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After weeks of momentum behind the Saudi golf league, top pros took the podium at the Genesis to pledge their allegiance to the PGA Tour.
PACIFIC PALISADES, Calif. — The mysterious Saudi golf league seemed to be gaining ground on the PGA Tour in recent weeks.
Phil Mickelson unleashed the first haymaker, going scorched earth on the Tour in a scathing interview with Golf Digest, citing “obnoxious greed” as a reason to seek playing opportunities elsewhere.
Then, Bryson DeChambeau’s name was linked the proposed tour as The Daily Mail reported that DeChambeau was offered over £100M (~$114M) to be the face of the league. (DeChambeau denied the report in a one-word Instagram reply: “wrong.”) Ed. note: DeChambeau is a playing editor for GOLF.
Lee Westwoood admitted he’d signed an NDA. Dustin Johnson stated he “really like[d] the concept.” Kramer Hickok claimed 17 players had already signed on for the league. The pendulum seemed to be in the direction of the breakaway venture.
But this week, top Tour pros yanked it back in the opposite direction.
Eight players strolled through the media center for pre-tournament availabilities in Riviera’s picturesque clubhouse on Tuesday and Wednesday. Nearly all of them rebuked the Saudi golf league and affirmed their allegiances to the PGA Tour.
“I am officially declaring, let’s say, my affiliation to the PGA Tour,” said world No. 1 Jon Rahm. “I’m a PAC member and I have a lot of belief in Jay Monahan and the product that they’re going to give us in the future. There has been a lot of talk and speculation on the Saudi League. It’s just not something I believe is the best for me and my future in golf, and I think the best legacy I can accomplish will be with the PGA Tour.”
The biggest draw of the Saudi league thus far has been the promise of fistfuls of cash. The source of this cash, however, has been a huge point of consternation. But even with the promise of ludicrous amounts of money, Rahm will not budge.
“I don’t do this for the money, which to me is the only appeal to go over there,” he said. “I’m in this game for the love of golf and the love of the game and to become a champion.”
Legacy, he said, is far more important than zeroes in a bank account.
“I’m all for the PGA Tour,” said world No. 2 Collin Morikawa. “My entire life I’ve thought about the PGA Tour, I’ve thought about playing against Tiger, beating his records, whatever, something that might not even be breakable, but I’ve never had another thought of what’s out there, right? I’ve never thought about anything else, it’s always been the PGA Tour.”
Count Max Homa in the Rahm-Morikawa camp as well. Although the defending Genesis Invitational champ might not have the same robust resume as the major winners at the top of the world rankings, he does share a similar ethos with them when it comes to possibly joining the Saudis.
“I love the PGA Tour,” Homa said. “Driving up to this golf course with memories of winning a golf tournament that Tiger Woods handed me a trophy, they don’t have that in a breakaway league … My point is, everything through this golf tournament that has made me get the chills as I talk about it and get the chills as I drive up here and think “what the hell” when I see my picture on things out on the golf course that I grew up to love, I would not be getting that anywhere else. That’s my allegiance.”
Rory McIlroy, who has long been candid about his distaste for the breakaway league, admitted he was “sick” of discussing the concept, even calling it the “not so Super League.” Making the leap makes sense for players in the twilight of their careers, he said, but for the younger players, where is the appeal?
“It just seems [like] a massive risk,” McIlroy said. “You look at the people that have already said no, Rahm, No. 1 in the world, Collin Morikawa, myself. Like you’ve got the top players in the world are saying no, so that has to tell you something.”
The lone voice of dissent to come through the media center was that of Adam Scott, who called the tour’s proposed schedule “very appealing” and said he’d had discussions with league organizers.
“But like everyone else, we’re sworn to secrecy,” he said.
This pattern is likely to continue: PGA Tour loyalists can declare their positions freely, while potential defectors will stay silent. For now.
Zephyr Melton is an assistant editor for GOLF.com where he spends his days blogging, producing and editing. Prior to joining the team at GOLF.com, he attended the University of Texas followed by stops with Team USA, the Green Bay Packers and the PGA Tour. He assists on all things instruction and covers amateur and women’s golf.
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