Japan Contemplating Alliance With US Tour And Europe

By Doug Ferguson, AP Golf Writer

The PGA Tour and European tour have a joint operating venture for the next 13 years. Now it appears they want the Japan Golf Tour to join them.

It’s another example that while Saudi-funded LIV Golf has made a splash in the golf world, there are ripple effects.

As part of their expanded alliance the PGA and European tours announced in June, the leading 10 players from the DP World Tour points list in Europe who are not already PGA Tour members will be able to join.

The Japan Golf Tour (JGTO) might be next to get in line.

In a memo to his players late last week, Chairman Isao Aoki said he is leaning toward such a relationship.

“It is not possible to enjoy the benefits of both LIV and PGA at this moment,” Aoki wrote.

That much already has been made clear.

The PGA Tour notified the JGTO last month that players who compete in LIV Golf Invitational events would not be eligible for the Zozo Championship on Oct. 13-16 outside Tokyo, or for Korn Ferry Tour qualifying tournaments.

The three Japanese players who played in the first three LIV Golf events would not have been eligible for the Zozo Championship based on their position on the money list. The other is Yuki Inamori, who is at No. 5. He has played two LIV events.

The memo said LIV Golf Commissioner Greg Norman has asked the JGTO to protest the PGA Tour’s decision on the Zozo Championship.

“We told Mr. Norman that we would not find it appropriate to reopen the negotiation at this point in time,” Aoki wrote.

In the meantime, Aoki said the PGA and European tours have reached out to Japan officials “describing their wish to go into a visible alliance with JGTO.”

“We believe that a critical factor of this discussion would be to try to establish a pathway to DPWT (Europe), Korn Ferry and PGA (Tour), based on the results in Japan tour,” he said.

All roads lead to America, and it’s been that way for the better part of 25 years.

European tour loyalists hate the idea of being looked upon as a “feeder circuit” to the PGA Tour, but the prize money, ease of travel, weather, corporate support and television exposure make it attractive to play and live on the other side of the pond.

Aoki said to align with LIV means the chances of Japanese tour members playing in PGA Tour-sanctioned events would be “slim.” And if there’s an alliance with the PGA Tour and Europe, “there will definitely be a restriction” about going to LIV Golf events.

So when Rory McIlroy said last week in Scotland that he doesn’t want a “fractured game,” the question becomes how deep are the wounds.

“I don’t think we can let it go too much longer,” McIlroy said. “So I’m all for everyone sitting around the table and trying to figure something out.”

That will have to wait, if it ever happens.

Norman has made it clear that LIV Golf isn’t going anywhere, and he said to The Australian newspaper that “we have no interest in sitting down with them, to be honest, because our product is working.”

PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan isn’t interested, either.

“I think it’s impractical when you look at the fact that certain players have sued the PGA Tour, their employer has sued the PGA Tour,” Monahan told ESPN. “It’s not in the cards. It hasn’t been in the cards and it’s not in the cards.”

LIV Golf resumes its eight-tournament schedule this week in Bangkok, followed by an event in Saudi Arabia next week.

Japan had at least three players compete in LIV events until its biggest attraction, former Masters champion Hideki Matsuyama, made it clear he was not interested in going. After two LIV events with no Japanese players, Hideto Tanihara is back in the field for Bangkok.

Because a new PGA Tour season has started, Tanihara would not be eligible for an exemption to the Sony Open in Honolulu in January.

LIV Golf has its own alliance.

Even before Norman signed marquee players with big signing fees, LIV Golf pumped $200 million — a figure that has grown to $300 million — into the Asian Tour. It is staging six “International Series” events this year with a $1.5 million purse, and 10 such events are planned for next year.

Aoki recommends anyone interested in LIV Golf instead of the PGA Tour should consider the Asian Tour.

“Now that the Asian Tour has gone into an amicable relationship with LIV, we believe that JGTO needs to create a clear pathway” to the PGA Tour and European tour “so that professional golfers in Japan and Asia would have a good range of opportunities.”

So much remains unsettled with no clear path except that it figures to be bumpy.