practices at the LIV Golf Invitational London on Wednesday in Hemel Hempstead, England. Photo by Hugo Philpott/UPI | License Photo
June 9 (UPI) -- The PGA Tour suspended 17 players who are competing in the first event of the Saudi-backed LIV Golf Invitational Series this week near London after it warned of potential discipline, the U.S.-based league said Thursday.
PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan announced the disciplinary measure in a memo sent to members, which was obtained by UPI. LIV Golf released a statement hours later and called the PGA Tour move "vindictive."
"We have followed the tournament regulations from start to finish in responding to those players who have decided to turn their backs on the PGA Tour by willfully violating a regulation," Monahan wrote.
Dustin Johnson, the No. 15 player in the Official World Golf Ranking, was the highest-ranked player suspended.
No. 21 Louis Oosthuizen, No. 34 Kevin Na, No. 35 Talor Gooch, No. 57 Sergio Garcia, No. 69 Matt Jones, No. 72 Phil Mickelson, No. 78 Lee Westwood, No. 92 Ian Poulter and No. 95 Hudson Swafford are among the Top 100 players impacted by the ban from PGA Tour play.
No. 123 Branden Grace, No. 126 Charl Schwartzel, No. 215 Martin Kaymer, No. 327 Peter Uihlein, No. 374 Graeme McDowell, No. 1,099 Turk Petit and No. 1,371 Andy Ogletree also were suspended.
"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," LIV Golf said. "This certainly is not the last word on this topic."
Monahan noted that "the same fate holds true for any other players who participate in future Saudi Golf League events" in violation of PGA Tour regulations. That could impact the PGA Tour aspirations of No. 28 Bryson DeChambeau and No. 37 Patrick Reed, who are expected to join LIV Golf later this season.
"The era of free agency is beginning as we are proud to have a full field of players joining us in London, and beyond," LIV Golf said.
Johnson, Garcia, Na, McDowell, Grace, Kaymer, Oosthuizen, Petit, Schwartzel and Westwood previously informed the PGA Tour that they resigned their memberships.
LIV Golf Invitational London teed off Thursday and runs through Saturday at the Centurion Club in Hemel Hempstead, England. The event conflicts with the PGA Tour's RBC Canadian Open, which runs from Thursday through Sunday in Toronto.
Thursday's suspension also bars the players from the Presidents Cup and other tours sanctioned by the PGA Tour, in addition to this season's primary tournaments.
The players who resigned their memberships will be removed from the FedExCup points list. The PGA Tour said that change will be reflected at the conclusion of the RBC Canadian Open.
"As you know, players [suspended] did not receive the necessary conflicting event and media rights releases -- or did not apply for releases at all -- and their participation in the Saudi Golf League/LIV Golf event is in violation of our tournament regulations," Monahan wrote.
Several of the top players admitted that they chose to compete in the rival league in what they called free agency, with each LIV Golf event prepared to offer much larger purses than PGA Tour tournaments. Monahan called those decisions disrespectful to fans, fellow competitors and PGA Tour partners.
"These players have made their choice for their own financial-based reasons," Monahan wrote. "But they can't demand the same PGA Tour membership benefits, considerations, opportunities and platform as you.
"That expectation disrespects you, our fans and our partners. You have made a different choice, which is to abide by the tournament regulations you agreed to when you accomplished the dream of earning a PGA Tour card and -- more importantly -- to compete as part of the preeminent organization in the world of professional golf."
Monahan credited Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods and Arnold Palmer for their role in building up the PGA Tour.
"This week, the RBC Canadian Open is a shining example of what you have created with the PGA Tour: a star-studded field, a committed sponsor, sold-out hospitality offerings, record crowds and a global broadcast distribution," Monahan wrote.
"These elements are part of the Tour's DNA, built by the likes of Jack and Arnie, furthered by Tiger and countless others -- whose legacies are inextricably linked, with each other and with the PGA Tour. This collective legacy can't be bought or sold."
The breakaway league continues to be controversial among golfers because of Saudi Arabia's record of human rights violations.
No. 1 Scottie Scheffler, No. 2 Jon Rahm, No. 6 Justin Thomas and other top golfers continue to be peppered with questions about the LIV Golf series at news conferences, and have said they are committed to the PGA Tour. Scheffler is the favorite at the Canadian Open.
Johnson is the favorite to win this week's 48-player, 12-team LIV Golf event. Coverage of the first tournament will air start at 9 a.m. EDT Thursday, Friday and Saturday and air on LIVGolf.com and on the league's Facebook page and YouTube channel.
The 54-hole format season will continue June 30 to July 2 at Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club in North Plains, Ore.
South African Charl Schwartzel lifts the inaugural LIV trophy at the Centurion Club in Hemel Hempstead, England, on June 11, 2022. Schwartzel won $4 million for winning the event. Photo by Hugo Philpott/UPI | License Photo