Exclusive: Saudi golf chiefs to reveal 'marquee names' for $225m rebel tour

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
·5 min read
In this article:
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
Greg Norman - GETTY IMAGES
Greg Norman - GETTY IMAGES

The Saudi-backed rebel golf circuit is poised to reveal the "marquee names" who have signed up to the $225m tour.

Greg Norman, the two-time major champion who is chief executive of LIV Golf, the entity overseeing the tour, told Telegraph Sport that players including a two-time major winner have been in talks over joining. Norman also claimed that the release of controversial comments by Phil Mickelson concerning Saudi Arabia was part of a conspiracy to derail the venture.

According to LIV Golf, the final details are being confirmed but they “hope to announce some of the players in the coming weeks”. These are thought to include Bubba Watson, Ian Poulter, Lee Westwood and Kevin Na.

The eight-tournament series - that Norman is keen to stress “is not called the Saudi Super Golf League” - is due to tee off in two months’ time at the Centurion Club in St Albans, and the Australian insists the venture will not be stopped.

“We've respected the Masters and let it go off, but now our journey is finally coming to fruition - for the players not for me,” he said. “Their rightful place to have what they want. That's why they are still very, very, very interested. We have players signed, contrary to the white noise you're hearing out there.

“The interest level we’ve had… well, I had a player who's won a couple of major championships sitting in my very office here 48 hours ago.”

It will be, quite easily, the richest golf tournament ever held in Europe with a $25m purse for a 48-man field that will feature competition for individual as well team honours.

“Quite honestly, it doesn't matter who plays, we're going to put the event on,” he said. “There's a $4m first prize. I hope a kid who’s 350th in the world wins. It’ll change his life, his family’s life. And then a few of our events will go by and the top players will see someone winning $6m, $8m, and say ‘enough is enough, I know I can beat these guys week in week out with my hands tied behind my back’.”

Norman believes it will be “a carrot to hard to resist” and sources say the Saudis are willing to up the ante if needs be and lose $2bn in the first three years. The PGA Tour has vowed to issue lifetime bans to any player who signs a contract with LIV Golf, but Norman is adamant that the sanctions would have no legal validity and would be fought in court. Norman concedes, however, that the Mickelson saga was a painful setback.

Just seven weeks ago, LIV Golf were ready to unveil a cast list believed to feature Mickelson, Dustin Johnson and Bryson DeChambeau. However, on the Tuesday of the Genesis Open, Alan Shipnuck published a blog containing quotes Mickelson had given him in November for a forthcoming book.

Mickelson told Shipnuck the “Saudis were scary mother------- to be involved with” and that they have a “horrid human rights record”, citing the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and the execution of gays. But Mickelson announced he was prepared to overlook these atrocities because of the “once in lifetime leverage” it handed him and fellow pros over the PGA Tour in his long-running row over media rights.

Phil Mickelson reacts after hitting from the sixteenth tee during the third round of the PGA Championship golf tournament - USA TODAY
Phil Mickelson reacts after hitting from the sixteenth tee during the third round of the PGA Championship golf tournament - USA TODAY

Within days, if not hours, the top-ranked players came forward to pledge their loyalty to the status quo and when Johnson and DeChambeau enacted their swift U-Turns and Mickelson took an indefinite break from the sport, Rory McIlroy declared the Saudi scheme as “dead in the water”

“It was a kick in the teeth, there's no question about it,” Norman said. “It was a gut punch - we were so close. On that Tuesday we had our strength of field ready to go and the PGA Tour heard about this and threw a giant redwood tree in our roadway. And they did, there's no question about it.

“They created a disruption by putting that information out, all those comments about Phil out there. I feel sorry for Phil. I really do. I feel sad for Phil and I'll always say this. He has an open door to any tournament that he wants to play in.”

When pressed on Shipnuck and the Tour working in cahoots, Norman replied: “That wouldn't be a coincidence - it was calculated. It's not like my 45 years in the game has left me on the outside. I have some pretty good intel that, you know, it was calculated in how it came out.”

The Tour was not available for comment, but Shipnuck dismissed the claim: “That’s crazy - the last thing I’m going to do is be a puppet for the PGA Tour.”

As the clock ticks down to Centurion, Norman is in a combative mood. “I'll stand up there and I'll debate with anybody, anyone,” he said. “To hear all this crap from Golf Channel commentators saying the US Tour players and so and so distracted with all this LIV stuff. I mean, what are you talking about? You're a paid mouthpiece for the PGA Tour. Shut up, write out the facts and then have an open discussion about it. If you still feel that way, so be it. I’ll respect your opinion. Don't give me your vile opinion on not knowing the facts.”

Norman is also fuming with the R&A. The St Andrews governing body has decided to cancel its Open exemption for the Asian Tour’s order of merit winner. That means Norman’s countryman Wade Ormsby misses out on the 150th staging of the game’s oldest major at the Old Course in July. The decision was made after LIV Golf pledged to invest $300m on the Asian Tour.

“That’s below petty as far as I'm concerned,” Norman said. “That's vindictive. Why take it out on the players when your responsibility as an institution is to help grow the player's development program?”