The rumor mill has been in high gear recently, with speculation that Bryson DeChambeau and Phil Mickelson may bolt from the PGA Tour to grab the huge money being thrown around by the Saudi-backed “Super Golf League.” The latest rumor spike has been fueled by the “PIF Saudi International,” held at Royal Greens Golf & Country Club, near Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, which was sanctioned by the Asian Golf Tour and attracted a number of the biggest names in golf, including Phil, DeChambeau, Dustin Johnson, Xander Schauffele, Patrick Reed, Tony Finau, Cameron Smith and Bubba Watson.
Greg Norman (with LIV Golf Investments), is the prime mover behind the Super Golf League, and also the mastermind behind the “International Series,” a group of ten new events added to the Asian Golf Tour with a massive funding infusion from LIV (and the PIF Saudi International as the first in the series). Because the Saudi International was added as a regular event on the Asian Tour, the PGA Tour did not raise an objection to players who wanted to enter–but did include a stipulation that any player entering the Saudi event would have to play in the Pebble Beach National Pro-Am (held at the same time), in each of the next two years in order to retain their tour card. It is clear that Norman is using the International Series, and the Saudi International specifically, as a means to showcase the Super Golf league, and entice as many PGA Tour players as he can. On the other side, the PGA Tour has stated plainly that anyone who enters a Super Golf League tournament will immediately lose their privileges to play PGA Tour events. So where do things stand right now?
Rumors are flying where offers in the neighborhood of $100 Million or more have been dangled in front of the biggest stars in golf, with a number of players categorically stating that they are not interested, some remaining cryptically mum, and quite a few dancing around on the fence. Players that have gone on record as saying absolutely not include Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm, Collin Morikawa, Brooks Koepka, Justin Thomas, Jordan Spieth, and the biggest name of all–Tiger. The mum group is headed by Dustin Johnson, Adam Scott and Lee Westwood (each of whom stating that they signed a Non-Disclosure-Agreement with LIV Golf Investments, thus having perfect cover to dodge uncomfortable questions). The bulk of the speculation surrounds players who are on the fence, including Phil, Bryson DeChambeau, and those who competed at the Saudi International (Xander Schauffele, Cam Smith, Pat Reed, Bubba Watson and Tony Finau). Phil has been crafting his public statements to indicate that the Super Golf League can provide “leverage” for players to get a bigger piece of the PGA Tour money pie–which ironically may itself tend to negate quite a bit of the leverage he purports to seek. On the other hand, the PGA Tour appears to have already reacted to the looming threat posed by the Super Golf League, with increased purses, higher FedEx Cup prize money, and a $50 million bonus fund that is disbursed on the basis of “PIP Standings” (Player Impact Standings—basically popularity, not directly associated with performance).
The biggest hurdle that Greg Norman and the Super Golf League will face, however, is the source of the big money that’s being waved in front of the players. “LIV Golf Investments” is backed by the Saudi Public Investment Fund (PIF), with Crown Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud as Chairman–the same man who, according to the CIA, ordered the assassination and dismemberment of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi embassy in Istanbul back in 2018. One would think this is an association that few players would find appealing—but then again, it’s a lot of money…