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Professional Golf Is About To Be Shaken To Its Core

By: | Thu 03 Feb 2022

PHIL MICKELSON claims that every member of the top 100 in the world rankings has been approached by LIV Golf Investments to sign up for Saudi Arabia’s breakaway golf league. It seems that professional golf is about to be shaken to the core in a way that no sport has seen since Kerry Packer launched Word Series Cricket in the 1970s.

When the Saudis first mooted their plans, Lee Westwood said that if he was approached to sign on the dotted line it would be a no-brainer for him. And it has emerged that the veteran Englishman has signed a non-disclosure agreement with the Saudis, implying that he has indeed committed his future to the league.

The 48-year-old Englishman was asked for his thoughts on the format of the proposed league before playing in the Saudi International but refused to comment, indicating that he had signed a legal document preventing him from doing so. It has also been reported that Ryder Cup hero Ian Poulter and former Open champion Henrik Stenson are weighing up offers to join the Saudi-funded project.

Players who sign up face potential bans from the American-based PGA Tour and European-based DP World Tour, as well as the Ryder Cup, which means that Westwood, Poulter and Stenson are putting at risk their chances of being named as future Ryder Cup captains. What all these golfers have in common, of course, is that their best days are behind them. It would be a blow to the DP World Tour and PGA Tour if they were to lose the likes of Mickelson, Stenson, Westwood and Poulter. A blow, but not a disaster. 

It would be a different matter altogether if the Saudis are able to court the likes of Dustin Johnson, Jon Rahm, Collin Morikawa, Rory McIlroy, Bryson DeChambeau, Brooks Koepka et al. It is all about money, of course, and all of this does beg one essential question: when do the rewards available to these young men become too much? 

Lee Westwood

(Image Credit: Kevin Diss Photography)

Let’s not beat about the bush here. The world’s best golfers are all handsomely rewarded for their efforts. And both the DP World Tour and PGA Tour have announced huge increases to their prize funds for 2022. The winner of the Players Championship will pocket around $2m for four four days work, for goodness sake, with a total prize fund of $20m. Viktor Hovland collected well over $1m for winning the Dubai Desert Classic. The FedEx Cup bonus pool has been increased from $60m to $75m. And that is without taking into account the vast sums they earn in sponsorship - McIlroy has a $100m deal with TaylorMade.

Westwood, who is a former world No1 who has earned a fabulous living as a result of his efforts on both the European and PGA Tours, was asked at the Saudi International: "What do you think of the proposed format of the super league, the team aspect of it? It's a little bit different from the 72-hole strokeplay norm."

Westwood replied: "I don't know whether I want to answer questions on that. I've signed an NDA."

It is expected that any Saudi super league would involve a team format but Westwood would only speak in general terms on that subject.

“Golf has got to move with the times and become more heat-of-the-moment, volatile and impactful right from the word go," he said. “If you do it like the team aspect, there's more action happening in more different places."

The so-called super league is just the tip of the iceberg. The Asian Tour is launching a $300m International Series promoted by Greg Norman's Liv Golf Investments company which will include, among 10 events, a tournament at the Centurion Club near St Albans in June.

Norman insists "this is just the beginning", with rumours sweeping the world game that the Saudis plan to invest millions from their Public Investment Fund into a Formula 1-style golf super league.

The main tours in the United States and Europe have signalled their intent to fight the Saudi plans with threats of bans for golfers who sign up to the project. But McIlroy, who has thus far expressed little interest in signing up, has said that tournament professional are freelancers who are not actually employed by either the DP World Tour or PGA Tour and should be given the choice to decide where they want to play. This overlooks the work done behind the scenes by both tours during what has been an incredibly trying period. 

At a time when the world has been gripped by the Covid-19 pandemic, there were widespread predictions that sponsors would walk away from the game and that many tournaments would bite the dust. Thanks to the work of individuals such as Keith Pelley and Jay Monahan, the opposite has happened. The schedules are full and awash with prize money.

The PGA Tour and DP World Tour reluctantly provided releases to the players competing in Saudi Arabia although PGA Tour members playing in the Middle East have been told they must commit to their Pebble Beach event next season, which takes place on the same weekend. Call me old-fashioned if you like but I believe that both tours deserve - and should expect - some loyalty from their top players. 

Without the PGA Tour, we would never have heard of the likes of Johnson, DeChambeau, Koepka, Rahm, McIlroy etc. I fully understand why players nearing the end of their playing careers would want to take advantage of one last chance to cash in, but I hope that today’s stars remember where their loyalties should lie. However, I am not holding my breath.

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Tags: PGA Tour european tour dp world tour daily picks

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