In an escalating war of words, European tour CEO Keith Pelley fired back Friday at 16 players who have threatened legal action if they remain punished for ignoring tour regulations by playing in the Saudi-funded LIV golf events.
The Daily Telegraph obtained a copy of the letter to the DP World Tour — the commercial name of the European tour — in which players demanded their fines be rescinded and they be allowed to play in the Scottish Open next week.
The European tour fined players who competed in the inaugural LIV Golf event 100,000 pounds. The event was outside London, the same week as a European tour event in Sweden, and players did not have releases required under tour regulations.
It was rare for a tour executive to go public with his criticism. Pelley said the letter contained “too many inaccuracies that it cannot remain unchallenged.”
Pelley said players knew before choosing to sign up for the rebel league there would be consequences and many of them accepted that. He said it wasn't credible for players to now be surprised by the punishment.
“The letter claims that these players ‘care deeply’ for the DP World Tour,” Pelley said in his statement. “An analysis of the past participation statistics on our tour in recent years of several of the leading players named suggests otherwise.”
He said one player, whom Pelley did not name, has played only six Rolex Series events in the last five years. Those are designated as elite events on the European tour with biggest funds and points.
“I wish many of them had been as keen to play on our tour then as they seem to be now, based on the fact they have either resigned their membership of the PGA Tour or, if they are still in membership, have been suspended indefinitely,” he said.
He also said players are competing in Oregon for $25 million in prize money the same week the Irish Open has a new title sponsor. Pelley said one of the players at the LIV Golf event previously signed a commitment to play the Irish Open.
The Scottish Open is the first time a tournament is co-sanctioned by the PGA Tour and European tour, offering an $8 million purse with the 156-man field divided evenly among both tours. The Barbasol Championship next week in Kentucky allows for 50 European tour players.
The Telegraph said the 16 players who signed the letter included Lee Westwood, Ian Poulter and Sergio Garcia.
It cited the letter as saying, “Instead of spending our time, energy, financial resources, and focus on appeals, injunctions, and lawsuits, we would implore you, the custodians of the DP World Tour, to reconsider your recent penalties and sanctions, and instead focus our energies on forging a path forward that is better for the DP World Tour members and the game of golf."
The letter also criticized a 13-year joint venture with the PGA Tour that was announced this week, which allows for the leading 10 European tour players to get PGA Tour cards. It accused Europe of being willing to be “second fiddle” to the U.S. tour.
It was the latest example of increasing angst among the PGA Tour, European tour and the LIV Golf group run by Greg Norman.
Earlier this week, Fred Couples told golf.com about Phil Mickelson, "I don’t think I’ll ever to talk to him again, What for? I’m not in the same boat as him anymore, and probably never will play golf with him again. I’m not saying that to be mean. We’re just in different orbits.”
Mickelson was a chief recruiter for Norman and LIV Golf. His comments disparaging the Saudis, the rebel league and the PGA Tour wound up slowing the process of LIV Golf signing players.