If you’re a golf fan and also the type of person who gets pumped and jacked at the thought of guys in suits sending aggrieved messages on fancy letterhead to each other, then this was a big morning for you. PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan released a long and fairly spicy statement this morning, saying that all of the golfers who decided to join the new Saudi golf league will be banned from all future PGA Tour events. You are free to shout, “Let’s goooo!” after reading this letter, but I will not respect you for it.
For people who are not fans of golf, or even just casual followers of the sport, this letter probably raises a lot of questions. Specifically: So can these guys still play in the majors, or what? I only really pay attention to the majors. The short answer, for now, is that they sure can.
One of the more confusing things about following golf is trying to make sense of all the different professional tours and governing bodies, and understanding how they each control their little corners of the sport. You’ve got the PGA Tour, the European PGA Tour, the USGA, the R&A, and, most maddeningly, the PGA of America, which is different than the PGA Tour. The USGA is a governing body that sets the rules for golf in the United States and Mexico, while the R&A performs the same function in Europe. The PGA Tour operates 45 or so professional golf tournaments in the U.S. every year, and crowns a tour champion at the end of each season through point totals and a three-tournament playoff format. The European PGA Tour runs a similar tournament schedule in Europe, and crowns its own tour champion using roughly the same format. I honestly do not know what the PGA of America is, or what it does.
So, the Saudi golf gang has so far only been banned from participating in events that are hosted by the PGA Tour, which means they will miss out on a lot of opportunities to play in tournaments and win prize money, and also cannot compete for the tour championship. Crucially, however, this does not mean they are currently barred from participating in any of the four major tournaments that are held each year. That’s because the PGA Tour doesn’t actually put on any of the major tournaments! The Masters belongs to Augusta National, the U.S. Open belongs to the USGA, the Open Championship belongs to the R&A, and the PGA Championship belongs to the PGA of America, which, once again, is not the PGA Tour. Because none of those organizations have said that the golfers who went to the Saudi league will be banned from their tournaments—in fact, the USGA already came out and said that they would all be welcome at the U.S. Open this year—those guys are currently in the clear for participating in each of the major tournaments.
Perhaps the PGA Tour’s actions today will embolden these other tour organizers to initiate bans of their own—I would wager that such an outcome is exactly what the PGA Tour was hoping to trigger with their statement today—but for now you can still expect to see Phil Mickelson and his increasingly bizarre visage bumbling around some of the only golf tournaments you ever bother to watch.