Golfing power struggle set to erupt with top players to be blocked from money-spinning Saudi event
The power struggle in golf will break out as top players are banned from Saudi events - GETTY IMAGES
Golf's burgeoning power struggle is set to explode as the European Tour stands ready to turn down requests from some of its top players to play in Saudi Arabia next year to accept seven-figure fees for the game.
The tough stance will baffle many big names who believed they were being sacked for the Saudi International after having participated in the $ 5 million event since its inception in 2019 when it was part of the European Tour schedule , £ 7 million) had participated.
The players even have multi-year contracts signed before the bitter split between the sheikhs and Wentworth headquarters.
But Telegraph Sport understands that the tour and its CEO, Keith Pelley, are unwilling to compromise and sanction any member who independently chooses to play. Except for a calculated turn on the tour, the type and extent of the punishment will not be made known to the rebels until after the event.
The pros won't even know what they're risking if they accept the Saudi check, some of which will run into the millions. The same strict tactic is believed to have been adopted by the PGA Tour and its commissioner Jay Monahan.
It has been reported that the list of professionals who have applied for permission to play in the Saudi International at the US circuit includes, and has been known since, Dustin Johnson, Henrik Stenson, Lee Westwood, Tommy Fleetwood and Graeme McDowell others like Bryson DeChambeau and Ian Poulter are also said to have asked for permits.
If the answer comes back with a resolute "no", the outrage in the locker room is certain. "They like to think of themselves as 'independent contractors' and will not like it," said an insider. "They were previously given a lot of money to play in Saudi Arabia and will think they are eligible again."
In addition, it is assumed that Pelley will not give its members permission to participate in Asian Tour tournaments. This means that players like Paul Casey and Matt Fitzpatrick will not be allowed to play at the Singapore Open in January, despite the fact that this event is not funded by Saudi Arabia and has been cleared for members of the European Tour in recent years.
However, the Saudis' penetration into the sport and their ultimate plan to form a rebel group to take part in the European and PGA tours has radically changed the landscape, creating new loyalties and divisions.
While the two biggest tours of the game signed their "strategic alliances" last year, the Asian Tour stepped in with the sheikhs and not only announced Saudi International as their flagship event, but also committed to 10 more 2 million m) events on an annual basis, funded by the UK's Private Investment Fund, which recently bought Newcastle United.
Greg Norman has been named CEO of LIV Golf Enterprises, a newly formed company that will invest $ 200 million (£ 150 million) in the Asian Tour over the next decade. "This is just the beginning," said Norman. The relationship with the Asian Tour gives the Saudis and their controversial Super Golf League additional credibility, if only because it provides access to world ranking points and a feeder circuit to feed a stream of players.
Greg Norman has been confirmed as the new CEO of LIV Golf Investments - PA
The lines of battle were duly drawn, with David Williams, chairman of the European Tour, saying in a recent interview: "The Asian Tour has gone from partner to competitor - and we are fierce competitors".
The topic was one of the main topics of conversation at the DP World Tour Championship last week, the season finale in Dubai. Pelley has been seen in close conversation with many Ryder Cup stars who have been offered substantial sums to refuel in Singapore and Saudi Arabia.
The players were understandably keen to know the cost of defying orders, but apparently Pelley didn't want to say anything. "You show someone your hand in a game of poker until the end of the game and that's the attitude towards it," said the same source.
"Some of the players seem to feel that the tour is not going to hit hard, but there is a determination that the punishment will be more than meaningless fines."
It was revealed earlier this year that a Tour member was fined $ 20,000 for playing on another circuit without a release. "That was the maximum Pelley could get," said the source. “But that limit has since been lifted, and now it is up to Pelley and the board of directors what the penalty, the ban, could be.
"When players finally figure out the price, they may think it's not worth it, especially given the huge increases in wallets and earning opportunities on both main tours."
In fact, a fortnight ago, the European Tour announced that its combined prize money in the 2022 campaign will rise above $ 200 million (£ 150 million) for the first time, while total prize money in the States will be more than double that and extra $ 15 includes m (£ 11.3m) in the FedExCup bonus to $ 75m (£ 56.3m).
There are also rumors of a future series of tournaments taking place in Europe and Asia that will offer guaranteed money to the world's best. Already rich golfers get richer.
“It's the elephant in the room that doesn't stop growing because no one has signed up with SGL and unless they're near the end of their careers and want the $ 50 million application fee or whatever the Saudis are offering it will be a mammoth risk to face a lifetime ban from the PGA Tour as Monahan has promised, "the source said.
"It will be interesting to see who competes against Tours and plays Saudi International in this one, because that could give an indication of whether the whole SGL thing is viable or not."
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