PGA Tour stars, including Tiger Woods, met on Tuesday to grapple with the LIV Golf series, which has lured away tour players with staggering sums of money, and emerged feeling positive but unwilling to detail how they planned to fend off the rebel golf start-up or live somewhat peacefully alongside it.
The meeting was the latest turn in what has been an uncharacteristically antagonistic year in golf, and it came just a week after a federal judge ruled that the PGA Tour can bar LIV golfers from the FedEx Cup playoffs, which conclude at the end of August.
Ahead of the BMW Championship, PGA Tour players on Wednesday were reluctant to share specifics about the meeting, held in Wilmington, Del., that attracted Woods, who flew in from his home in Florida to attend. Rory McIlroy, the world No. 3, described the meeting to reporters on Wednesday as “impactful.”
McIlroy said Woods’s leadership at the meeting was crucial as players discussed how to improve the PGA Tour and contend with the rift in the golf world since the emergence of the Saudi-backed LIV Golf Invitational series. (The PGA Tour announced in June that it would suspend players who joined the LIV series.)
“His role is navigating us to a place where we all think we should be,” McIlroy said of Woods’s presence. “He is the hero that we’ve all looked up to. His voice carries further than anyone else’s in the game of golf.”
While players were quick to praise Woods, they demurred when it came to sharing any actionable steps that came from the meeting.
“What’s the short-term? What’s the medium-term? What’s the long-term?” McIlroy said. “That’s something that we have to figure out.”
Xander Schauffele told reporters on Wednesday that he wanted to see a resolution that ended in “some sort of unity.”
“It was a really nice meeting. It was great. It was exciting. It was new. It was fresh,” Schauffele said. “I am very hopeful with what’s to come.”
Schauffele, the world No. 6, told reporters there was “a little bit of a code” to keep quiet.
“I think I’d be pretty unhappy if I saw one of those guys from last night just blabbering to you guys what we talked about,” Schauffele said. “That would be really frowned upon, and you probably wouldn’t get invited back to the meeting.”
Justin Thomas, the world No. 7, said at a news conference that the meeting was “productive” and that the players who attended “just want the best for the tour and want what’s in the best interest.”
“I’d just hope for a better product,” Thomas said. “I think that’s the hope in general of anything, is just to try to improve ourselves, where we’re playing, everything the best that we can.”
Thomas said that having Woods present gave the meeting added credibility.
“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.”
McIlroy said that in addition to dealing with LIV Golf, the PGA Tour would also eventually have to handle a world without Woods on the tour.
“The tour had an easy job for 20 years,” McIlroy said. “They’ve got a bunch of us, and we’re all great players. But we’re not Tiger Woods.”
Adding to Tuesday’s drama, Patrick Reed, the winner of the 2018 Masters who joined LIV Golf in June, filed a defamation lawsuit against Golf Channel and the commentator Brandel Chamblee, seeking $750 million in damages.
The lawsuit, which was filed in a federal court in Texas, claims that the network and Chamblee have conspired with the PGA Tour to defame LIV players “with the intention to destroy them and their families professionally and personally” and eliminate LIV Golf as a competitor.
According to the lawsuit, Golf Channel, Chamblee and the PGA Tour have conspired since Reed was 23, about nine years ago, “to destroy his reputation, create hate, and a hostile work environment for him, and with the intention to discredit his name and accomplishments.”
For Chamblee and Golf Channel, “it does not matter how badly they destroy someone’s name and life, so long as they rake in more dollars and profit,” the lawsuit said.
Larry Klayman, a lawyer for Reed, said that “we are confident of prevailing in court,” adding that “it’s a very strong complaint.”
“While Chamblee’s and NBC’s Golf Channel’s never-ending defamation with regard to Mr. Reed, as set forth in the complaint is not new, with his joining of LIV Golf, it has reached new, intolerable heights,” Klayman said in a statement.
Lawyers for Golf Channel and Chamblee could not be reached.
The LIV Tour, which is financed by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, has drawn much attention and criticism in recent months. Among those who have left the PGA Tour for LIV Golf are Bryson DeChambeau, Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka and Phil Mickelson. Mickelson sparked outrage in February when it was reported that he had said that the LIV series was a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” even as he called Saudi Arabia’s record on human rights “horrible.”
Mickelson, who is reported to have received as much as $200 million to sign with the breakaway tour, is among 11 golfers who defected from the PGA Tour and then filed an antitrust lawsuit earlier this month against the PGA Tour, seeking to challenge its suspensions and other measures that have been used to discipline players who have joined LIV Golf.