Why have LIV Golf players resigned their PGA Tour membership?
LIV Golf

Why have LIV Golf players resigned their PGA Tour membership?

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Golf fans may have awoken to a shock on Tuesday morning, when news came five hours ahead from England that a half-dozen players -- including Dustin Johnson, Sergio Garcia, Kevin Na, Louis Oosthuizen, Charl Schwartzel and Brendan Grace -- have resigned their PGA Tour membership ahead of competing in the first LIV Golf Invitational Series event this week.

Graeme McDowell has not "yet," in his words. Phil Mickelson could do the same.

Why did these players resign their membership? The decision to resign PGA Tour membership could be driven by three reasons.

The first thing is these players competing in LIV Golf events have almost certainly signed significant contracts with LIV Golf to compete in their events for at least this inaugural season, if not multiple seasons. That means they are guaranteed money in each tournament ($120,000 for last place) and secured guaranteed money by signing with the Saudi-backed league. They likely don't need even a hint of access to the money offered by the PGA Tour.

The second reason could be how these players perceive a potential legal fight with the PGA Tour.

The PGA Tour has said it would sanction -- if not outright ban -- members who played in LIV Golf events without a release from commissioner Jay Monahan. The release process has been in process for years, and the Tour has long told players it would not grant releases for competing events played in North America. Four of eight LIV Golf events will be played in the United States, meaning the Tour saying no to the ones overseas guarantees they'll say no to all of them.

These players could respond to potential sanctions by trying to sue the PGA Tour or resign their membership.

By resigning their membership, the players are effectively taking away the prospect of lengthy, expensive legal proceedings that they seemingly perceive as not likely to go their way or simply not worth it to them in the long haul. It could look bad from a public relations perspective. Resignation, which is effectively a retirement from the PGA Tour, can also preserve the vesting players have in the PGA Tour's lucrative retirement program. Top players that are fully vested into the program are guaranteed large monthly payments from the growth of deferred income they earned from their PGA Tour career, and resigning membership should allow them to hold onto that when they need it.

These players resigning seems to suggest any potential legal issues will be reserved for the owners of the major championships and the Ryder Cup.

Augusta National Golf Club owns the Masters and runs it as an invitational tournament. They don't have to invite any past champions, like Johnson, Garcia and Schwartzel, back to compete.

The PGA Championship is an invitational tournament, and they can change the criteria moving forward.

The challenge may come for the US Open and Open Championship, but even then, both of the USGA and R&A can say they'll allow formerly exempt players -- including a champion like Louis Oosthuizen -- to go through the full open qualifying process even if they lose their exemptions.

The PGA of America has said American players will need to be PGA Tour players to qualify for the US Ryder Cup team. The European Tour Group has long said the same for the European Ryder Cup team. Don't expect those rules to be amended.

The final reason for the resignations could be the shock value. It could be contractual; maybe it's not. However, a coordinated resignation of a half-dozen players, including several major champions, could be seen by some as a repudiation of the PGA Tour business model or a total embrace of the LIV Golf concept. Moving on from the PGA Tour -- at least in the present -- sends a signal that these players believe in the leap they've taken to this breakaway concept.

Is this a smart decision? Ask again in five years.

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Ryan Ballengee

Ryan Ballengee is founder and editor of Golf News Net. He has been writing and broadcasting about golf for over a decade, working for NBC Sports, Golf Channel, Yahoo Sports and SB Nation. Ballengee lives in the Washington, D.C. area with his family. He used to be a good golfer.

Ballengee can be reached by email at ryan[at]thegolfnewsnet.com

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