The Saudi golf league isn’t going away — so here are your options
If this week’s reported eight– and nine-figure offers, Phil Mickelson scorched-earth interviews and Greg Norman announcements are any indication, the Saudi Golf League is, in some form, very much here to stay. And despite his occasional forays into hyperbole (like his claim that the PGA Tour is gatekeeping $20 billion in media), one area in which I do agree with Mickelson is this: There’s nothing simple about what happens next. As a golf consumer, how should you feel? Who should you root for? What are your options? I’ve laid out five potential paths for you; let your heart and your head guide you the rest of the way.
1. Moral High-Grounder
Standard-bearers: Brandel Chamblee, Rory McIlroy
Your take: Look, it’s one thing to play tournament golf in a country with a problematic government. But it’s morally reprehensible to take tens of millions of dollars from a government with a noted history of human rights abuses when you’re being specifically paid to improve that government’s image to the world. And as a consumer, you won’t support that sort of behavior by watching a Saudi-funded tour no matter the participants.
Endorsement (from Rory McIlroy): “People can see [the Saudi-backed tour] for what it is, a money grab, which is fine if what you’re playing golf for is to make as much money as possible. Totally fine, then go and do that if that’s what makes you happy.”
Phrases to deploy: “Right side of history,” “Don’t like where the money’s coming from,” “Philosophical, moral, ethical issues.”
2. PGA Tour Loyalist
Standard-bearers: Tiger Woods, Jon Rahm, Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas
Your take: You’re not sure exactly how to feel about the moral issues surrounding the Saudi-backed league, but you do know one thing: You like the PGA Tour! It’s not perfect, but it’s the form of competitive golf that brings us all together! And siphoning off a chunk of its stars to compete in strange time zones, in different formats, in brand-new tournaments — that just threatens to dilute the product, confuse your fellow viewers and ruin the sport that you enjoy watching. Plus you don’t think there’s any reason this new tour will gain traction, anyway; it’s pretty damn hard to effectively build a sports league from scratch. Not even when you’re piggybacking onto an established product. Just ask the XFL! So for now, you’re out.
Phrases to deploy: “Competition has forced the Tour to become even better,” “That’s where Tiger’s legacy is,” “I love the John Deere Classic.”
3. Chaos Agent
Standard-bearers: Your buddy who tags you in random Instagram posts, Pat Perez
Your take: You’re just here to watch the golf world burn. You like the PGA Tour but you can’t help but feel beaten down by 46 weeks of 72-hole stroke play golf per year. You love the idea that all of this is causing Phil Mickelson to go to war with the PGA Tour, and for Brooks Koepka to snipe at Phil Mickelson on Instagram. You think the idea of guaranteeing any golfer 100 million dollars is outrageous — but it’s also pretty funny. You’re excited to see what happens next and you’re chortling at the Jason Kokrak memes coming through your timeline. In the end, you hope there’s some entertaining golf to throw on in the background during work, and you think some competitive golf in the Saudi time zone could actually help round out your early-morning shift.
Endorsement (from Pat Perez to SI.com): “I talk to everybody. I know who has been contacted and who hasn’t. It’s all interesting. There’s a ton of money but you are going to have to spend a lot of money to the right guys to get them to go. And if you do, you will give them a hell of a decision to make.’’
Phrases to deploy: “Did you see what Phil said?” “Did you see what Brooks said?” “Did you see what Bryson said?”
4. Intrigued Skeptic
Standard-bearers: Dustin Johnson and plenty of Tour pros
Your take: You’re into the idea of a PGA Tour alternative. You think golf should be more like Formula 1 in every way possible, and you were all the way in on the model proposed by the Premier Golf League (different from the Saudi league), which involved franchises, team golf, fewer no-name golfers and compelling dynamics. But you’re uncertain about the source of the money, you have some moral misgivings about sportswashing (though it’s not a deal-breaker), you’re not sure that this thing will actually get off the ground and the lack of any obvious business plan beyond “let’s spend a couple billion dollars acquiring some pro golfers” gives you pause. Still, a little positive momentum and you’re in. A couple top-10 player commitments, a splashy shotgun-start event on a cool course and a cool TV deal and you’ll hop on the hype train.
Endorsement (from Dustin Johnson): “I think it’s a really good concept. I think it makes it a little more interesting for the fans and for the players. Yeah, I like the concept.”
Phrases to deploy: “I’ll watch wherever the best players are playing,” “Taking a wait-and-see approach,” “I don’t want to talk about that right now.”
5. All In
Standard-bearers: An indeterminate number of pros playing in this week’s Saudi International
Your take: The PGA Tour is an archaic business model that doesn’t get even close to showcasing the most exciting version of professional golf. Leave it behind! These golfers are top-tier athletes who should be paid accordingly. If that means $385 million makes Rory McIlroy change his mind, so be it. The PGA Tour — not the players — are the game’s greedy gatekeepers. As for the tournaments? Turn ’em up to 11! Golf should be faster and more exciting. Under this plan, it will be. It should be spread throughout the Kingdom and beyond.
Endorsement (from Lee Westwood): “If somebody stood here and offered me 50 million quid to play golf when I’m 48, it’s a no-brainer.”
Phrases to deploy: “Grow the game,” “The PGA Tour’s obnoxious greed,” “They’re golfers, not politicians.”
Can’t decide? That’s probably okay — the golf world will likely make its decisions without your direct consultation. But where you take your talents (aka your television viewing habits) from there is up to you.