Golfers warned signing for breakaway tour will lead to PGA Tour ban
The world’s best golfers have been warned they will incur immediate suspension and most likely a career ban from the PGA Tour if they agree to join a breakaway regime being proposed by Saudi Arabia.
Jay Monahan, the commissioner of the PGA Tour, laid out his position in stark terms during a scheduled meeting with players at Quail Hollow on Tuesday afternoon. It is understood the European Tour would adopt an identical position regarding those who sign up to leave their domain, which is crucial in relation to Ryder Cup eligibility.
In what bears resemblance to the failed European Super League scheme, the Saudis want to coax leading players – including Bryson DeChambeau, Dustin Johnson, Justin Rose and Phil Mickelson – away from competition on the PGA Tour. This project – based on individual and team formats over 12 to 18 events – was years in the making as Premier Golf League but was recently recast as Super Golf League. It remains unclear whether the ESL collapse has triggered a rethink on that front. September 2022 is the mooted launch date for the plan, which is being fronted by Majed al-Sorour, the chief executive of Golf Saudi.
The PGA Tour, though, is unmoved. Monahan articulated to players that he will fiercely abide by regulations that protect the PGA Tour membership, which guard against those trying to cause fiscal or reputational harm to the organisation. Anyone signing up with the Saudis will straight away lose PGA Tour status.
The PGA Tour is well aware the Saudis have been on a Florida-based recruitment drive for a concerted period but has stressed to its own players the lack of solid proposals in relation to tournaments or media deals. There were no questions from the floor on the Saudi scheme, let alone any of the ructions speculated upon elsewhere, after Monahan’s wide-ranging speech.
Monahan delivered added detail on the recently introduced player impact fund. The commissioner said the scheme is for the benefit of the entire PGA Tour membership and will be administered by a brand new executive department.
Despite reports elsewhere, the Guardian understands players do not yet have contracts and offer letters signed by the Saudis. The brief delay to that scenario has been linked in part to the ESL debacle. When the paperwork does become formal, leading players will be offered equity in the new tour. In what has been likened by one individual with understanding of the negotiations to a football transfer, there will also be huge signing on fees as incentives. It is no exaggeration to suggest the total financial package for certain players willing to depart the PGA Tour could reach more than $100m. The professional risk, though, appears huge.
Representatives of Rose, Mickelson and Johnson failed to respond to the Guardian’s request for comment, relating to their clients’ current position on a new tour. DeChambeau’s manager delivered a “no comment”.
DeChambeau and Mickelson are both in the field for this week’s PGA Tour event in Charlotte. So too is Rory McIlroy, who denounced the PGL last year while expressing ethical concerns about the origin of its funding. McIlroy is the chairman of the PGA Tour’s player advisory council and therefore an important figure beyond his global sporting status.
The European Tour was strengthened by a strategic alliance with the PGA Tour confirmed late last year. Saudi Arabia has claimed an element of legitimacy via its high-profile invitational tournament staged on the European Tour. That event is not understood to be on any provisional schedule for 2022 and it would be a major shock if that changes. The Saudis, meanwhile, have tried to build relationships with the Asian, Japan and Sunshine Tours. The two-times Open champion Greg Norman is believed to be among those advising the Saudis. Norman’s spokesperson offered no comment when approached.