Rory McIlroy blasts 'money-grab' Super Golf League as Saudi plan splits locker room

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Rory McIlroy shows his frustration - GETTY IMAGES
Rory McIlroy shows his frustration - GETTY IMAGES

Rory McIlroy has launched a tirade on the Super Golf League (SGL), calling the proposed breakaway circuit “a money grab” and declaring that the PGA and European Tours should do everything at their disposal “to protect their product” - including banning the rebels from the Tours and the Ryder Cup.

Telegraph Sport revealed on Tuesday that many of the top names in the game - including world No 1 Dustin Johnson and England's Justin Rose - are mulling over five-year offers worth up to $250 million to join the SGL. And here on Wednesday, McIlroy made no secret of his vehement opposition.

“You go back to what happened last week in Europe with the European Super League in football,” McIlroy said at Quail Hollow on the eve of the Wells Fargo Championship. “People can see it for what it is, which is a money grab - and if that's what you’re playing golf for, to make as much money as possible then totally fine. Go and do that if that's what makes you happy.

“But I am playing this game to try to cement my place in history and my legacy and to win major championships and to win the biggest tournaments in the world. Golf has been very good to me, obviously, over the years by playing in Europe starting off, coming over to the PGA Tour and playing here. I honestly don't think there's a better structure in place in golf, and I don't think there will be. I think you all know my feelings on it, and I'm very much against it. I don't see why anyone would be for it.”

As the chairman of the PGA Tour's Players Advisory Council, McIlroy’s voice is even more powerful than it would be anyway so his intervention is hugely significant after the players meeting on Tuesday evening when commissioner Jay Monahan warned the room that anyone signing up would face an instant suspension and have their membership revoked for life.

On Wednesday, the European Tour - which last year entered a “strategic alliance” with their American counterparts - released a statement emphatically backing Monahan, saying, “we are aligned with the PGA Tour in opposing an alternative golf league, in the strongest possible terms”, and sources have made clear the rebels would be deemed ineligible for the Ryder Cup, including this year's match in September.

McIlroy believes this to be the correct stance. “You have to protect your product, right?” he said. “You have to protect what you have. It's a competitive threat. And Jay took us through it last night. It’s in the bylaws that were written by the members. If I were in charge of the PGA Tour, I would do the same thing.

"Look, you saw what happened last week in the UK and in Europe with the European Super League. The top 12 clubs got together and said, ‘Let's keep more of the money for ourselves’, and people didn't like that. It affects competition, it affects the integrity of competition. I just can't see how it works. The possibility that people, if they do go in that direction, can't play in the biggest tournaments in the game?

“The game of golf, whether it’s a right thing or a wrong thing, is about history and so we still talk about Gene Sarazen and Walter Hagen and Ben Hogan and all those guys because that's what this game is. It's steeped in history and the legacies that those guys have. If you move further away from that, you're basically losing the essence of what competitive golf is.”

All of which will not bother the Saudis one jot. Indeed, as the field prepared for the $8.1m event, their negotiating team was in Florida buying up the Asian Tour, dramatically outbidding the PGA Tour to effectively take control or the male game’s third biggest circuit.

It is understood that the Saudis have guaranteed to the cash-poor circuit more than $300m in a six-year deal, approximately four times what the PGA Tour offered in a counter bid. Both the Asian and PGA Tours have refused to comment.

It is a complex situation, but insiders suspect that, as well as giving the SGL many venues to start up as planned in September 2022, the Saudis will also try to buy up the other “smaller” Tours around the world, including the Sunshine Tour, the Australasia Tour, the Japan Tour and the Korea Tour. If nothing else it would be a spectacular show of financial might that would split the game in half.

The “strategic alliance” was supposedly meant to kill off the SGL plan - then known as Premier Golf League - but the Saudis are pushing on. And the growing feeling in the locker room is that certain veterans such as Phil Mickelson, Rose and Henrik Stenson are taking the offer extremely seriously.

“Put it this way, your in your 40s, coming to the end of your career, you might have one Ryder Cup left in you and someone is dangling more than $100m in your face,” a source said to Telegraph Sport. “What would you do?”

Other heavyweight targets for the Saudis include Brooks Koepka, Rickie Fowler and Bryson DeChambeau. McIlroy has emerged as the scheme’s most vocal dissenter and Tiger Woods is also understood not to be interested despite the ridiculous numbers.