The PGA Tour has told the organizers of the Japan Golf Tour that any of its members who participated in LIV Golf Series events this year or LIV Golf Tour events during the 2022-23 season will be barred from competing in PGA Tour-run tournaments, including the Zozo Championship and the Korn Ferry Tour Qualifying Tournament.
The move helps explain why all four of the Japanese players who competed in the last LIV Golf Invitational Series event in New Jersey are not in this week’s field outside of Boston.
Yuki Inamori, Ryosuke Kinoshita, Jinichiro Kozuma and Hideto Tanihara had played at Trump Bedminster in July and formed an all-Japanese team.
Sports Illustrated obtained a copy of the letter the Japan Golf Tour sent to its members this week. In the letter, the JGTO quotes correspondence with the PGA Tour which explains the decision.
Any players who participated in LIV Golf events to this point “remain ineligible for all events across all PGA Tour sanctioned tours through the end of the calendar year, including the Zozo Championship,” according to the letter.
The PGA Tour had no comment but clarified that the restrictions on LIV players extend to those beyond Japan Tour players and it is not specific to the Zozo Championship.
Here is the letter:
Inamori, ranked 90th in the world, Kinoshita, ranked 119th and Kozuma, ranked 134th, all competed in the Zozo Championship last year. The tournament is an official event on the PGA Tour schedule, played outside of Tokyo and co-sanctioned by the Japan Golf Tour (JGTO), which designates 10 of its members to compete in the event.
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Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama won the Zozo Championship last year and is expected to defend his title in October. The 2021 Masters champion, who also won the Sony Open earlier this year, has long been the subject of speculation concerning LIV Golf. He told the Associated Press at the Tour Championship that he would not be joining LIV Golf.
It is unclear if his decision was in any part based on the PGA Tour’s stance regarding Japanese players, which according to the JGTO, was first brought to its attention on Aug. 22. The JGTO, in its letter to the members, said it sought clarification on those who had already competed in LIV events and what it meant for the rest of this year. None of the four players who have competed so far would be allowed to try and qualify for the Korn Ferry Tour, for example.
“If a JGTO member does not participate in any further unauthorized events during the 2022-2023 PGA Tour season, they would be eligible to participate in the 2023 Sony Open and the 2023 Zozo Championship,” the letter said. “However, if they participate in any further unauthorized events, they will not be eligible for any events sanctioned by PGA TOUR through the end of 2023 including the 2023 Zozo Championship.”
None of the four Japanese players has any sort of PGA Tour membership. They’ve all mostly competed on the Japan Golf Tour as well as the Asian Tour.
“We would have loved to have had these players join LIV, but we respect their decision given the unfortunate, anti-competitive threats imposed on them by the PGA Tour,” LIV Golf said in a statement. “The lengths the Tour is going to to stop players from joining LIV is quite amazing.”
Inamori, Kinoshita and Kozuma played in and missed the cut at the PGA Championship this year. Kozuma also missed the cut at the US Open. Inamori won the Japan Players Championship in June while Kozuma won the Token Homemate Cup 2022.
Four other players who competed at Bedminster are not in this week’s field: South Africa’s Hennie Du Plessis and Justin Harding, Australia’s Travis Smyth and Spain’s David Puig. The LIV Golf Invitational Series has used various criteria for qualification along with invites to fill its fields and all of those players were competing on a per-event basis.
LIV Golf last week joined an antitrust lawsuit brought against the PGA Tour originally by 11 players but is now seven. The argued the PGA Tour has used monopoly power to try and thwart competition and has unfairly suspended players.
Those who have competed in LIV Golf events have been indefinitely suspended. Three of the players in the argument—Talor Gooch, Hudson Swafford and Matt Jones—sought a temporary restraining order to compete in the FedEx Cup playoffs. It was denied on the eve of the first playoff event.
In July, the Wall Street Journal reported that the PGA Tour is under investigation by the United States Department of Justice for potential anticompetitive behavior in response to the threat from the LIV Golf Invitational Series.