The PGA Tour refuses to let some of its biggest stars play in next year’s controversial Saudi International tournament, Golfuge have learned. PGA Tour members must be granted a waiver to compete on other circuits, and the Tour has signaled to executives that permission will not be granted because the Saudi event is no longer sanctioned by the European Tour, which also plans to deny permits for its members to to compete.
The move will be seen as an escalation in a battle for the future of professional golf, setting the PGA and European tours against the Saudi government, which has pushed a Super Golf League concept that would lure elite players to an outburst tour with guaranteed pay days. of up to $ 30 million.
Asked to confirm that releases will not be given to players for the Saudi tournament, a spokesman for the PGA Tour replied: “You are right. This follows a PGA Tour long-standing policy of not releasing non-sanctioned events. ”
Since its inception in 2019, Saudi International has been widely criticized as an attempt by the regime in Riyadh to ‘sport wash’ its human rights record by exploiting golf to improve its image. Despite the controversy, the event has attracted many star players thanks to lavish fees – in some cases up to several million dollars – and chartered private jets to and from the Middle East. World No. 2 Dustin Johnson has won the tournament twice, while Phil Mickelson, Bryson DeChambeau and Brooks Koepka are also among those who have been paid to play.
“There are a lot of rumors and speculations floating around as it relates to the Tour’s position at 2022 Saudi International. It would be too early for me to comment on that as we have not yet applied for release from the Tour, ”said Johnson’s manager David Winkle. “Given that Dustin has been playing in the event for the past three years and would return as their defending champion, I have no doubt he would be quite disappointed if the Tour potentially denied his release.”
“I also think it is important to note that he is in a unique position, having played in the tournament since the start and no doubt has helped put golf on the map in the Kingdom,” added Winkle. “By doing so, I hope he has helped grow the game in a region where golf is still a relatively new thing.”
The European Tour officially sanctioned the first three editions of Saudi International, but a spokesman declined to comment on whether its members would be allowed to play the fourth staging, saying the 2022 schedule and rules of the game had not yet been announced. However, two seniors with knowledge of decision making on the European Tour confirmed to Golfuge that dropouts will also be denied to his players.
Saudi International is typically held in early February at the Royal Greens Golf and Country Club in King Abdullah Economic City. Tournament organizers have previously announced high-profile commitments on the course up to three months in advance, suggesting that the time frame for when players will waive both tournaments to compete is imminent. PGA Tour members who play the Saudi stop without receiving a dropout will be subject to disciplinary action. A Tour source said any punishment would likely be a monetary fine rather than a suspension.
Several sources told Golfuge that the Saudi International in 2022 could be wound up under the leadership of the Asian tour, which is headquartered in Singapore. The Saudis recently made a significant investment in the Asian tour – ball-parked by two sources for $ 100 million – in an effort to gain traction for their global ambitions in golf. Asked whether players would be officially sacked if Saudi International were officially sanctioned by the Asian tournament, a spokesman for the PGA Tour replied: “We prefer not to talk hypothetically about questions regarding PGA Tour rules.”
Specifications for the Saudi investment in the Asian tour have not been announced by either party. A leader in the golf industry with extensive ties to the Asian market believes that the deal is likely to guarantee wallets at a number of regular stops on the Asian Tour (whose prize fund is typically around $ 1 million) with the goal of eventually holding more very lucrative events for elite stars with purses in the range of $ 15- $ 20 million.
The Asian Tour agreement brings the Saudis to a global tour with a seat on the board of the official world golf rankings, opening the door to potentially providing valuable ranking points for all Saudi-backed tournaments. The Super Golf League concept would not qualify for placement of points unrelated to a major tour. World rankings are one of the criteria by which players can access to compete in major championships, whether they are playing in the PGA Tour or European Tour events.
It is unclear whether the Asian Tour partnership signals a potential abandonment of the Super Golf League idea in favor of an attempt to corral golf’s elite stars on a more limited basis, or if it is merely a staging point towards the ultimate goal of creating the league. . While the Super League has been put in various forms for at least seven years, it has so far failed to entice a single golfer to commit. Rory McIlroy and Jon Rahm have both publicly rejected the splinter tour, and PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan has made it clear that any member who commits to the Saudi-backed scheme risks a life ban.
Despite the threatened consequences, players continue to flirt with the concept. As recently as the Open Championship two weeks ago, at least five players – all of whom have won majors – had written offers from the Saudis, according to a well-placed agency director familiar with the discussions.
None of these players have yet chosen to commit publicly to the league and risk being benched by the PGA Tour, while the legality of such a ban is a lawsuit. This, in turn, has led some experienced observers to suggest that players are using the rival league threat as leverage to secure a larger share of the revenue from the PGA Tour.
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