Phil Mickelson headlines week-long dust-up in Saudi Arabia

The 6-time major champion calls out the PGA Tour's "obnoxious greed," while Greg Norman and Lee Westwood add to speculation of a LIV Golf Investments-backed league

Saudi International 2022
Phil Mickelson had some pointed words about the PGA Tour prior to this week's PIF Saudi International.

What a week. And we have yet to even get to the meat of the golf tournaments, specifically the one in Saudi Arabia, where a good bit of dust has been kicked up in recent days, and not the windswept variety at Royal Greens Golf and Country Club.

Phil Mickelson delivered quite the jolt, eight time zones away from PGA Tour headquarters in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., saying in an interview with Golf Digest that the organization’s “obnoxious greed" has led to players looking at other opportunities such as the possible new league being fronted by Greg Norman, the Hall of Famer who is the CEO of LIV Golf Investments.

Norman made headlines this week, too. So did Lee Westwood. And Ian Poulter. And Bryson DeChambeau.

And none of it for their golf at the PIF Saudi International, the first event of the 2022 Asian Tour schedule and one that has been quite disruptive in a broader sense, as 21 of the top 50 players in the world are entered.

Norman, 66, who has also been named the commissioner of a to-be-named league that is backed by the Public Investment Fund, the Saudi-based sovereign wealth fund, was part of a Tuesday news conference in which he announced that LIV Golf would be investing a further $100 million into the Asian Tour, upping the commitment to $300 million over 10 years.

The money is to fund what is being called the International Series, 10 events with bigger prize money than traditional Asian Tour events, with tournaments being played in such places as Thailand, England, China, the Middle East and Vietnam.

“It’s an investment into the future of what the game of golf represents in this region,” Norman said. “Look, LIV Golf, this is just the beginning for us, to be honest with you. We're always looking for opportunities to invest into different markets around the world. … There’s not a professional golfer on this planet that cannot get to this destination without having support of great partners. We’re giving them a pathway to do it.”

LIV Golf’s investment in the Asian Tour is just the start of bigger plans to start a rival league that will offer guaranteed money to some players along with a team element, 54-hole tournaments, no cuts and large minimum payouts.

So far, no players have been announced but clearly those in Saudi Arabia are being courted, including Mickelson, who in a news conference Wednesday acknowledged that the disruptive forces of the proposed new league are forcing the PGA Tour to react.

“I think everybody is looking at it and seeing parts of it that can really help and benefit their situation, their life, their career, and then there's parts of it that they're probably concerned with,’’ said Mickelson, 51, a six-time major winner. “I'm appreciative of the fact that there is competition, and that leverage has allowed for a much better environment on the PGA Tour, meaning we would not have an incentive program like the PIP (Player Incentive Program) for the top players without this type of competition.

“We would not have the increase in the FedEx Cup money. We would not have the increase in the Players Championship to $20 million this year if it wasn't for this threat. It was projected to get there in a couple years. To have a season-long payout for the top 10 guys on the FedEx Cup list came about last year for the first time at $10 million, it's going to double to $20 (million), I think, and that wouldn't be around.’’

Westwood, 48, a 25-time winner on the European Tour who has turned down an opportunity to captain the European Ryder Cup team in 2023, said during a media session prior to the tournament that he had signed an NDA that keeps him from discussing the league. Later, it was learned that nearly all who have been approached have signed such agreements.

So while Westwood was reluctant to share much information, he did note that some of the concepts being discussed, including a team portion, could be good for the game.

 “I think the team aspect is exciting. It's a little bit more volatile than week in, week out 72-hole stroke play,’’ he said. “I think people like to pick teams rather than individual now and then. It's different, and I think golf does need different. I think it's pretty similar all over the world wherever you play, they just seem to stick to the 72 holes.

“I think golf has got to move with the times and become more heat-of-the-moment, volatile and impactful right from the word go,’’ Westwood said. “Certainly if you do it like the team aspect, there's more action happening in more different places.’’

The (London) Daily Telegraph reported that Poulter has been offered between $20 million and $30 million to participate while the (London) Daily Mail had DeChambeau being offered in excess of $100 million, although a source said that number is well off.

Still, the money being discussed is big.

As PGA Tour veteran Pat Perez said: “I know what some of the guys have been offered, and sadly enough, it still seems light to me. Now (the money being offered) is heavy. It’s a heavy number. I’d leave right here and go right to the car and anywhere in the world for that number. But it’s not going to happen. For a guy like me, it’s not going to happen.’’

Who now?

Well, the next step is actually announcing what players are going to be part of this new venture.

If and when that happens, things will really get interesting.