Saudi League set to stay as defiant Greg Norman starts to ‘tempt’ big names like Garcia

Mickelson signs up for controversial LIV Golf Invitational

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Just two months ago Greg Norman’s hopes of changing the face of golf looked all but over, as his proposed Saudi-backed Golf League plan seemed dead in the water. The proposal was met with plenty of criticism, and when some of the world’s best players were threatened with lifetime PGA Tour and Ryder Cup bans, the chances of golf’s biggest names joining up looked pretty slim. The likes of Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm and Collin Morikawa were quick to squash any idea of linking up with Norman’s new idea, and when the likes of Dustin Johnson and Bryson DeChambeau confirmed they wouldn’t be taking part, it seemed as the SGL had lost its proposed ‘poster boys’.

Fast forward eight weeks though, and Norman and co are not going anywhere anytime soon with the circuit’s inaugural event at Centurion Club just over one month away. With the series opener edging ever closer, the saga has been thrown into the limelight once more following the PGA Tour’s deadline for player applications to be released to play in the event in June.

It remained unknown as to who would make the decision to show their interest in the Norman-led series, and after months of negative press it came as somewhat of a surprise to see some of the players who had reportedly dropped their names in the LIV Invitational Series.

One man who was more than open to the idea was Phil Mickelson. The six-time major champion had been the name most linked to the SGL, making his interest public over the last couple of months. However it seemed as if Mickelson’s participation was in doubt after he was publicly slammed for comments surrounding the Saudi state and the PGA Tour.

Mickelson recently described the Saudi state as ‘scary motherf*****s’ in reference to the country’s poor human rights record. However, he hinted that he was willing to look past this in order to gain ‘leverage’ on the PGA Tour, after he had previously taken aim at the circuit and its bosses.

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The controversial comments left the 51-year-old’s glittering golfing legacy in tatters, and this led to dramatic apology in which Mickelson confirmed he would be taking a break away from the sport. This ‘break’ saw him miss the recent Masters Tournament for the first time in 28 years, however a recent statement from his management team proved good news for his career and the Saudi Series.

In a post on social media on Tuesday, Steve Loy, co-president of Mickelson’s management company, SportFive confirmed the American will make his return to defend his PGA Championship next month, whilst also adding that he had applied to compete in June’s Saudi League opener. He said: “We have also filed a request on his behalf for a release to play in the first LIV Golf Invitational in London, June 9-11. 

“Phil currently has no concrete plans on when and where he will play. Any actions taken are in no way a reflection of a final decision made, but rather to keep all options open.” Despite all the controversies surrounding both Mickelson and the SGL, it seems the American is still keen to help keep Norman’s contentious plan alive, and he isn’t the only one.

Following the news surrounding Mickelson, it has also been reported that three of Europe’s biggest names were willing to sacrifice their Ryder Cup legacy in exchange for a spot on the breakaway series. Sergio Garcia, Lee Westwood and Ian Poulter have all allegedly submitted their interest, which if allowed could cost them the chance to one day captain the European Ryder Cup side following strong previous warning from the DP World Tour.

Of course there is one common theme across the majority of those names linked to the Saudi switch, with these stalwarts of the game all closer to the backend of their careers rather than the start. The pull of course is the chance to secure one last mammoth payout, with the SGL’s lucrative prize money making it hard for many to say no.

In time, Norman believes the prize money which is set to come in at least £199 million across the series, will soon attract all of the sport’s big names. He commented: “A few of our events will go by and the top players will see someone winning $6 million, $8 million, and say ‘enough is enough, I know I can beat these guys week in week out with my hands tied behind my back.'”

Whether the likes of McIlroy, Rahm and Morikawa will ever make the move still remains to be seen. However, one thing that is for sure is that the Saudi Golf League is no doubt here, and it looks as if it is here to stay.

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