The inaugural Saudi Leaf Golf Championship concluded on Saturday and sparked a lot of talk.
The curtain fell on Saturday in north London in the first round of the giant battle between renegade league LIV Golf, funded by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, with the sacred PGA Tour, the supreme body of the North American circuit.
South Africa’s Charles Schwartzell, ranked 126th in the world rankings, will go down as the first winner of the LIV Golf Championship, with an unbeatable return on investment: $4 million in profits for three days of competition and just 54 holes, versus four days and 72 holes for a “regular” tournament.
Led by former world number one Greg Norman and funded by the Saudi sovereign wealth fund, LIV Golf scored points this week as the big names line up in St Albans, starting with Phil Mickelson, six Majors on his roster, and Dustin Johnson, two Majors and former world No. 1. Not to mention the other major winners, such as Schwartzel himself (Masters 2011), Sergio Garcia, Martin Kaymer, Graeme McDowell and Louis Oosthuizen. Two more will be added to the roster, at the end of the month in Oregon, for the first stage of LIV Golf in the US: Patrick Reed and especially Bryson DeChambeau.
Many golfers have been banned by the PG Tour
All of these high-profile players including the Americans, who have come under heavy criticism from the Association of Families of 9/11 Victims and which holds Saudi Arabia responsible for the attacks, are already banned from the PGA Tour, or are about to take place, his boss announced. Jay Monahan, but not from the US Open planned … this coming weekend (June 16-19) in Brooklyn (Massachusetts), which will fuel the debate.
Lawsuits will follow, lawyers wringing their hands, because Mickelson, Johnson and others believe they are self-employed and have a right to play where they want, when they want, especially if they are being paid (expensively) for their services.
The numbers are already staggering: in each of the eight stages of the LIV golf course, a minimum of $25 million (€23 million) will be distributed to a 48-player course, and the total planned for this entire inaugural season is 255 million players.
Even crazier, Mickelson would have received a $200 million reward for his commitment, and Johnson would have received $150 million, sums that were not turned down by the parties involved. In 2024, Greg Norman forecast a total budget of $2 billion for 14 events.
Greg Norman has already won his bet, even if some resisters have already declared themselves, starting with Rory McIlroy, Justin Thomas and Scotty Scheffler, the current world number one. On Sunday they will complete the Canadian Open, taking $1.56 million for the winner, counting the PGA Tour…and the world rankings!
Court to settle this case?
Norman, nicknamed “The Shark” when he was a player, advocates a “free and open market” in golf and is willing to support his former co-workers by paying any fines.
European Ryder Cup star Ian Poulter, famous for his boxer pants, was in St Albans this week. He is ready to resume the suspension through the PGA Tour. For him, it “does not make sense” to limit the choice of events by players.
Another topic at the center of this controversy is the world rankings, as the PGA Tour is not willing to award LIV Golf Championship points to players it has suspended or banned. While the DP World Tour (a former European tour), delighted with the potential windfall, has not yet commented on the matter. The world ranking points are even more important because they determine the list of invitees to the four Grand Slams, the ones that build players’ reputations and their place in golf history. The US Open said it was OK for this year, but there are two more on the list this year, including the British Open in St Andrews.
There is still a constant debate about respect for human rights in Saudi Arabia. Mickelson advocates golf to get things done in the right direction, like the Formula 1 promoters when they visit Jeddah. The LIV Golf saga has just begun.