Super Golf League plans unravelling with big names poised to reject breakaway project

·3 min read
World No 1 Dustin Johnson was just one of a number of big names linked with the breakaway competition  - SHUTTERSTOCK 
World No 1 Dustin Johnson was just one of a number of big names linked with the breakaway competition - SHUTTERSTOCK

Proposals for a golf Super League are seemingly unravelling with some of the top targets primed to announce they will not be signing up to the breakaway circuit.

Telegraph Sport revealed earlier this month that players such as world No 1 Dustin Johnson, Bryson DeChambeau and Justin Rose were being offered up to $50m up front to agree to a multi-year deal with Super Golf League, the Saudi-backed enterprise.

The PGA Tour reacted to what it perceived as an existential threat by declaring that any rebels would face a lifetime ban. The European Tour quickly backed their US counterparts and here at the US PGA Championship earlier this week, Seth Waugh, the chief executive of the body that jointly runs the Ryder Cup, confirmed that they would be ineligible from the Ryder Cup, as well as this major. It is understood that the Masters would also bang the gates shut on any exiles.

In light of all this, it was obviously a tense meeting when the player agents met with the Saudi negotiators in the vicinity here on Tuesday. Sources say they could not deliver the assurances that many in the room were seeking and it became clear that with the Tours willing to play hardball to protect their products it would end up in a legal fight.

“That could take years to go through the courts and the pros and their teams realised it would be a big gamble that could result in them being cast into the wilderness until a definitive verdict came through,” an insider said. “Especially with the public kickback, it could be PR suicide.”

With the issue dominating the conversation in the golf world, the PGA Tour is understandably keen for the named superstars to come out and state their intentions to remain with the status quo.

Johnson’s agent, David Winkle, would not comment when asked by Telegraph Sport on Saturday to confirm or deny that the world No 1 would soon be expressing his decision to stick with the Tour, while Rose’s agent, Mark Steinberg, had not replied to a similar query at time of publication.

Phil Mickelson has also been in the sights - with the joint halfway leader here apparently primed as the front man. Brooks Koepka, Adam Scott, Henrik Stenson and Rickie Fowler were the others who showed an interest in the advances of the Saudis, who signalled that they meant business by buying a multi-million dollar house in Jupiter, Florida where so many of the game’s elite reside.

Yet even if, as expected, the players issue their scripted withdrawals next week, the Saudis will not walk away. They will simply try another route to the top table. They have been in talks with the Asian Tour for the past month and with a huge sponsorship deal of up to $65 million per annum they could effectively take control of the male game’s third biggest circuit.

They could do the same with the Sunshine Tour in Africa, the Australasian Tour, the Korean Tour and the Japan Tour. This would give the Saudis credibility and from there they could challenge the establishment from a less radical standpoint. This might be the end of the chapter, but perhaps not the whole story.