Rory McIlroy is “so sick” of talking about the proposed $2.9bn Saudi-backed Super Golf League that now looks almost certain to take off, changing the sport as we know it.
The competition will go public next month after securing the signatures of at least 20 players, a prominent PGA Tour agent told respected golf journalist Alan Shipnuck.
A formal announcement is expected at the Players Championship, a flagship event for the PGA Tour considered by many as an unofficial ‘fifth major’.
Shipnuck says he “respects the b*tchiness” of it all — but McIlroy is fed-up.
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It’s been the hottest topic in golf for more than two years, proving to be nothing but a major distraction for its detractors, led by McIlroy.
The four-time major winner’s feelings are clear: He wants to join about as much as he wants to talk about it.
But the reality is that others do.
Not just middling Tour players who have given up chasing majors, or older players looking to wind down while securing retirement funds in quick time — although, naturally, those players are interested, too.
Genuine stars of the game, both current and emerging, are showing interest and are set to defect from the PGA Tour for the rebel league fronted by Greg Norman.
Money talks — and does so louder than McIlroy ever could.
“Oh, I’m so sick of it,” McIlroy told reporters ahead of the Genesis Invitational at Riviera, where talk around the Super Golf League hit fever pitch this week.
“Certainly for the younger guys, it just seems a massive risk.
“I can maybe make sense of it for the guys that are getting to the later stages of their career, for sure. I don’t think that’s what a rival golf league is really, that’s not what they’re going to want, is it?”
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McIlroy is right.
No investor is going to pour almost $3 billion into a glorified seniors tour — even with a seemingly bottomless pit of funds. So they’re not.
We can’t say for certain who is among the group of 20 defectors, but players well within their prime are expected to be revealed.
Those being approached are forced to remain silent, as Adam Scott told Australian media on Thursday.
Asked if he has been in discussions, Scott said: “Yes.
“But like everyone else, we’re sworn to secrecy.”
Foxsports.com.au understands that Scott was offered a contract as early as May 2021, when 11 players, including Bryson DeChambeau, Dustin Johnson and Brooks Koepka, were approached.
WHO COULD JOIN?
Earlier this week, Tour pro Kramer Hicock said he was aware of 17 players who had signed on, and confirmed there would be some “big name” inclusions.
“I can’t say who they are but there’s going to be some big names going over there,” Hickok told the Stripe Show Podcast.
“From what I’ve heard the money’s very, very appealing.
“You’re only gonna have 12-14 events, those events are gonna have purses, you’re not going to have to deal with missing a cut anymore, there’s only going to be 40 players, and 10 of those 14 events will be in the States.
“Signing bonuses, huge, huge purses, it’s going to be very appealing for some of these guys. Yeah you’ll see some big names for sure.”
DeChambeau is the biggest name to be linked, with the 28-year-old reportedly the big fish investors are chasing to get the competition off the ground.
Some reports say the 2020 US Open champion was offered upwards of $200 million to be the “poster boy”.
DeChambeau rejected the reports, but his denial was somewhat undermined by his long-term mentor Mike Schy’s admission that there’s bad blood between the world No.12 and the PGA Tour.
“Bryson has always had a tenuous relationship with the PGA Tour,” he told The Times. “It started from day one, his first tournament after turning pro in 2016.
“It was Wednesday at 2pm and this PGA official comes over and says, ‘Your putter is not conforming.’ At that time a lot of the (equipment) vans have gone. Then this guy looks at me and says, ‘I don’t know if his irons are conforming either.’ That was day one.
“Bryson’s a rules guy, he wants to know the rules and have them in his favour. All of a sudden, these guys were coming after him. It was like that for a long time.
“There’s probably bad blood on both sides.”
Phil Mickelson is in a similar boat, blasting the PGA Tour last week, while playing at the Saudi International tournament, for directing money away from its stars.
Among his chief complaints was that players don’t own any media rights to pictures or vision of them playing.
“If the tour wanted to end any threat, they could just hand back the media rights to the players,” he said.
“But they would rather throw $25 million here and $40 million there than give back the roughly $20 billion in digital assets they control. Or give up access to the $50-plus million they make every year on their own media channel.
“There are many issues, but that is one of the biggest.”
This coming from the player who won the PGA Tour’s inaugural $A11.1 million Player Impact Program (PIP), which rewards the golfer with the largest presence in the game based on various media measurements.
Others have been less outspoken, but their silence inevitably says more than perhaps they would like.
Australian world No.11 Cameron Smith was noncommittal either way when asked about the Super Golf League last week.
“To be honest, I haven’t thought a lot about it. I’ve got guys around me that think about that stuff,” Smith said.
“I’m just out here trying to play the best I can. We’ll worry about that stuff when it comes around.”
Contacted by foxsports.com.au this week about the Super Golf League, the agent for Smith — as well as Marc Leishman and Jason Day — declined to comment.
WHO IS AGAINST IT?
On the other side of the fence Smith is sitting on is McIlroy and world No.1, Jon Rahm, who also doesn’t want to give the rival league any air.
“This is my official, my one and only time I’ll talk about this, where I am officially declaring my fealty to the PGA Tour,” Rahm said.
“There has been a lot of talk and speculation about the Saudi league. It’s just not something I believe is the best for me and my future in golf, and I think the best legacy I can accomplish will be with the PGA Tour.”
Collin Morikawa joined Rahm in saying “I’m all for the PGA Tour.
“Right now, you look at the best players that I see and they’re all sticking with the PGA Tour and that’s where I kind of stay and that’s where I belong,” Morikawa said.
Meanwhile, McIlroy warned defectors that the riches of playing in the Saudi-backed league “really isn’t going to change their life”.
“Look, I’ve lived it … I’m in a way better financial position than I was a decade ago and my life is no different,” he told Golf Digest.
“I still use the same three, four rooms in my house. I just don’t see the value in tarnishing a reputation for extra millions.”
Realistically, the contract values and prizemonies need to be ridiculous for the league to get off the ground.
To join, a player must effectively denounce the PGA Tour or European Tour, thus sacrificing playing in any of the four majors that are aligned with the organisations.
PGA Tour chairman Jay Monahan has confirmed that any player joining the Saudi-backed league faces an immediate suspension, and potential lifetime expulsion from the PGA Tour.
Players can also expect to draw the ire of contemporaries and legends alike — and that’s to say nothing of being involved in ‘sportswashing’ by Saudi Arabia, which has an appalling human rights record.
Whatever is on offer, however, is obviously enough for some.
Players are believed to have been offered eight-figure contracts to join the league, which will easily become nine figures with a win on the tour.
Every event is also guaranteed a payday, unlike at regular PGA Tour events where a golfer must make the cut to win money, of which a portion is used to pay their caddie.
Scott said another major drawcard of the Super Golf League is the reduced demands with a season reportedly lasting just 14 events with the vast majority in the United States.
“Well when there’s only a proposed 14 events and you might pick to play some other events, there seems to be time for a legitimate off-season and I think that’s really missed on the PGA Tour from all aspects, but certainly from the top players,” Scott said.
“I think we’d all like to see a break and a break where you’re not penalised for taking a break, so I think that’s one of the big things.”
WHAT IS THE PGA TOUR DOING?
In response, the PGA Tour has tried to boost its appeal by increasing the FedEx Cup prize money while introducing the PIP, won by Mickelson.
In reality, it’s a poor deal with only 10 players winning money from the pool of $A55m.
It’s relative chump change compared to what the Super Golf League is offering, as is the new $A70,000 bonus for any player to reach 15 starts in a season.
What happens next is anyone’s guess, but what’s certain is that the league has the potential to tear professional men’s golf apart at the seam.
Nonetheless, Scott is convinced that either way this will prove to be a watershed moment for the sport.
“I think my general feeling on this at the moment is that it’s only a positive thing for professional golfers that there’s interest and money coming into the sport,” Scott said.
“And it’s also somewhat forced the PGA Tour put more money into the professional golfers and we’re seeing that all around the world … so that’s good for strengthening the professional game.
“How everything else pans out I don’t know, but at the moment I think that it’s good that these things are happening for golf professionals.”