Drama Surrounding Saudi Super Golf League Could Rumble On For Years

SGL's latest gambit may not have paid off, but it clearly shows the ambition that they have
15:29, 21 Feb 2022

Although this feels like an idea which has just been ignited, the concept of a breakaway league in golf is nothing new. In 1994, Greg Norman spearheaded his own ambition for a new World Golf Tour, which ultimately never came to fruition. 28 years later, he’s back again, now fronting the Saudi Golf League, who are looking to prize away some of the PGA Tour’s biggest stars. Undoubtedly, this is the biggest crisis that golf has ever faced.

The SGL is being funded by the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia, a conglomerate that we will see in the Premier League with Newcastle for seasons to come. They have now decided to infiltrate the golfing world, offering players astronomical sums to break the mould and join this Super Golf League.

Investment in the game is always welcome but the underhanded nature of how the SGL is trying to lure players away from the PGA Tour is unnerving. It has now been reported that they have contacted every top-100 golfer, with the hope in their eyes that they can perpetuate the game to a new level. 

There are parallels that can be drawn between the Saudi Golf League and the European Super League. Both proposals are fuelled by greed and have been met with strong opposition from many within the game. Similarly to UEFA, the PGA Tour have already declared that anyone who does decide to split from the PGA Tour to join this new venture will be banned from all future participation. 

One of the people at the centre of this controversy is Phil Mickelson, whose comments surrounding the SGL have been branded ‘egotistical’ by Rory McIlroy and Justin Thomas. 

In an interview conducted in November with author and golf writer, Alan Shipnuck, Phil Mickelson said:

‘They’re scary motherf****** to get involved with,

‘They killed [Washington Post reporter and U.S. resident Jamal] Khashoggi and have a horrible record on human rights. They execute people over there for being gay. Knowing all of this, why would I even consider it? Because this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reshape how the PGA Tour operates.’

Phil Mickelson
Phil Mickelson

The last line is the epitome of naivety. According to Forbes, Mickelson has earned $815 million, so to suggest with such a brazen tone that he would be willing to overlook such widespread issues just to line his already deep pockets with more cash is beyond moronic. 

Mickelson has always been loved and adored by golf fans around the world, but those within the game will say that the American has got form for this and is highlighted by his many misdemeanours. Arguably, his biggest was in the 2018 US Open at Shinnecock Hills. Phil missed an 18-foot putt for par on the 13th, but as the ball went past the hole, the then 48-year-old chased after it. In a moment of madness, Lefty then hit the ball again as it was still moving, stopping it from falling down the false front. This act gets worse on every watch, and no explanation was subsequently given by the American. 

Knowing this, then none of us should be surprised by the lack of respect that Mickelson has for anybody. He has already shown his true colours on several occasions, but amazingly always seems to be forgiven. This, however, feels different. ‘America’s Sweetheart’ has created fractions amongst his fellow professionals and the feel-good factor that continues to surround him is slowly ebbing away. He once again has acted without thought or feeling, and his legacy could be damaged forever. 

So, who else is considering the move? It is worth noting that Lefty isn’t on his own here. Jason Kokrak has claimed that he has been in advanced negotiations with the SGL so that he can retire early and watch his kids grow up. Well at least he’s honest, but like his American counterpart, he’s misread the room. 

The English duo, Ian Poulter and Lee Westwood are also thought to be keen to join the competition, with the latter already signing a Non-Disclosure Agreement with the SGL. What will be interesting will be how Mickelson and his fellow pro-SGL colleagues will be greeted on the PGA Tour following this. Mickelson has been absent for some time now and missed Tiger Woods’ Genesis Invitational at Riviera last week, a tournament that he has frequented with in years gone by. His omission is eye-opening amid speculation that the PGA Tour may suspend the six-time major champion.

Luckily, for every Phil Mickelson, we have a Rory McIlroy. Thankfully, he is one person who certainly won’t be moving, branding the breakaway ‘dead in the water.’

Rory McIlroy
Rory McIlroy

He has been the most outspoken advocate against this new ‘Super League’ and has no real idea as to why anyone would even contemplate the move. He is joined by World no.1, Jon Rahm. Like McIlroy, he has suggested that this is nothing more than a money grab, and his motivation to play the great game is for titles, not dollar signs.

Both comments come in what looks to be the biggest blow the SGL has had yet after Bryson DeChambeau and Dustin Johnson pledged their allegiances to the PGA Tour. The once touted SGL poster boys have turned their backs on the PIF funded league, with big-hitting Bryson turning down a reported $240 million to join the league.

DeChambeau and Johnson said in interviews that they were seriously considering the switch, and should the world no.9 and no.12 have chosen differently, then the impact would have transcended around the world and may have proven to be a catalyst for others to follow suit. 

It may be too early to pronounce the Super Golf League dead but the events that unfolded last week were a huge setback for the competition. The attraction of big names is pivotal for any rival league to flourish and without that, the momentum is all but gone. This move was a hail-Mary. It may not have paid off, but this clearly shows the ambition that they have. 

The money is unquestionable, and while many in the game still strive for a big pay day, this will be an unwanted distraction, which will rumble on for many years to come. For now, it feels that the existential crisis that golf has experienced in recent months is slowly subsiding, but the shockwaves that this has created will remain. 

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