The Saudis are reportedly offering enormous sums of money to pro golfers to join their league
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The Saudis are reportedly offering enormous sums of money to pro golfers to join their league

LA QUINTA, CALIFORNIA - JANUARY 17: Phil Mickelson tees off on the 17th hole during the second round of The American Express tournament at the Jack Nicklaus Tournament Course at PGA West on January 17, 2020 in La Quinta, California. (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)

The Saudi Arabia-backed golf league concept that has been proposed to a variety of star players has been out in the ether for several years now. To date, they've had no takers -- or at least a critical mass of top-tier golfers to actually get the concept off the ground.

However, it appears the Saudis are extending eight- and nine-figure offers to players who may be willing to defect from the PGA Tour and DP World Tour (erstwhile the European Tour) to join this concept.

Reports from the Daily Mail and Telegraph this week indicate the monetary lengths the Saudi-backed concept -- likely through the Greg Norman-led LIV Golf Investments, in which the Saudis have invested -- owners are willing to go to sign name talent.

According to the Daily Mail, the Saudis have offered 2020 US Open champion Bryson DeChambeau a sum of £100 million ($137 million) to join their league -- a figure DeChambeau disputed in Instagram comments. This report follows on the heels of a Telegraph report that the Saudis have offered Ian Poulter in upwards of $25 million to join their league. Lee Westwood has said he has signed a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) with the concept ownership, suggesting he is in negotitations for a similar eight-figure sum as Poulter.

It's unclear how long players would be signing on to the concept in exchange for this money.

Phil Mickelson, who has used the concept as an opportunity to rail against the PGA Tour's business model and has teased interest in the Saudi concept, is 51 years old. Lee Westwood is 48. Ian Poulter is 46. For these players, taking the money may be a simpler, financially driven decision. They're much closer to the end of their careers on the PGA Tour and DP World Tour than the beginning.

Dustin Johnson, who chose not to disclose information about offers made to him by the Saudis, would be a younger star, though he is quickly approaching 40 years old.

The 28-year-old DeChambeau, though, could be positioned as a younger star that could sustain the concept in future years. Surely, the Saudis have made financial overtures to other younger stars, if not the full world top 50, and those figures will likely continue to trickle out in public view. The expectation is that the Saudis are willing to spend billions of dollars to acquire players.

Players who have chosen to speak publicly in outright favor or with curiosity about the concept have been quick to attempt a dancing act that distances them from the Saudi government's human-rights abuses.

The PGA Tour and DP World Tour have both said they would look to ban breakaway players who sign with the sportwashing league. The DP World Tour controls qualifying for the European Ryder Cup team. The PGA Tour doesn't control the US Ryder Cup team qualifying; that's done by the PGA of America. However, they control qualifying for the Presidents Cup. The legality of membership bans for these players may not be on firm legal ground and would almost certainly be challenged in court.

The Saudi golf league would likely be run through the Asian Tour, which has signed a 10-year deal with the Saudis to make this week's Saudi International into their flagship event. LIV Golf Investments announced this week that they've increased their Asian Tour investment from $200 million to $300 million, with a 2022 slate of 10 tournaments on the tour. Dubbed The International Series, the tournaments will have purses of $1.5 million to $2 million -- hardly compelling money to star players, but it could create the foundation of a system that would allow players to flow to the bigger league concept.

Most critical to the Saudi concept's partnership with the Asian Tour is an existing relationship with the Official World Golf Ranking. Asian Tour events are sanctioned and offer a baseline of points. Were the Saudi league able to put on tournaments with consistently high OWGR ratings, players would be able to sustain their world-ranking position, which has become a critical entry point for the majors.

The four bodies which control the men's major championships -- Augusta National Golf Club, the PGA of America, the USGA and the R&A -- could fundamentally squelch the concept, however, if they chose to prevent Saudi league players from competing in the four biggest tournaments in golf.

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