Exclusive: Rookie of the year, recent winner among PGA Tour players given OK for controversial Saudi event

The PGA Tour’s reigning Rookie of the Year and a winner last season are among the players granted permission to compete at a controversial tournament in Saudi Arabia next month.

While the Tour has declined to reveal the exact number or the names of those who requested releases for the PIF Saudi International, multiple sources have told Golfweek that Cameron Young, Lucas Herbert and Cameron Champ are among the members who obtained waivers to compete in Saudi Arabia. Three Korn Ferry Tour players also received releases.

Young was named the PGA Tour’s Rookie of the Year after earning more than $6 million during a debut campaign in which he finished second five times, including at the Open Championship in St. Andrews. Herbert won the Butterfield Bermuda Championship in October 2021 and finished the season with more than $2.5 million in official prize money.

Herbert’s agent, Davis Holman, confirmed that the 27-year-old Australian plans to compete at King Abdullah Economic City on Feb. 2-5. Representatives for Young and Champ, a three-time winner on Tour who has emerged as a leading voice for racial equality, did not respond to multiple requests for comment. While sources say both Young and Champ obtained releases to compete in the Saudi International, it is not known if they actually intend to do so.

A Tour spokesperson declined to comment on specific players who have obtained releases.

PGA Tour members are required to obtain conflicting event releases to play events on other tours. In 2022, the Tour denied waivers to members for a Saudi-sponsored event near London, which was the first tournament staged by the rival LIV Golf league. The Tour and LIV Golf are now locked in an antitrust lawsuit that has bitterly divided players on both circuits.

The Saudi International was created in 2019 by the regime’s Public Investment Fund, which is also bankrolling LIV Golf. Offering lucrative appearance fees, the event attracted many high-profile PGA Tour stars who later jumped to LIV, including Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka, Phil Mickelson and Bryson DeChambeau.

The tournament was originally a DP World Tour stop, but the European circuit is also now being sued by LIV. The 2023 Saudi International is not officially part of LIV Golf’s schedule but is instead listed as an event on the Asian Tour, in which LIV invested more than $200 million last year. That distinction accounts for why the PGA Tour did not reverse precedent and deny releases to members, who are independent contractors.

The number of Tour members seeking waivers to play the Saudi International is down sharply from 2022, even allowing for the players who have since signed with LIV Golf.

Asked why Herbert has opted to play the event and whether he is concerned that doing so will alienate fellow PGA Tour members given the ongoing litigation, his agent Holman said: “He has played the event in the past, enjoys the golf course and it fits well into his playing schedule following the Dubai Desert Classic.”

Herbert has competed in the Saudi International for the past three years, with his best finish a tie for 21st in 2022. Young and Champ have never previously competed in the tournament.

Story originally appeared on GolfWeek