Potential Saudi league could threaten PGA Tour dominance

by | Dec 5, 2021 | PGA

NASSAU, Bahamas – A Gulf War is brewing that will be very real and possibly chaotic.

In stark contrast to the calm atmosphere surrounding this week’s Hero World Challenge at the Albany Golf Club – where the sun is warm, the breeze is gentle, there is no pressure and the last place pays $ 100,000 – a storm is sweeping under the surface of the professional through golf at the highest level.

No official announcements or details have been released yet about a world league featuring some of the sport’s biggest names, but everyone in golf – from the PGA Tour headquarters to the players in the locker rooms, the practice stands, and the putting greens at tournaments – knows that it comes

For several years there has been talk of a power game by Saudi Arabia-backed groups with big pockets who want to create a “premier” league that will attract the top players in the game and pay them a lot of guaranteed money.

After the rumor surrounding the game, that time may come soon and it will lead to an intriguing power struggle between the PGA Tour and anyone trying to violate their fiefdom.

Last year, Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan told players that if they played any of these proposed events, they would no longer be members.

Phil Mickelson, Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroyGetty Images (2); AP

One high profile player who was approached by officials about a possible “league” told the Post this week that he was “concerned about the game” if it became a full legal between the PGA Tour and what it would give Brawl comes another organization considering violating their empire.

“It should all be about making the game bigger,” said the player.

Right now there is an urgent problem for Monahan and the tour. A significant number of top players have committed to play at Saudi International in February the same week as the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, which has been one of the top PGA Tour events for years.

Stars signed for Saudi Arabia include Phil Mickelson (who has won Pebble Beach five times), Dustin Johnson (twice) and 2020 champion Graeme McDowell (who also won the US Open, his only major title in his Career, won at Pebble). Also on the list are names like Bryson DeChambeau, Olympic champion Xander Schauffele, Sergio Garcia, Adam Scott, Lee Westwood, Abraham Ancer, Tommy Fleetwood, Bubba Watson and Henrik Stenson.

Monahan has not yet made public whether he will give these players time off to attend the Saudi event. – Most (if not all) of these players are said to be receiving substantial entrance fees to play in Saudi Arabia. However, a senior PGA Tour source told the Post this week it was almost certain the tour would not offer waivers.

This feels like some sort of trial balloon scenario for any Saudi group planning a new league – to see who will get the game and if they’ll defy the PGA Tour’s stance.

When asked by the Post what options the tour would have if these players were to play in Saudi Arabia anyway, the source said the players would likely be fined.

The question, then, is, how much money could the PGA Tour fine a top player who gets about $ 2 million to play with to deter them?

PGA Tour Commissioner Jay MonahanPGA Tour Commissioner Jay MonahanAP

The other question is whether the PGA Tour has the legal right to tell their players, who are independent contractors, where they can and cannot play.

This is the hottest topic in sport right now. It has become a sore topic, especially for the game’s biggest stars who draw the most attention to the PGA Tour. The top players believe that they should be more rewarded than the middle and lower classes because they are the ones who bring the tour’s attention.

“I think we are independent contractors and we should be able to play where we want to play,” said Rory McIlroy at Hero this week. “So in my opinion the tour should allow releases [to play in the Saudi event]. It’s an Asian tour [sanctioned] Event, it’s an event that has world ranking points. I don’t see any reason why they wouldn’t.

“My personal choice is not to do that [play in Saudi Arabia]but obviously a lot of players do that and I think it’s fair to let them do that. ”

Of all the top players, McIlroy has spoken out most publicly against being part of a world league and taking the Saudis’ guaranteed money. But he’s a prominent member of the PGA Tour’s Player Advisory Council [PAC] and protects players’ rights.

Obviously, if a new league is ever announced, it will believe in the independent contractor argument and that players can play on both the PGA Tour and their tour.

“I think the players are feeling like pawns in this great global game of golf right now, and we just want to know where we stand,” said McIlroy. “Professional sport has to reach a point where we as professionals need to know where we stand. Are we actually independent contractors? Are we employed by a particular institution? There are a lot of gray areas and that has to be sorted out somehow. ”

When asked if he had discussed this with the PGA Tour as a member of the PAC, McIlroy said, “I think they understand where the players are from. I think some of the things you see when you introduce the tour may be a response to some of those feelings. ”

McIlroy referred to several ways the PGA Tour has recently given its players more cash with increased tournament funds and the recently launched Player Impact program of $ 40 million – the top 10 players with a top impact. Score pays, with the winner getting $ 8 million.

Bryson DeChambeauBryson DeChambeauGetty Images

These are obvious maneuvers to counter the huge cash a new league would offer to attract PGA Tour players. But make no mistake, the outside forces rumored to be putting this league concept together have the attention of the PGA Tour.

“We take this very seriously,” the PGA Tour source told The Post.

Some players wonder why the tour doesn’t listen to and work with outside suggestions. McIlroy actually suggested making the tour even more proactive and implementing the creative ideas such as the team concept independently.

“For me, the PGA Tour is the best place in the world to play,” said McIlroy. “I’m not saying that this has to be blown up and we’re doing something different here. I think if people want golf to be more innovative and engaging and they want to see other concepts, there is no reason the PGA Tour can’t do that itself.

“They have the know-how to organize golf tournaments, they have all the staff, they have everything, they have the best structure for it. I’m certainly not saying I want to make something else out of it, but there are certain elements in different concepts of professional golf that I see merits in, but I see no reason why the tour couldn’t do this itself. ”

Tiger Woods, the world’s most distinguished player, essentially condemned the concept of the world tour this week, saying, “I’ve made a decision to support the PGA Tour. Here is my legacy. So, I’m loyal to the PGA Tour.

“I understand some of the comparisons [are] very similar to Arnold [Palmer] and Jack [Nicklaus] broke off the PGA of America to the [PGA] trip [in 1968]. I don’t see it that way [with a new league]. I think the tour did a fantastic job. Jay did an incredible job at a very difficult time during the pandemic when there was plenty of opportunity for the players, but we were the first athletic tour to kick off.

“I think the tour is in good hands, they are doing a fantastic job and the prize money is increasing. It’s just not guaranteed money like most sports are. It’s like tennis, you have to go out there and earn it. ”

This is where things get sticky because while golfers are used to making a living in the top performing sport there is, the prospect of guaranteed money to the biggest stars who draw the most eye on the game is enticing.

“It’s very interesting when you play three times the amount,” said Bryson DeChambeau. “Yes, the call [of Saudi money] is not great, is it? [But] if it’s three times the money, who won’t if we all do it, right? ”

If and when a world league emerges, the most compelling element would be what the players would sign. For a league to be successful, it would need several of the game’s biggest stars on board. And right now it feels like each player is waiting to see what the other is doing. Nobody wants to be the first.

World number 2, Collin Morikawa, who recently became the first American player to win the Race to Dubai, announced that he had been approached about a possible league.

“There have been talks,” said Morikawa. “A lot goes on about my agent and I want to know as much information as possible. Of course, you don’t want to be left out when things go one way or another. But I’m here to keep playing [PGA] Tour, and that’s my focus right now. Look, I’m 24 and I keep my eyes and ears open for everything. ”

Schauffele said he believed the PGA Tour’s “mission” was to keep their players happy.

“They say it’s our tour, we players, we’re doing the tour, so I imagine they’d be very creative to make sure we don’t do anything they don’t want us to do.” said Schauffele. “I have to play my best golf against the best players in the world to be the best wherever I go.

“Right now the PGA Tour has the best players in the world, so I’m playing the PGA Tour. It’s pretty easy. ”

Simple becomes complicated.