Could a qualifying school be the way to make a Saudi-backed golf circuit become the leading force in the sport? DP World Tour golfer Matt Southgate discusses the LIV Golf Invitational Series in the latest Sky Sports Golf podcast
Last Updated: 28/04/22 8:24am
DP World Tour golfer Matt Southgate has warned it is too early to write off the new Saudi-backed golf circuit and believes it can still dominate the sport in the future.
The Greg Norman-fronted LIV Golf Invitational Series consists of eight 54-hole events across three continents over a five-month period, with prize purses bigger than anything currently available in the professional game.
Phil Mickelson’s agent revealed on Monday the six-time major winner has requested a release from the PGA Tour to play the first event in June, with Robert Garrigus among the others seeking permission to also be part of the 48-man field.
Many of the world’s top players have already distanced themselves from any potential breakaway circuit, with Rory McIlroy saying earlier this year the potential league was “dead in the water” after Dustin Johnson and Bryson DeChambeau released statements to commit to the PGA Tour, although Southgate believes the Tour can still succeed.
“The most overlooked thing with the Saudi Tour at the minute is that everybody is focusing on the players of today and nobody is thinking of the players of tomorrow,” Southgate told the Sky Sports Golf podcast. “Five years ago, we didn’t know Bob MacIntyre, we didn’t know Scottie Scheffler, we don’t know Viktor Hovland or either of the Hojgaard brothers. When you start going through the list of players who weren’t on Tour five years ago, it’s quite significant.
“Should they have a stumbling block today because they can’t get the players of today, there’s nothing stopping them producing the players of tomorrow. That’s where it’s tough. If I was Keith Pelley, I’d be looking at how to stop them taking those players who will potentially be in and around the Saudi tour in five years’ time.
“If the Saudis decided to have a Q-school, that was free and with a prize fund, and open to be anybody around the world under 25, if there were 50 cards available then you would be sitting on at least a few superstars. The next generation of players are out there playing, and the coaches in the amateur game know who they are.
“The future of that [Saudi] golf Tour is based around having the superstars. Forget about the best players now, as they’re all signed into the PGA Tour or the DP World Tour. How they can possibly prevent the player of tomorrow [from joining] is what worries me.”
Members of the PGA Tour and DP World Tour have to be granted special releases to complete on alternate tours, with multiple reports suggesting sanctions and bans would be given to those who commit to the Saudi-funded series.
Norman said earlier this month he intended to invite a number of top-ranked amateurs, in a bid to “grow the game of golf the best way” for “all levels”, with Southgate concerned about what the recruitment of the sport’s younger players could do for the sport.
“If Saudi were to put on a Tour school for the youngsters and start to produce their own players, which would be easy enough for them to do, then as soon as you ban one current player going to play there you can’t possibly invite a future player coming back to play,” Southgate added.
“Let’s just say the next Bob MacIntyre is 18 years old and he’s sat somewhere in Scotland today. He goes to the Saudi Tour school and wins, or gets an invite to play on the Saudi tour, then in five years’ time he’s world No 1. You can’t then invite him back to play Scottish Open if you’re banning everybody else already on that Tour from going off to play in the Saudi events.
“Are you protecting now and actually opening up a gateway to golfing hell in five years? If you say to Dustin Johnson you can’t go and play in this because we’ll ban you, then you can’t possibly invite someone from the Saudi tour to go and play in your tournaments.
“If they then produce the best players in the world, you instantly become second and third in the world. That’s five to ten years of patiently waiting to produce your own players, and that’s scary.”
Reports suggest 15 of the world’s top 100 players have sought releases in order to play in the opening event at Centurion Club from June 9-11, including Mickelson, with the Daily Telegraph reporting Ryder Cup stalwarts Sergio Garcia, Ian Poulter and Lee Westwood are among the others to consider appearing.
“I believe that with the money that they [Saudis] have got, and the structure and optimism they’ve got, they can become very difficult to compete with,” Southgate added. “If the Saudis had the money to put on a free Tour school with a decent prize fund, then why would you not go and try? If they’re going to say they’ll have X number of tournaments with X prize fund, as an 18, 19, 20-year-old then why wouldn’t you go give it a crack?
“Everyone goes to PGA EuroPro Tour school to go and play for 10 grand a week, so why on earth would you not go to the Saudi tour school and earn much more? All they’re doing is taking a punt that you’re going to be the best players in 2026, 2027 or 2030. Rome wasn’t built in a day.
“The Saudis don’t have a chance as they stand now, as they want to be biggest power in the sport and take over the sport. You cannot do that overnight, it’s going to take time to do that, and you can say that about almost any established sport.
“In golf, the European Tour is very strong and the PGA Tour is arguably stronger, so to overthrow both of those one fell swoop is something that’s not going to be easy. It’s going to take them time, but what’s frightening is that their budget gives them the time. These tournaments are going to happen, whether people like it or not.”