7 Reasons Saudi-Backed Tour, With or Without Greg Norman, Is Likely to Fail

Team USA fans dance in the stands before the first tee off at the Ryder Cup at Whistling Straits, Sunday, September 26, 2021, in Haven, Wis.Gary C. Klein/USA TODAY NETWORK-WisconsinShe 092621 Ryder Cup Day 3 Gck 008
Team USA fans dance in the stands before the first tee off at the Ryder Cup at Whistling Straits, Sunday, September 26, 2021, in Haven, Wis.Gary C. Klein/USA TODAY NETWORK-WisconsinShe 092621 Ryder Cup Day 3 Gck 008 /

The same people who wanted to back the Premier Golf League or Super Golf League earlier this year, last year and the year before, are back looking to buy PGA Tour and European Tour and probably Australasian Tour players for their new kind of golf. Now, we are finally finding out much more about the backers of the Saudi-Backed Tour and their ideas. According to USA Today/Golfweek, Greg Norman is going to be the commissioner.

The backers have been defined as being Saudis, and we know this because the proposed tour is, according to The Guardian, fronted by Majed al-Sorour, the chief executive of Golf Saudi.

They are still taking about 18 events, playing in four-man teams and having between 40 and 48 players.

If you didn’t know golf, you’d think wow, they have all the money.  They can make this work.  They can buy plenty of TV time if they want it. They can sell streaming versions or create their own network or maybe get a deal with Al Jazerra.

And yet, they are going to face difficulties in creating a new “golf league.”   The reason is that they really don’t understand professional golf. There are at least seven reasons why:

1. They think golf can be a team sport and, from an historical perspective, as far as fans are concerned, they are wrong.

Team golf leaves town after the Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup and Solheim Cup are over. Then it’s back to Rory and Brooks and Bryson and Phil, and when is Tiger going to play again. It’s not soccer.

To prove it, just look at World Team Tennis.  What? you ask.  Exactly. They’ve been around since 1973, and most people still don’t know they exist.

2. They think players want to sign up for 18 events, no matter where or when they are held.

Right now, PGA Tour players only have a requirement of 15 events. Why play 18 and travel more?   Euros have a much lower number of required events.

3.  Distant travel is a potential downside.

The PGA Tour is spoiled by location.  No golfer has to travel to a foreign county to play and be successful and make a living on the PGA Tour.  The worst commute PGA Tour players have is to Hawaii or back and forth from the east coast to the west coast of the US.  In Florida, California and Texas, you can drive to several events.  Pre-pandemic, there was the annual excursion to Canada for the Canadian Open, but that’s like going to Detroit.

If anyone would bite at the opportunity, you’d think it would be Europeans.   They have always had a much tougher travel road.  They play in Europe, in Africa, in Australia and in Asia. And if they play the WGCs and three of the four majors, they will come to the US. It’s a lot of frequent flier miles. Traveling gets hard. The time zone thing starts to beat you up after a while.

If you are a US player, why give up playing on one continent? Mostly one country?

With 18 events held no one-knows-where, the chances are good that, even if it’s a charter flight, it’s going to be a longer haul than the PGA Tour, but maybe not longer than the European Tour.

Of course, if they played all their events in the US, it could change things a bit, but why would the Saudis want to do that? Maybe that’s the next shoe to drop in their plan. And that could create a kerfuffle.  While we may not talk about it a lot, nobody in the US has forgotten 9/11 and the destruction and loss of life that was caused by a rich Saudi who hated the US and everything about us.

4.  Sports contracts.

It’s not just the golfer psyche that is built on individual achievement.  Equipment contracts, ball contracts, shoe contracts and more are all based on the PGA Tour or European Tour or in whatever tour the player participates. They are based on appearances and finishes in those events. They aren’t quantified for a team.  A good player is just going to get less cash.

5.  The majors:  How do you qualify?

Today, and for all of time in golf, criteria for playing in the most prestigious tournaments in golf are based on yearly performance, top 50 in the world or victories. If you play only for a team, the team isn’t going to be invited to the Masters.  The team isn’t in the top 50 in the world for the U.S. Open or British Open or PGA. The team has no way to get a spot at The Players. Other than past champions, how do members of a team get to play?  Yes, the US Open and British Open have qualifiers, but most high-level golfers don’t like those at their level.  That’s why the tournaments came up with exempting the top 50 or whatever the number is for each event.

6.  History.  It can’t be duplicated.

The Masters, PGA, US Open, British Open, and over time, The Players, are all about the history of the events and the golfers who made history by winning them and the way they won them.  Whether it’s Ben Hogan’s 1-iron at Merion or Tiger’s chip in on the 16th at Augusta or Jack Nicklaus’ miraculous victory at the 1986 Masters or Mickelson’s amazing win at last May’s PGA. Those are all history.

Unless you are a franchise like the Green Bay Packers or the Chicago Bears or the New York (football) Giants, it’s unlikely your golf team or can attain serious history.

History doesn’t have to do with money.  The plain fact is most golfers play for the money in the beginning because they don’t have it.  A lucky few, like Tiger Woods, Jordan Spieth and Michelle Wie West, to name three, signed contracts with sponsors before they ever hit a professional golf shot. That gave them the luxury of playing to win. Playing to establish a reputation.  In the case of Tiger Woods, playing for history.

After a few victories, many golfers who have won millions play for the thrill of winning, not for the money.  Ask any of them. You never hear them say they had to make a putt for X number of dollars unless it’s to keep a playing card. It just doesn’t happen.

7. There’s no “winner.” 

You can’t underestimate this enough, particularly for the future.

This new super golf group thinks a team win each week is going to generate enough enthusiasm for people to care.  Gosh.  Have they ever heard about Tiger Woods winning 82 tournaments?

Would he have generated as much energy and fan support playing for a team victory every week? What if he played lights out and the other three team members were horrible that week? What if they were horrible for five or six events in a row?  What would a career look like?  Being on a losing team for 10 seasons? Not appealing to most golfers.

While those are not the only reasons the Saudi idea is likely to fail, they are big ones. They have nothing to do with overcoming the PGA Tour or European Tour regulations. They have to do with golf, how it works, how it’s been played and the kind of people who play it.

So, while we should expect the Saudis to wave a lot of money in the air hoping to sign mega-stars in golf, the likelihood of it happening is actually slim. The chances of them signing the top 40 or top 50 in the world, which is what they would have to do to have a chance to make this concept work, is slimmer.

Currently, the major world golf tours offer exceptional opportunities to those who are good enough to become frequent winners.  And guys like Rory McIlroy and Dustin Johnson and Bryson DeChambeau and Brooks Koepka and Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods – if he’s able to return to playing golf — don’t need a “team” in order to shine. They are all pretty sparkly on their own.