Greg Norman appointed CEO of the Saudi group which is launching a series of 10 events on the Asian tour. Here’s what we know and don’t know


Greg Norman is on board. This we know. The World Golf Hall of Famer has been officially named CEO of LIV Golf Investments, the upstart entity of a new series of 10 events on the Asian Tour that will start in 2022 and feature tournaments in Asia, the Middle East. East and Europe. Golf Saudi is indeed involved in the new “partnership” between LIV Golf and the Asian Tour, but questions abound about what we will see next year and the group’s long-term vision. “This is just the start,” Norman said in a statement.

Here’s what we know and what we still don’t know after Friday’s announcement.

Where did this idea come from?

The idea of ​​a world golf circuit that could compete with the PGA Tour has been thrown around for decades. Back when he was world number 1 in the 1990s, Norman himself started a “World Golf Tour” which would include smaller courses and lucrative purses. The PGA Tour and then commissioner Tim Finchem rose to the challenge, in part by embracing the golf world championship series that began in 1999.

Norman’s original idea and the revamped one aim to address a unique aspect of the PGA Tour’s compensation structure that has long angered many of the game’s biggest stars: that they are not being compensated fairly for the eyeballs they have. ‘they bring to sport. As currently constructed, if Tiger Woods and an unknown player finish tied for eighth, they receive the same pay despite Woods paying much more attention to the event. And if a player has a dead year going, his bottom line will suffer because there he doesn’t have a guaranteed contract. Compare this with other sports, where the majority of a star player’s contract is insured when he signs it.

Where does the money come from?

This latest push to challenge the PGA Tour was first revealed in early 2020, when news broke of a startup league looking to attract big-name stars with guaranteed contracts for anyone ready to make a move. act of faith. The new tour would be funded by Golf Saudi, a division of the Public Investment Fund that has sought to change public perception of the nation through the sport. This is different from the Premier Golf League which is based in London and has also sought to attract top talent away from the PGA Tour.

The PIF, Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund with total assets estimated at at least $ 500 billion, has funded a number of sporting events over the past half-decade, including renowned wrestling matches and tennis tournaments. He also recently bought Newcastle United Football Club in the English Premier League.

Golf Saudi has been hosting Saudi International since 2019, a European Tour event that has attracted some of the game’s biggest stars – Dustin Johnson is a two-time champion, and Phil Mickelson and Bryson DeChambeau both played there – with huge attendance fees. Golf Saudi is also behind the construction of several golf courses in Saudi Arabia, including one designed by Jack Nicklaus.

What is it called?

At this time, there is no name for a rival tour as there is no rival tour. Friday’s announcement simply established a new circuit within the larger umbrella of the Asian Tour, although the wording in the statement suggested a more ambitious vision for the future.

Who will play in these events?

This is the key question. Any round of golf, especially one that seeks to overthrow an entity that has sat atop the pyramid of professional golf for half a century, depends heavily on the power of the stars, and the PGA Tour has shown a complete reluctance to play golf. balloon with its challengers. So far, not a single player has declared his intention to quit the PGA Tour and commit his future to a new tour. However, the new series of 10 events on the Asian Tour does not ask players to do so, as it is simply injecting money into an existing organization, not establishing a new tour.

Still, players hoping to make it to the new series will almost certainly need PGA Tour approval. In the past, the PGA Tour has often given this type of endorsement – Matt Kuchar won the Singapore Open 2020 on the Asian Tour, while Rory McIlroy, Justin Rose and Ian Poulter are former champions of the Hong Kong Open – but those approvals came without the context of an existential challenge.

The Saudi-backed company knows it needs big-name players to realize its very ambitious vision, and it surely has its goals. While McIlroy has been steadfast in his commitment to the PGA Tour, a number of other players have appeared more supportive of the project. Dustin Johnson’s agent confirmed that his client had listened to the proposals and also told Golfweek that Johnson had applied for permission to participate in the Saudi Invitational 2022. Rickie Fowler called the idea of ​​a new tour “definitely interesting, ”while Phil Mickelson described what he sees as potential benefits to fans.

“I think the fans would love this because they would see the best players play exponentially more times,” Mickelson told ESPN. “Instead of four or five times, it would be 20 times… I don’t know what the final number is.

“But it’s a big deal to give up control of your schedule. I don’t know if the players would be selfless enough to do this. But all other sports the entity or teams or leagues control the schedule. The players sort of play where they are told to play. Whereas here we are able to control it.

The eventual success or failure of the downstairs tour will depend almost entirely on the players’ willingness to leave behind the familiarity of the PGA Tour establishment for an unproven entity with a controversial funding source. That, like much of this new tour, remains unclear.

Is the PGA Tour vulnerable to a challenge?

So far he has sought to establish that this was not the case. It didn’t take long for the tour to draw a hard line in the sand: you are with us, or you are with them. By mid-March 2020, McIlroy, Brooks Koepka and Jon Rahm had all stated that they were not interested in embarking on a tour that would require them to perform in all of its events rather than their current situation on the PGA Tour. . McIlroy, the chairman of the Player Advisory Council, said he was approached about the idea as early as 2014 and called it a “money grab.” “The good thing if that’s what you play golf for is making as much money as you can. Everything goes well. So go ahead and do this if that’s what makes you happy. But I think the best players in the game – I’m only talking about my personal beliefs – I play this game to try to cement my place in history and my legacy and to win major championships and win the biggest tournaments. of the world.”

In a move widely seen as a response to the Saudi challenge, the PGA Tour looked into a “strategic alliance” with the European Tour at the end of 2020. The two entities announced that they would begin collaborating on programming issues, and there are three sanctioned co-events on both tour schedules for 2022. The European tour also severed ties with the Saudi international – this event will take place as part of the Asian tour in 2022, and members of the PGA Tour and the European tour permit to play there, as is always the case for events organized by an unaffiliated organization. Eight PGA Tour players, including Johnson, have requested tour release, according to Golfweek. The PGA Tour has not commented on whether it could grant those releases.

At the PGA Championship in May, PGA of America CEO Seth Waugh was unequivocal in his organization’s stance against the proposed upstart league. The PGA of America hosts both the PGA Championship and the Ryder Cup, and Waugh has stated that any player wishing to attend any of these events will need to be a member of the PGA of America, and touring professionals obtain that membership. via the PGA Tour. .

Perhaps the most direct response to the challenge has been the creation of the Player Impact Program, a prize pool of $ 40 million that will be awarded at the end of each year to the 10 players who positively advance the sport. This was widely seen as a way to reward the biggest stars for the attention they pay to the sport, no matter how well they perform on the course, the kind of guaranteed money the new league promised and the PGA Tour. had not offered before.

Did the response of the PGA / European Tour succeed in meeting the challenge?

Not yet, otherwise there would be no need to write this article. Representatives of the new company continued to hang around the game throughout 2020 and 2021, often looming around PGA Tour events and in the epicenter of professional golf in South Florida, unwilling to let it die. ‘ambitious project. In May, The Telegraph reported that the Saudi-backed firm had provided offers of up to $ 30 million per year to Johnson, Mickelson, Rose and Koepka and announced that it hoped to be operational from by 2022. Shortly after the news broke, PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan said in a players-only meeting that any player pursuing the new Tour would risk losing their PGA Tour membership.

Undeterred, Golf Saudi poured money into the Asian Tour, apparently believing it was easier to co-opt an existing organization with infrastructure and world ranking status than to start a whole new tour. At least that’s the initial plan, as evidenced by Friday morning’s announcement.

So what is their final vision?

It remains unclear. Details on the new 10-event series remain unclear, but it looks like they’ll be more like conventional 72-hole stroke-play tournaments than was originally reported: limited fields, a team-based aspect and possibly be a shorter competition. Whether the end goal is actually to establish this new circuit, with this series of 10 events serving as a sort of bridge, is not yet certain.

“I have been a strong supporter and believer in the practice and development of golf in Asia for over four decades,” said Norman. “The Asian Tour is a sleeping giant and we share the ambition to grow the series and unleash what we believe to be significant untapped potential. We see promoting these new events as a vital first step in supporting emerging markets. , by creating a new platform, rich in gaming opportunities that create valuable player journeys. ”

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