Bryson DeChambeau, Dustin Johnson, and Phil Mickelson have, indirectly, made life a lot easier for the man who runs the largest golf course on the planet.
PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan is set to address the players at a meeting at the Honda Classic this week in Florida. He would enter the room with a more cheerful step than he had expected just a week ago.
At the time, the Saudi-funded breakaway Premier League seemed to be a strong possibility. Rumors abounded that about 20 top players had signed up.
In front of former world number one Greg Norman, LIV Golf Investments was about to announce a Formula 1 style circuit, possibly during next month’s Players Championship week – the main event of the PGA Tour. ouch.
Monahan was to remind golfers that they would face a life ban if they defected to the lucrative scheme backed by Saudi Arabia’s massive Public Investment Fund.
But now, as Rory McIlroy points out, the proposed Golf Super League appears to be “dead in the water.”
Johnson, who was believed to be a close ally of the kingdom, having accepted huge appearing fees to play in all four Saudi international events so far – winning two of them – has now given unequivocal support for the PGA Tour.
In fact, it didn’t matter that he chose to spread this message across the tour’s social media channels.
DeChambeau was believed to be the great hitter around which the Premier League would be built. He was said to have been offered upwards of $100 million to be the front of the project, a figure he denied.
DeChambeau eventually followed the DJ lead, saying he would stay in the US circuit as long as the main players remained there.
These were important and dramatic moves on Sunday. They followed a string of top 10 players, led by world number one John Ram and Open Champion Colin Morikawa who backed the PGA Tour during the Genesis Invitational in Los Angeles.
Was it a coincidence that the apparent change of heart for Johnson and DiCamboe followed the publication of Mickelson’s toxic comments last week, originally issued last November?
The 51-year-old American PGA champion, the biggest major winner in men’s golf, referred lightly to the Saudi salary earners he was courting. “They are scary to get involved with them,” he said, also referring to the kingdom’s human rights record.
“Knowing all this, why am I even thinking about it? Because this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reshape how the PGA Tour works.”
Moreover, Mickelson also told Alan Shipnock, who soon wrote a biography of the six-time main hero, that he has recruited three other top players for the Saudi project.
They paid lawyers to write a Super Golf League operating agreement.
This admission could result in one of golf’s biggest stars getting a PGA Tour ban while still being a major champion. Mickelson’s comments must have pissed off all sides and it looks like this key driver in the Saudi project now appears to be shunned from golf.
As McIlroy, a longtime opponent of the separatist movement, said: “I don’t want to kick someone while they’re clearly down.
“But I thought they (Mickelson’s comments) were naive, selfish, arrogant, and ignorant. It was so surprising, frustrating, sad. I’m sure he’s sitting at home sort of rethinking where he’s at and where he’s going from here.”
Norman must also think about his next move. The 67-year-old Australian launched a $300 million international series as part of the Asian Tour, a move that could have helped provide world ranking points and legitimacy for his broader plans.
“This is just the beginning,” he told reporters at Saudi International this month. That may be the end now, though PIF beneficiaries will still be looking for a return on their investment.
At the moment, it appears that the only players likely to be interested are 40-year-old veterans, the likes of Lee Westwood (who has admitted he signed a nondisclosure agreement), Ian Poulter and Henrik Stenson.
Former world number one Adam Scott said he could “see the allure” of a Premier League circuit that includes guaranteed money, team formats and no cuts.
But in the absence of any young star, the Premier League would not have been able to meet deal prescribing legislation. Instead, it will be a series of tournaments for players occupying the seniors arena waiting room – from which they may later face a legal battle to avoid being banned.
To the shame of golf, this Saudi Premier League story has taken longer to unravel than that spoiled attempt to achieve something similar to European football last year. Soon, her greed and foolishness were revealed.
The likes of DeChambeau and Johnson, who were two crucial characters, held out until it turned out the match was over.
Now the PGA Tour is emerging even stronger, as are the strategic partners of the Europe-based DP World Tour. Money has already been dumped on top stars with $50 million set aside for the controversial US tour Player Impact Program (PIP) this year.
Mickelson was, ironically, The main beneficiary of the PIP program in 2021, But that is unlikely to be the case this year.
The established circuits will be making more changes and it wouldn’t be surprising to see some sort of lucrative guaranteed money squad competition being introduced in the fall. Crucially, though, he’ll be under their care.
As for the remaining players who were tempted to defect, it would be interesting to see them. Westwood, Poulter and Stinson are seen as the future leaders of Europe’s Ryder Cup. So was Mickelson for the United States.
There will be plenty of rage left within the pro elite game after this brush with what could be a very damaging split. How long may this resentment last?