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Saudi-backed golf tour has made lucrative offers to Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka and other stars, according to report


Streeter Lecka

CHARLOTTE —The upstart golf league that seeks to challenge the PGA Tour has progressed to the offer-making stage and hopes to be operational by 2022, according to a report from the British outlet The Telegraph.

The report claims the venture, initially launched in 2020 as the Premier Golf League, has delivered offers as high as $30 million to representatives for Dustin Johnson, Justin Rose, Phil Mickelson and Brooks Koepka, with a handful of other stars on its radar. The group, which is backed by Saudi Arabian money, hopes to lure away some of the golf’s top stars by offering them guaranteed money, in contrast to the PGA Tour’s prize-money model that’s determined by on-course performance.

The PGA Tour is set to hold a mandatory meeting for players in the field on Tuesday at the Wells Fargo Championship at 4:30 p.m. EST, and this topic—as well as the recently announced Player Impact Program—is sure to dominate the conversation. When the PGL made its initial splash, PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan made it clear that any player who signed with the PGL would no longer be a Tour member, and the Telegraph report claims players may be forced to decide between the upstart venture and classic competitions like the Ryder Cup, which is partially owned by the European Tour.

The meeting, it should be noted, has been scheduled since last week and is normal protocol for tour players; there are typically one or two such gatherings per year, with one often occurring at Torrey Pines, but COVID-19 protocols have prevented one from happening yet in 2021.

It would seem the PGL’s conversations have been limited to the elite players—multiple players told Golf Digest they had virtually no information on the matter, and multiple reports suggest the PGL hopes to have limited-field events that could be as small as 16 players.

"It's been an interesting couple of years with this other league. I don't really get into the details at all, I let my agent handle everything, but from the beginning it seemed like something that seems pretty far-fetched to actually happen. You know, to come in and shake up the way golf's always been," tour veteran Webb Simpson said Tuesday at Quail Hollow Club. "If I'm a guy who's on my way to make history like a Dustin or, you know, a few other top guys, I'm going after—I want to go after records, not a dollar. So we'll see what happens, but that's kind of where I sit on it."

The PGL appeared to be a failed concept when multiple top-line players, headlined by Koepka and Rory McIlroy, publicly rejected the advance last year. McIlroy, who has since been elected to lead the Player Advisory Council, cited discomfort with the source of the money and his preference to make his own schedule, rather than being contractually obligated to play in a set number of PGL events.

But one agent for a top-20 player confirmed that the league has not been vanquished. “Players and agents are just listening to their vision and pitch,” he told Golf Digest. “That’s all it is at this point—just a lot of listening.”

A different agent told Golf Digest that representatives for the PGL have been lingering around the golf hub of Palm Beach last month, ostensibly to lay out their vision to the game’s power brokers.

The league’s re-emergence comes on the heels of two noteworthy, and somewhat related developments: First, the PIP, which became public two weeks ago and will distribute $40 million to the 10 PGA Tour players who move the proverbial needle in a positive way. The Tour will determine who receives the money via a formula that incorporates things like social media engagement and Q-score but not on-course metrics. The PIP was seen largely as a response to the PGL, a way to reward the game’s biggest stars with guaranteed money that is not tied to their tournament finishes. The PIP announcement came just after the rise and remarkable fall of the European Super League, an upstart soccer league that secured commitments from 12 of Europe’s top clubs before fan outrage doomed the venture just days after it was announced.