Over to you Messrs Monahan & Pelley
Updated: Nov 30, 2021
If PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan and European Tour boss Keith Pelley had hoped members of the organisations they head were going to share their dislike for money emanating from the deep pockets of the Saudi Arabian sheikhs then the entry list for the 2022 Saudi International has perhaps dashed that dream.
PGA Tour and European Tour members are still lining up to accept Saudi cash next February, just as they did this year when the Saudi International was a part of the European Tour family.
Olympic Gold medal winner Xander Shauffelle (pictured) will make his debut in Saudi Arabia next year. So will Bubba Watson, Louis Oosthuizen, Jason Dufner, Adam Scott and Harold Varner III. They join experienced Saudi International campaigners in defending champion Dustin Johnson, Paul Casey, Bryson DeChambeau, Tommy Fleetwood, Sergio Garcia, Tyrrell Hatton, Jason Kokrak, Shane Lowry, Graeme McDowell, Phil Mickelson, Kevin Na, Ian Poulter, Henrik Stenson and Lee Westwood.
All are on hefty appearance fees to play at Royal Greens Golf and Country Club just two months from now. Here's a more comprehensive list of the "names" who've signed up.
The following words in the Asian Tour’s press release issued today…
“Players confirmed so far for the 2022 Saudi International…”
…suggest negotiations are going on behind the scenes to lure even more “name” players to Saudi Arabia.
Remember, Monahan had previously hung the threat of membership bans over players who sign up to play in any new Saudi-backed rival league to the PGA Tour. The European Tour, which has a “strategic alliance” with the PGA Tour, has also hinted at sanctions for players considering joining a new, Saudi-dinanced circuit
Next year’s Saudi International, which for three years featured prominently on the European Tour schedule, is now part of the Asian Tour and therefore not technically part of a new tour. However, Saudi company LIV Golf Investments, with Greg Norman at its head, is now backing the Asian Tour.
Hence the question is: what action(s) will Monahan and Pelley take against those who play near Jeddah this coming February? They surely can’t ban all those taking part? Or can they?
PGA Tour and European Tour members have been taking appearance fees to play in Asian Tour events for years, with no previous sanction. Surely that precedent means any action the tours take won’t stand up in court?
All of the above will have signed contracts to play in Saudi Arabia. Imagine the potential legal wrangling if the tours decide to get heavy handed.
Are we surprised Shauffele, Scott, and Watson are joining Mickelson, DeChambeau and the rest to grab Saudi cash? No. Last year’s guestimated appearance fee bill to get the world’s top names to Saudi Arabia was about $20 million. Chicken feed for the oil-rich sheikhs.
The PGA Tour and European Tour have significantly increased prize funds to try to stop players taking Saudi money. Both circuits see the Saudis as “disruptors” to golf’s current status quo, a term that’s appeared in many media outlets. Forgetting, of course, that the PGA Tour has been one of the biggest disruptive influences in the modern game.
The obvious caveat to the preceding sentence is the PGA Tour didn’t set out to decimate the European, Asian, Australasian and Sunshine Tours. But that’s exactly what’s happened. The PGA Tour has drawn all the best players from those circuits, much to their demise. The suits in Ponte Vedra, Florida, don’t seem to like it much now that the shoe is on the other foot, with the Saudis luring its star players with wads of money.
Once again, I’m no supporter of the Saudi regime. Those against a new Saudi-backed league will point to human rights abuses, the lack of equality for women, and the disappearance of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi as reasons enough to dissociate with Saudi Arabia. However, if the game of golf and its participants were so concerned with human rights abuses then there are many destinations in the world that wouldn’t have seen big tournaments and name players. Marquee golfers have been taking cash from questionable regimes for decades.
How the world’s two best circuits react to next year’s Saudi International looks like it could be a litmus test for matters moving forward.
Over to you Messrs Monahan & Pelley. What are you made of?
How these two gentleman deal with the Saudis is going to test them and their “strategic alliance” to the max, and have a huge impact on the professional game.
#JustSaying: “Men’s behaviour is most inspired, displays a self-forgetful spirit and nobility of soul, when circumstances are most adverse.” W.H. Murray