More defections expected after the US Open as the Saudis are winning in golf’s civil war

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Another fast-paced week in golf’s civil war is coming up with several crucial meetings taking place and the game braced for more defections to the Saudi-backed LIV series.

Following the temporary ceasefire at the US Open last week, all sorts of rumours have been swirling as to the identity of the defectors, including two or three names from the world’s top 15 that would place the rebel circuit on an entirely different level.

There are some who think they are simply waiting for the end of America’s national championship before being announced by LIV and revealing themselves in time for the next rebel event in Portland, Oregon in 11 days.

Spain’s Jon Rahm all but revealed last week that he had been offered $400m to switch

The amounts being bandied about are beyond mind-boggling. Jon Rahm, who isn’t defecting, all but revealed last week that he had been offered $400million to switch.

By that mark, Rory McIlroy must have turned down $500m. ‘I’ll be honest,’ said basketball legend and keen golfer Charles Barkley. ‘If someone offered me $200m, I’d kill a relative!’

The pressure it is placing on the status quo is immense, and clearly poses an existential threat to the game as we know it.

The Travelers Championship on the PGA Tour next week is usually a tournament filled with light relief after a major but not this time.

Only two of the 15 players who competed in inaugural LIV event made the cut at the US Open

Only two of the 15 players who competed in inaugural LIV event made the cut at the US Open

On Tuesday, the characteristically tranquil setting in Connecticut will be transformed into a hive of activity as a PGA Tour board meeting will be followed by another mandatory gathering for the players.

They will be presented with the novel changes expected for the latter part of the year to bring excitement to a humdrum part of the schedule, not to mention guaranteed riches to keep the world’s best out of the clutches of the Saudis.

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The credibility of the rebel circuit was hardly helped by the performances at the US Open of those lured already. Only two of the 15 players who competed in the inaugural LIV event at St Albans made so much as the cut.

The Saudis know they need rather more than hasbeens and twentysomethings taking the easy way out. But they have time and, clearly, limitless wealth on their side.

On Thursday, a crucial part of the mainstream strategy will be revealed when the DP World Tour finally reveals its stance on whether to follow the PGA Tour and ban players such as Lee Westwood and Ian Poulter who have signed up with the Saudis. One event that will clearly be affected one way or the other is the Scottish Open next month, in the week before the 150th Open at St Andrews.

The DP World Tour have yet to announce if they will ban the likes of Lee Westwood

The DP World Tour have yet to announce if they will ban the likes of Lee Westwood

Now co-sanctioned with the PGA Tour, it was the American-based organisation who secured a lucrative new sponsor, Genesis. 

The star-laden field includes Masters Champion and world No 1 Scottie Scheffler, Jordan Spieth and Collin Morikawa, the reigning Open champion. 

But how is the PGA Tour going to react if the DP World Tour announces they are not following their lead on suspensions? And what will be the response of long-time members such as Westwood and Poulter if they do introduce bans, a move that would surely end any future involvement in any form for this pair and others in the Ryder Cup? No wonder it is taking the powers that be at the DP World Tour so long to make their minds up.

There have been plenty of rumours that Keith Pelley, the DP World chief executive, has been coming under massive pressure from the tour’s rank and file to ditch their ‘strategic alliance’ with the PGA Tour and make a deal with the Saudis to tap into their wealth.

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After all, they had no trouble accepting the Saudi shilling when staging an event in Jeddah when it was part of the DP World schedule.

Line-up for the Scottish Open features Masters Champion and world No 1 Scottie Scheffler

Line-up for the Scottish Open features Masters Champion and world No 1 Scottie Scheffler

Former Ryder Cup captain Paul McGinley did his best to dampen those rumours, though, in a column for Sky Sports. ‘As far as I know — and I’m on the board — we’re not playing both sides, we’re playing one side,’ he wrote.

Naturally, the vast discrepancy between the money offered at the Saudi events and run-of-the-mill DP world tournaments is fuelling discontent.

Spaniard Adrian Otaegui made almost twice as much for finishing tied-sixth in St Albans than he had earned in a dozen DP World starts, including three top-five finishes.

In a letter to the rank and file, Pelley explained why it was taking so long to formulate their stance. ‘Although we work closely with the PGA Tour we are different organisations and our rules and regulations are different, too,’ he said.

‘I know that many of you think that the players who have chosen this route (signed with the Saudis) have disrespected the vast majority of the players on this tour but as for what we are going to do, given the complexity of our situation, we are still evaluating our course of action.’

Adrian Otaegui made almost twice as much from LIV event than a dozen DP World starts

Adrian Otaegui made almost twice as much from LIV event than a dozen DP World starts

The other organisations who have been sitting on the sidelines and wondering how this will all play out are the four bodies who run the four majors. 

Mike Whan, chief executive of the USGA — who run the US Open — said last week that he could foresee a day when it was harder for the rebels to gain exemptions — and then he spent longer rowing back his comments. At the moment, the LIV series events are not eligible for world ranking points, so clearly it will be harder given the dependence all four majors place in using that system to determine their fields.

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But what if members of the world’s top 15 sign up with LIV, enhancing its status and credibility for ranking points? The rebels who have earned exemptions for the Open are in the clear for St Andrews, at least. The R&A, quite rightly, have decided that since their rules on eligibility were drawn up months ago, it would be grossly unfair to rewrite them on the eve of the championship.

But what will the four bodies do next year? Will a rule be inserted denying even former champions their place in the field if they are currently suspended by one of the main tours?

So much rumour and conjecture. The great shame about it all, of course — as a compelling US Open here has been demonstrating — is the game could hardly be in a better state in terms of its leading personnel. The sunny outlook, though, is blocked out by LIV’s enormous black cloud — and there is clearly more stormy weather ahead.

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