PGA chief executive tells golfers to be ‘mindful’ of Saudi-backed tour

Seth Waugh, the chief executive of the PGA of America, has warned golfers to be “very mindful” of the source of funding behind a lucrative Saudi Arabia-backed breakaway tour. Golf’s version of a super league continues to dominate discussion here in South Carolina, where the best players in the world are preparing for the US PGA Championship.

“I think very mindful,” said Waugh when asked about what golfers should think about the Saudi link. “Enough said. But I think very mindful.

“Money is money, right, and so money needs to have a return and have all those things that are associated with it. But some money is better than other money.

“Particularly for younger players that are going to have a 20-year career, I just don’t think they’re going to be better off in that format than they already are. I’ve talked to a bunch of them. As you can imagine, you look them in the eye and you just say: ‘Be careful what you wish for, because short-term gain feels good for a little while, but long-term gain is what makes lives.’”

Yet the Saudis are pressing ahead with the pursuit of leading players such as Dustin Johnson, Bryson DeChambeau, Justin Rose and Phil Mickelson.

Financial incentives easily run into tens of million of dollars. “I don’t think anything is hugely broken,” said Waugh. “So I’m not sure what the solve is for totally, other than an outside body trying to disrupt and get into the game in a way that I don’t think is in the best interest or long-term interest of the game.

“The game is not in crisis. The game has never been better from a participation standpoint. I The players have never been better served than they are right now.”

Lee Westwood candidly admitted the potential dilemma for those in the latter stages of their career. “If somebody stood here and offered me £50m to play golf when I’m 48, it’s a no-brainer,” he said. “They’ve got a lot of money and they’ve come out and sent a few shock waves about and people feel threatened. The people that feel threatened are trying to combat it.”

Regulations relating to the sport’s official world rankings confirm super league events would fall short of eligibility criteria. The rankings are fundamental for qualification for major championships and the Olympic Games.

Documentation seen by the Guardian confirms world ranking points only apply on the basis that: “Tournaments on a tour must average fields of at least 75 players over the course of each season.” On this rule, the proposed tour clearly falls short; their 14 planned tournaments are for just 48 players.

The guidelines add: “A tour must demonstrate it has complied with the above guidelines for a period of at least one year immediately prior to being admitted to the OWGR system and must continue to comply with such guidelines following its inclusion in the OWGR system.”

The governing board of the rankings system does have leeway to amend or waive much of these rules. However, the staunch resistance against the Saudi plan within the corridors of power renders such a move highly unlikely. The four major championships each provide members for that board.