Golf great Watson tells rival tour players to push for unity

golf11 April 2024 17:06| © AFP
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Tom Watson © Gallo Images

Eight-time major winner Tom Watson said on Thursday he made an emotional appeal for unity among golf's rival factions at the Masters' Champions Dinner, telling players they needed to re-unite.

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Golf has been divided since the launch of LIV Golf in 2022, the Saudi-backed circuit which lured a number of top players from the established PGA Tour.

Despite a 'framework agreement' on a merger announced last June, there is no sign of the two parties coming together.

LIV lured defending Masters champion Jon Rahm from the PGA Tour in December and it was the Spaniard who hosted the annual Champions Dinner on Tuesday at the Augusta National clubhouse.

Watson, who won the Masters in 1977 and 1981, said he asked permission from Augusta National chairman Fred Ridley to make an intervention at the end of the dinner, which gathers former Augusta champions together.

"We all know golf is fractured with the LIV Tour and the PGA Tour doing the different things they are doing," Watson told reporters.

"I got up and I said – I'm looking around the room and I'm seeing just a wonderful experience everybody is having. They are jovial. They are having a great time. They are laughing.

"I said, 'Ain't it good to be together again?'

"And there was kind of a pall from the joviality, and it quieted down, and then Ray Floyd got up and it was time to leave.

"In a sense, I hope that the players themselves took that to say, 'You know, we have to do something. We have to do something."

While powerbrokers from the tours and the Saudi Public Investment Fund, financiers of LIV, along with new investors in the PGA Tour from various US sports ownership groups have yet to come up with a unification plan, Watson said the players had power.

"We all know it's a difficult situation for professional golf right now," Watson said.

"The players really kind of have control I think in a sense. What do they want to do? We'll see where it goes. We don't have the information or the answers. I don't think the PGA Tour or the LIV Tour really have an answer right now."

Watson was an honourary starter at Augusta National on Thursday along with Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player, who also addressed the media after hitting the first shots of the day.

"I think in this room, I know the three of us want to get together," Player said.

"We want to get together like we were at that Champions Dinner, happy, the best players playing against each other.

"The bottom line – that's what we want in professional golf, and right now, we don't have it."

Player said any deal needed to make sure that players who stayed with the PGA Tour, despite millions of dollars on offer from LIV, are compensated for their loyalty.