Some of the PGA Tour’s top stars said they left a Tuesday night players’ meeting, which included Tiger Woods, in alignment about the future of their tour amid the mounting threat of the LIV Golf Invitational Series.
With the BMW Championship set to start Thursday morning in Wilmington, Del., much of the buzz around Wilmington Country Club has centered on that meeting and the continuing feud between the dueling golf circuits rather than the second leg of the FedEx Cup Playoffs.
Woods, who is not in the field this week and has played sparingly since his car crash in February 2021, has been candid about his allegiance to the PGA Tour as the upstart circuit has poached several high-profile golfers, including past major winners Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka, and Bryson DeChambeau.
Preventing more defections has become part of the agenda for Woods, who spoke about the importance of legacy before the start of the British Open last month at St. Andrews. Justin Thomas, who is close friends with Woods, provided a bit of insight Wednesday morning on the significance of the 15-time major champion making the trip to Delaware to meet with some of the Tour’s leading players at a Wilmington hotel.
“I think if someone like him is passionate about it, no offense to all of us, but that’s really all that matters,” Thomas said. “If he’s not behind something, then one, it’s probably not a good idea in terms of the betterment of the game, but two, it’s just not going to work. He needs to be behind something.
"I think he's been a great kind of leading role in a lot of ways in the game, for a lot of us."
Thomas did not disclose specifics of what was discussed at the meeting, which took place after practice rounds on Tuesday, but he said the tenor of the conversation centered on what would be best for PGA Tour players as LIV offers exorbitant amounts of money to lure away stars.
Rory McIlroy, a four-time major winner and another vocal supporter of the PGA Tour in its contentious battle with LIV, indicated that the meeting offered a respite from the sport's conflict.
“I think the one thing that came out of it, which I think was the purpose, is all the top players on this tour are in agreement and alignment of where we should go going forward, and that was awesome,” McIlroy said.
Among the more notable players in line to join LIV is Cameron Smith, according to the Telegraph. The No. 2 ranked player in the world and British Open winner withdrew from the BMW Championship Monday, two days after incurring a two-stroke penalty at the St. Jude Championship, the first of three events in the FedEx Cup playoffs.
Also absent from the BMW are three of the top nine finishers from last year's tournament at Caves Valley Golf Club in Owings Mills, Md., where Patrick Cantlay outlasted DeChambeau on the sixth playoff hole in one of the most compelling conclusions in recent memory.
As the conflict between tours simmers, players on Wednesday said that Woods, 46, continues to play an invaluable role on their tour, whether he's competing.
“I mean, he is the hero that we’ve all looked up to,” said McIlroy, ranked third in the world and ninth in the FedEx Cup standings. “His voice carries further than anyone else’s in the game of golf. His role is navigating us to a place where we all think we should be.
“I think he came because it was very important to him,” said Thomas, ranked seventh in the world and 10th in the FedEx Cup standings. “I think it shows how passionate he is about golf and wanting to improve it and paving the way for the next generation of young players to come out down the road.”
The meeting — which also included Rickie Fowler, who accompanied Woods to Delaware — unfolded a week after a federal judge ruled against LIV golfers Talor Gooch, Matt Jones, and Hudson Swafford in their bid for a temporary restraining order to allow them to compete in the FedEx Cup playoffs.
The trio had accumulated enough points to qualify but lost their PGA Tour privileges when they joined LIV, the Saudi Arabia-backed series with ties to Mohammed bin Salman. The country’s crown prince, according to US intelligence officials, authorized the plan that led to the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.
Eleven players on the LIV circuit, including DeChambeau and Phil Mickelson, filed an antitrust lawsuit against the PGA Tour earlier this month, challenging their suspensions. The suit charges the PGA Tour not only has threatened golfers who sought to play in LIV tournaments but also "threatened sponsors, vendors, and agents to coerce players to abandon opportunities to play in LIV Golf events."
The most recent manifestation of the feud between the circuits surfaced on Tuesday when Patrick Reed, a LIV defector, filed a defamation suit against television commentator Brandel Chamblee, alleging comments from the Golf Channel analyst have hurt him financially and his family emotionally.
The two have been in conflict since at least January 2020, when an attorney representing the then-PGA Tour player sent a cease-and-desist letter to Chamblee demanding he stop repeating an accusation that Reed cheated in the 2019 Hero World Challenge, an unofficial event in the Bahamas hosted by Woods. It was yet another ugly headline for a sport that's had many of them this season.
“It’s definitely fractured currently,” Xander Schauffele, the No. 6 player in the world and in the FedEx Cup standings, said when asked about a resolution to the saga between the PGA Tour and LIV. “Yeah, we’re just in the middle of it. In a nice, peaceful way would be a nice outcome.”