How Trump and the Saudis teamed up to tip golf into chaos

How Trump and the Saudis teamed up to tip golf into chaos

Donald Trump’s Doral course in Miami will host the grand $50million finale of the Saudi rebel series, almost certainly ending any lingering chance of the Open Championship returning to Turnberry while it is owned by the former US President.

It is understood that an official announcement will be made next week, with LIV Golf – the entity run by Greg Norman that is overseeing the Kingdom’s bid to revolutionside the male game – completing the details for its eight-strong $225million mini-circuit that begins in London in seven weeks’ time.

It had been expected that the series-ender from Oct 28-31 would take place in Saudi Arabia itself but Trump National Doral – until recently a high profile PGA Tour stop-off – has been chosen with the owner’s blessing, the 75-year- old presumably impressed by LIV’s undertaking to outlay $3billion in three years if that is what it takes to gain a foothold in the elite environs.

Trump’s course in Bedminster will also hold the third LIV Invitational at the end of July, but hosting the showpiece will solidify the relationship and cause the most controversy.

Certainly the sight of Saudi Sheikhs and Trump handing grateful golfers novelty-sized checks will be enough to bring golf’s traditionalists out in a cold sweat, and the R&A are also certain to take notice.

A well-placed source claimed that this will spell bad news for Turnberry – the venue of the Open’s classic Duel in the Sun between Tom Watson and Jack Nicklaus – and the hopes of an imminent British major at the beloved Ayrshire links.

“It will not happen in Trump’s lifetime,” they said. “Not if he is giving the Saudis this platform. The R&A is firmly on the side of the traditional Tours.”

Trump was due to welcome his first male major at Bedminster next month, but in the wake of the storming of the Capitol 15 months ago, the PGA of America decided to move the US PGA to Tulsa. With Doral struck off the World Golf Championship rota, Trump was effectively ostracized but LIV have given his beleaguered golfing portfolio the kiss of life.

The relationship has already been dubbed by insiders as ‘The Axis of Eagle’, with recent reports in the US revealing a $2billion investment from Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner for a $2.5 billion private equity venture.

As that latest revelation works its way through the columns, talk shows and maybe the Senate itself, perhaps it is not the best time to be signaling deeper cooperation.

The next staging post for the rebels is looming large on Monday, when any PGA Tour members who want to appear in London must submit their requests for a release. The 54-hole tournament boasts a $25million purse which will, at that point, make it the most lucrative individual competition ever staged.

The LIV Series will root itself in America for four tournaments from July to September, before a visit to Bangkok and then to Jeddah, before the $50million grand finale at Trump National Doral.

That will mean five out of the eight LIV Series events are taking place in the US, which reflects where Saudi priorities lie and is, naturally, a direct challenge to the PGA Tour.

The skewing of the Series towards the US is causing consternation given the Trump connection and the last presidency’s failure not only to come down hard on the Saudis after the murder of journalist and American citizen Jamal Khashoggi, but actually to increase US arm sales to the state .

A source claims PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan has been assured of powerful political support if needed, but this is likely to end up in the courts rather than the Oval Office.

‘The Tour are cutting off their nose to spite their face’

Much has and will continue to be made about the relatively poor standard of the anticipated Centurion field and the identities of the 48 men who will tee it up in the advance party of the revolution.

So far we only know that six ‘journeymen’ DP World Tour members and one PGA Tour member – world No 1,043 Robert Garrigus – have formally applied, but many more will follow. Providing the numbers and, more pertinently, the names are not too great then expect Monahan to keep his powder dry and afford his permission, and – despite it being on their own doorstep – for Wentworth HQ to do likewise.

But this will be the mere undercard to the bloodiest showdown. If and when the applications arrive for the first LIV event on US soil – in Portland, on July 1 – the saga will finally reach its tipping point. Unless he changes his Tour’s constitution, Monahan will not be able to grant anything. The Tour bye-laws state that its members cannot play in a conflicting event in North America. Only the scale of punishment will be on the table.

In the years since the rebel circuit went from rumor to substance – it goes back to 2014 and has taken many forms before the Saudi’s introduction suddenly rendered the proposals deadly serious – Monahan has increasingly made it clear that any players signing up will be banned.

But that was for the mooted F1-style league itself and, after the top names pledged their loyalty to the status quo in February in the midst of the Phil Mickelson furore, LIV Golf quickly altered their gameplan.

Norman had been primed to launch his league, but was derailed when the likes of Dustin Johnson and Bryson DeChambeau enacted dramatic U-Turns before, of course, Mickelson himself followed suit. In only a month, LIV Golf drew up an eight-strong series, establishing it as a run of singular tournaments.


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