Justin Thomas: LIV players shouldn't return to PGA Tour 'that easily'

League: Golf

Posted on: 06 Feb, 2024 at 11:01 PM

Credit: Michael Madrid-USA TODAY Sports

Justin Thomas is on the side of Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler and others that LIV Golf players still should be penalized in a would-be merger of the Saudi Arabia Public Investment Fund's interests and the PGA Tour.

The PGA Tour is still in negotiations with the PIF, which financially backed LIV and got several big names to break away from the tour in 2022 and 2023. The PGA Tour suspended those players indefinitely for playing on the LIV circuit, most recently World No. 3 Jon Rahm of Spain, who signed with LIV in December.

Since then, a consortium of U.S.-based sports franchise owners called the Strategic Sports Group has made an initial $1.5 billion investment to become minority owner of PGA Tour Enterprises, the tour's new for-profit wing.

But if the PGA and PIF do complete a deal, it remains to be seen how that will affect the future of LIV and its players. Northern Ireland star Rory McIlroy, once the fiercest critic of LIV, recently did a 180 in saying that LIV players who wish to return to the PGA Tour should be able to do so without sanction.

"I would say that there's a handful of players on LIV that would make the tour a better place," Thomas said Tuesday ahead of the WM Phoenix Open, "but I'm definitely not in the agreement that they should just be able to come back that easily."

Thomas' opinion follows those of close friends Spieth and Fowler, who have also made clear in recent days that they don't align with McIlroy's sudden lenience. Some players came out last year to say they believe the PGA Tour should reward members who did not take LIV's money.

"I think there's a lot of us that made sacrifices and were very -- whether it's true to our word or what we believe in or just didn't make that decision," Thomas said, "and I totally understand that things are changing and things are getting better, but ... I would have a hard time with it, and I think a lot of guys would have a hard time with it, and I'm sure we don't need to convince you why we would have a hard time with it.

"I think there's a scenario somewhere, whatever it is, down the road of some kind of version of some guys being back, but when and what that is, I have no idea."

PGA Tour Enterprises, among other things, provides a structure to allow players to own equity in the tour.

Fenway Sports Group and other sports team owners and groups, including the New York Mets' Steve Cohen and the Atlanta Falcons' Arthur Blank, formed Strategic Sports Group in order to engage with the tour about helping fund PGA Tour Enterprises. SSG immediately stepped into the role of commercial adviser for PGA Tour Enterprises. The agreement calls for investment up to $3 billion.

Thomas said he did not know whether SSG would try to make significant changes to the tour.

"Clearly this is something that they view as an investment, and to be able to have it grow -- which is exciting as a player but also as a fan of golf because for that to continue to grow and get better, then our product is going to get better, which is going to be more fan friendly to watch," Thomas said.

"Everything about it should continue to get better and more and more watchable and enjoyable and just people wanting to be fans of golf. That part of it is exciting to me, both as a player and as a fan."

--Field Level Media