Two Former No.1 Golfers and Ryder Cup Heroes May Have Signed with Saudi Tour

Saudi Golf League, PGA Tour, Ryder Cup(Photo by Geoffroy VAN DER HASSELT / AFP) (Photo credit should read GEOFFROY VAN DER HASSELT/AFP via Getty Images)
Saudi Golf League, PGA Tour, Ryder Cup(Photo by Geoffroy VAN DER HASSELT / AFP) (Photo credit should read GEOFFROY VAN DER HASSELT/AFP via Getty Images) /

The Daily Mail online has printed a story saying that the Saudi Tour has supposedly signed two “former No. 1 Players and Ryder Cup heroes.”  The announcement was made on April 9th, right in the middle of the Masters when the world was focused on Tiger Woods. They did not say it was golfers that were both or golfers that were one or the other.

Regardless, if this story is right, it certainly opens the door to wild speculation.

Since the World Golf Rankings began in 1986, there have been 25 players who have achieved the No. 1 status. Bernhard Langer was the first golfer to be ranked at the top, followed by Seve Ballesteros, Greg Norman, Nick Faldo, Ian Woosnam, and Fred Couples.  Ballesteros died in 2011.  The rest are still with us, but likely a bit old to join the Saudi Tour, although it would be a cash bonanza for any who did.

We assume Norman is getting paid something, but he was never in the Ryder Cup because he’s Australian.  It’s unlikely Fred Couples would jump to the Saudi Tour, although he still has the firepower to draw crowds.

After all, according to Tiger Woods, it was Couples who was responsible for the enormous gallery at the Masters during Woods’ practice rounds.  He was in jest, of course, but Couples might be a great get for the Saudi Tour.  It’s also questionable whether he wants to travel that much and that far at this stage in his life. Oregon is one thing, but the other side of the globe is something else.

When it comes to the Saudi Tour, Woods simply said all his records are on the PGA Tour, and he kind of stared, like, you think you can challenge my record with that? And don’t ask again. We all know that look.

The next group of No. 1s would include Ernie Els, David Duval, and Vijay Singh.  Of the three, only Duval has been in the Ryder Cup, where he played in two matches, in 1999 and 2002. The U.S. lost in 2002 and Duval was not the final point man in 1999.  That honor, more or less goes to Justin Leonard, who secured a half-point for the US by sinking a 40-foot putt on the 17th hole.  Would Justin Leonard leave his post with NBC to play for the Saudis?   Doubtful.  But you never know.  And he was never a world No. 1.  In addition, all three are over 50.  But they have star power.

Are Lee Westwood and Martin Kaymer heading to the Saudi League?

Next at the top of the rankings and two that might be going are Lee Westwood and Martin Kaymer.

Saudi Golf League, PGA Tour, Ryder Cup
Saudi Golf League, PGA Tour, Ryder Cup (Photo by Eric FEFERBERG / AFP) (Photo credit should read ERIC FEFERBERG/AFP via Getty Images) /

Lee Westwood, along with his oftentimes partner Darren Clarke, were notable for their Ryder Cup successes. So there’s potential, and Westwood said he had been in discussions with the Saudi Tour.  It might be a brilliant move for him.

Martin Kaymer was a bona fide Ryder Cup hero at Medinah in 2012 when he made the winning putt on the 18th green to secure the victory. Right now, he is down in the World Golf Rankings at 170. He’s only 37, but he’s playing mostly on a tour where Dustin Johnson – about the same age – has won 24 tournaments and Kaymer’s just won 3 on the PGA Tour.  Granted they have been majors.

Kaymer and his partner Irene Scholz said they were going to take up residence in Florida after the birth of their first child last November.  Kaymer might be a candidate to play Saudi Golf.

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Luke Donald is a former No. 1, but he’s been happily ensconced in suburban Chicago for years, and it just seems unlikely that he would leave the PGA Tour.  It could happen, of course, as he’s now 44, which is hard to believe. He and Rory McIlroy traded back and forth at No. 1 eight times between 2011 and 2012.  McIlroy has already stated his preference. He’s not going to the Saudi Tour.

Some players don’t fit both the Ryder Cup and the World No. 1 category.  Adam Scott, who was No. 1 for a short time in 2014, fits that category.  And as an Aussie, he couldn’t play the Ryder Cup, so while he’s a likely candidate to go to the Saudi Tour, and while he idolized Greg Norman growing up, it’s not certain he will jump. Put him in the maybe category.

Jason Day, another former No. 1, is also an Aussie, so there’s no Ryder Cup for him.  However, with his back issues, he can’t practice and work out the way he did while he got to No. 1. He was one of the first to reveal that it was so much work that he wasn’t certain how much longer he could keep it up.  It would be fewer tournaments for potentially more money, and he’s not getting any younger.  At 34, he will have to work harder than he did in his 20s to get the same results, and his back won’t let him.   But of course, no Ryder Cup.   If it’s an either-or situation, then it could very well be Jason Day.

Now we start getting current, 2015 to the present. Of players who have been No. 1 in that time period, Justin Thomas has said firmly he’s with the PGA Tour.  While Jordan Spieth isn’t on the record, why would he?  He’s still chasing the Grand Slam.

It was suspected that Dustin Johnson was going to sign with the Saudis, but he came out in favor of the PGA Tour. As did Brooks Koepka. Of course, either one could change their minds. Johnson has been off and on No. 1 since March of 2019 and, most recently, July of last year.

Johnson now has a lifetime exemption to play the PGA Tour, so whatever he does, it’s found money, and he doesn’t have to do any kind of qualifying to play in anything except the PGA, the US Open, the Ryder Cup, The Players, and the Tour Championship.  If somebody waived $50 to $100 million or more in his face, he’d have to look at it,  but he’s already won nearly $75 million on the PGA Tour. At some point, he has to ask himself what’s worth what amount of effort.

The only two remaining are Jon Rahm, who said he’s staying put, and Justin Rose, who was the leader in points on the 2014 Ryder Cup team.  Rose is a past U.S. Open champ and the Olympic gold medalist in 2016.  His resume is huge from an international standpoint.

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And of course, we now have Scottie Scheffler, but he’s just won his first Masters.  He’s just building a reputation in the US, and the thing about Texans is that they are Texans first, USA second and everything else comes after that.  Saudi golf?  Doubtful.

So who do you think will be the two players that LIV Golf announces are going to leave the PGA Tour or European Tour for the Saudi Tour?