Who will win golf’s high stakes poker game?
Updated: May 6, 2021
Would PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan really ban Tiger Woods from the PGA Tour if golf’s biggest draw decided he wanted to make an enormous withdrawal from the Saudi-backed Premier Golf League’s huge cash reserves?
How deep are the PGA Tour’s coffers?
Does the European Tour now regret not jumping into bed with Saudi Arabia?
Did anyone really think the Professional Golf League would go away?
What happens now?
These are just some of the questions/thoughts after the Daily Telegraph’s excellent golf correspondent James Corrigan revealed yesterday that the Saudi-backed Premier Golf League still plans to lure the top players away from the PGA Tour by dangling millions of dollars in front of their noses, including a reported $100 million for Phil Mickelson.
Let’s deal with the Woods question first.
Monahan allegedly told PGA Tour players at this week’s Well’s Fargo Championship they could forfeit their PGA Tour membership if they played on the Premier Golf League. Would he really ban Woods?
Pull the other one!
Monahan will be hoping Tiger is so rich he won’t need the money. Thankfully Tiger, like Rory McIlroy, has been lukewarm to the PGL. Monahan might be able to tell the likes of Kyle Stanley or Webb Simpson they were no longer welcome on the PGA Tour if they dare play the PGL, but not Woods. No way.
Monahan better hope Woods stays on board. And those whispering in his ear.
The PGA Tour has deep pockets. Every tournament this season is worth a minimum of $6 million, ranging to $15 million for the Players Championship. Throw in FedEx Cup money and the obscene $40 million popularity contest called the Player Impact Programme for 10 players and PGA Tour members are rich beyond their wildest dreams. All that money is just chicken feed to the Saudis. As with Woods, Monahan better hope his players have comfortable enough lifestyles they won’t need extra millions in their bank accounts.
The European Tour formed a strategic alliance with the PGA Tour last year, with the PGA Tour taking a place on the European Tour board thanks to a 15% stake in European Tour Productions. That alliance was made despite Keith Pelley stating the tour was in “robust financial health.” So robust the tour laid of 68 members of staff and borrowed millions from the banks to see it through the Covid-19 pandemic.
Perhaps Pelley’s having second thoughts. Maybe he should have got into bed with the Saudis when they came knocking with that “compelling offer to take the European Tour to another level but in a different direction.” It might have afforded him the chance of becoming a proper rival to America rather than become a feeder circuit for the PGA Tour. As I highlighted recently, every European Tour pro worth his salt is dreaming of full status on the world’s top tour.
I’m not an advocate for Saudi money, anything but. However, the European Tour didn’t think twice about including the Saudi International on its schedule for the last three years. Presumably with the “strategic alliance” and the threat the proposed Premier Golf League poses for the PGA and European Tours, the European circuit won’t be staging more tournaments in Saudi Arabia? What say you, Keith?
Did anyone really think the PGL was just going to go away. I certainly didn’t and said so in November last year. As Corrigan reports, it has been busy recently making plans.
“The Saudis are not taking no for an answer and have indicated they are intending to start their circuit in September next year.
“The demise of the PGL has been greatly exaggerated.”
What happens now? Good question. Here’s one scenario. Why wouldn’t Mickelson go for the money at this stage in his career when his PGA Tour days are dwindling? He might have no qualms about taking Saudi cash. Hopefully, like Woods, he has enough money to say no. Mind you, he didn’t say no in February this year when he played in the Saudi International for an alleged $2 million appearance fee.
And what about other players who are approaching the Champions Tour? There are enough over 40 players with drawing power who might just fancy earning an increased pension pot rather than wait for senior golf. If I were advising the Saudis, those are the players I’d be targeting initially.
I’m not an advocate for the PGL. Anything but. I’m just not naïve enough to believe it won’t happen, even if I’d prefer it to go away. After all, the Saudis paid somewhere between $15-20 million this year to lure Mickelson, Dustin Johnson, Justin Rose, Bryson DeChambeau and 38 ots to the Kingdom. Money isn’t a problem.
And if you think money doesn’t buy the world's top sportsmen then you don’t have to look far. A World Cup in Qatar, football’s greatest tournament? Don’t be silly! Oh, wait….
#JustSaying: “For that kind of money, I’d wear a skirt.” Jimmy Demaret, when once asked to wear a number on his back in a tournament