The 2017 Masters champion, Sergio García, has resigned from the PGA Tour in favour of the Saudi Arabian-backed LIV Golf Series, which tees off this week at the Centurion Club in Hertfordshire.
The Guardian understands García plus the South African trio of Louis Oosthuizen, Branden Grace and Charl Schwartzel have followed the lead of Kevin Na in terminating their PGA Tour relationship ahead of the $25m (£20m) LIV event. Management for the foursome are yet to respond to a request for comment but sources in the United States confirmed the position. Na announced his plans in a social media statement on Saturday.
The widely-held theory is that golfers are seeking to avoid potential penalties from golf’s main tours – as could in theory affect their eligibility to play in major championships – by removing themselves from the member list. Whether such a policy prevails to be seen but García’s exit from the PGA Tour, on which he is an 11-time winner and a fan favourite, is notable.
Interestingly, it is believed García, Schwartzel, Oosthuizen and Grace have not taken the same position towards the DP World, formerly European, Tour. The PGA Tour has been clear in its public stance that any golfer who tees up on Thursday in England will be in breach of their membership regulations. There has been no clarity, though, on exactly what sanctions may be handed down. Speculation has largely surrounded bans. The DP World did not grant releases for its members to play at Centurion but has said nothing in public at all. García, a Ryder Cup icon for Europe, would ordinarily be a future captain.
García gave more than a hint this a scenario would be forthcoming during a spat with a rules official during the Wells Fargo Championship last month. “I can’t wait to leave this tour,” said the 42-year-old. García has accumulated $54.4m (£43.5m) in winnings in his PGA Tour career. He started this week 57th in golf’s world rankings.
Speaking at the start of this year in Dubai, García articulated his belief that he should be able to compete wherever he chooses. “When you get banned from playing, or whatever, it hurts the game,” he said. “People want to see us play all around the world and enjoy us wherever we go so I hope that won’t be a problem.”
Phil Mickelson, who will make his competitive return at Centurion after taking the final spot in the 48-man field, has no apparent intention of resigning his PGA Tour membership. He is a life member. Speaking to si.com before boarding a flight to the UK, Mickelson admitted for the first time that the scale of his betting had once become problematic. “My gambling got to a point of being reckless and embarrassing,” Mickelson said. “I had to address it. And I’ve been addressing it for a number of years. And for hundreds of hours of therapy. I feel good where I’m at there. My family and I are and have been financially secure for some time.”