Sanctions and sportswashing – The key questions as golf’s rebel series kicks off

The first LIV Golf Invitational Series event gets under way at Centurion Club on Thursday, with six-time major winner Phil Mickelson the star attraction.

The controversial tournaments have dominated the agenda in recent months, creating a split between those happy to take the Saudi money and the likes of Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy, who have pledged their loyalty to the PGA Tour.

Here, the PA news agency looks at what could happen next in the divisive saga.

Will players face sanctions for competing in the LIV events?

Dustin Johnson
Dustin Johnson has resigned from the PGA Tour (Steven Paston/PA).

PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan has consistently said that players who compete on a rival tour without receiving permission would be “subject to disciplinary action”. Dustin Johnson and Sergio Garcia are among those to have seemingly avoided this by resigning from the PGA Tour, but Mickelson has no intention of giving up his lifetime membership. Johnson’s resignation does, however, mean he is not eligible for the Ryder Cup, as things stand.

What will the sanctions be?

A monetary fine is no deterrent given the amount of money players are receiving simply to take part, not to mention the USD 25million (GBP 19.9million) prize fund in each of the first seven events. LIV Golf CEO Greg Norman has also pledged to “reimburse” players if they are fined. Banning or suspending players would seem to be the only option, although that would almost certainly lead to a legal challenge as players feel they are “independent contractors” who should be allowed to play where they want.

What about the majors?

The USGA announced on Tuesday that it would not prevent the likes of Mickelson and Johnson from playing in next week’s US Open, saying it would not be “appropriate, nor fair to competitors,” to change the entry criteria once established. The R&A is expected to take the same approach regarding July’s Open Championship, but the USGA statement did not address what may happen in the future and stressed that its decision “should not be construed as the USGA supporting an alternative organizing entity, nor supportive of any individual player actions or comments”.

Will the LIV Golf events be a success?

Underwhelming sales appeared to lead to several players being asked to offer free tickets on their social media platforms over the weekend, while journalists covering the event have also been offered three guest passes each. There is no network television deal currently in place and the first event will be broadcast on YouTube and Facebook, but Ian Poulter believes other players will be watching with interest, especially when the winner’s cheque for USD 4million (GBP 3.2million) is handed out on Saturday.

What about the accusations of sportswashing?

These have dominated the build-up to the series and will not go away once it gets under way, with Amnesty International using the eve of the tournament to renew its call for players to speak out about human rights abuses in Saudi Arabia. Sacha Deshmukh, Amnesty International UK’s chief executive, criticised players for “sidestepping the real gravity of Saudi Arabia’s appalling human rights record”, saying: “Platitudes about golf being a ‘force for change’ mean very little if players are acting as unofficial arms of the Saudi government’s PR machine.”