DEREK LAWRENSON: Greed of the rebels taking the Saudi shilling will turn fans away

Greedy gits or men looking out for their families? Saudi sportswashers or golfers simply lapping up their good fortune?

As the lavishly paid troupe of more than 30 players head over to the kingdom this week for an event that will be preceded today by the announcement by Greg Norman, the frontman for Saudi golf, of a new International Series — including an event in London at the Centurion Club — it’s clear that a line in the Arabian sand has most emphatically been drawn and it’s time to take sides.

In an excellent Sky Sports Golf podcast, commentators Jamie Spence and Robert Lee leave no one in any doubt as to where they stand. In no uncertain terms, they get stuck in to the renegades taking the Saudi shilling.

Sergio Garcia urged the tours to think about his family after they tried to block his Saudi trip

If those considering lucrative offers to sign up for a Saudi tour think there will be no damage to their legacy, they should listen to this pair of wise old heads. Spence is an ex-chairman of the European Tour’s players committee, while Lee is a long-standing member of the board.

They absolutely skewer the risible comments of Sergio Garcia (right) last week, saying the PGA and DP World Tours ‘need to understand what it means for our families’. Not to mention a point Rory McIlroy put to me: ‘What would you do if another newspaper came along and offered to double your salary? These guys are in a difficult position.’

Let Spence explain why they are not remotely in a difficult position. ‘This is all about money and yet they’re all sitting on astronomical pension pots on the PGA Tour on top of all the lucre they’ve got. ‘This idea that they’re looking after their families, they’ve already got life-changing money in their bank accounts right now. It’s not like a person doing a normal job with a chance to double their money.

‘Who can turn it down, they argue. Well I would, in their shoes. I’ve been to Saudi and I’ve got to say I didn’t feel comfortable. I felt morally corrupted.

Rory McIlroy admitted it was hard for players to turn down the lucrative appearance fees

Rory McIlroy admitted it was hard for players to turn down the lucrative appearance fees

‘What’s happening with the Saudis, I liken it to eating from a dessert trolley filled with all the cakes you could desire, and then someone comes along with another trolley filled with a chocolate cake and, even though you’re full, you still can’t resist. Well, time to decide which trolley, guys. You can’t have both.’

Lee added: ‘The current golf ecosystem works so well, it’s made so many people fabulously wealthy and good luck to them. But I don’t see why you’d want to wreck that as a player.

‘This is clearly an outside threat. There should be solidarity. They shouldn’t be going there. This potentially could put a stake through the heart of the game if it grows.’

Spence believes there will be plenty of conversations between the Saudis and the rebels this week over what comes next. Both Spence and Lee are adamant that players can’t be allowed to have it every way. ‘It’s clear there’s not going to be any collaboration between the Saudis and the regular tours going forward, so you have to pick a side,’ insisted Lee.

Jamie Spence (left) is an ex-chairman of the European Tour¿s players committee

Jamie Spence (left) is an ex-chairman of the European Tour’s players committee

The conversation between the pair was the most compelling discussion I’ve heard on golf in a while, and they’re right. This obsession with money will just turn people off, if it hasn’t done already.

On the European Tour over the last two weeks they’ve been playing for a first prize of £1million. On the PGA Tour, they just keep adding more and more to the pot. The Players Championship this year will have total prize money of $20m. And still it is not enough.

Garcia, the man who wants the tours to think about his family, has career earnings of £70m, sponsorship deals over the years of at least that amount and a PGA Tour pension pot running into tens of millions.

Much more of this and professional golf is surely heading for a fall. You’d think it would be hard to cock things up given the rude state of the current game but some appear determined to try.

Nothing stimulates interest like glory… and nothing curdles it like greed.

Rai reaps rewards for leaving comfort zone

If you’re wondering what happened to Englishman Aaron Rai, who won the Scottish Open in 2020, he’s trying to make it on the PGA Tour the hard way. 

First port of call was the subsidiary Korn Ferry Tour, where the 26-year-old Midlander finished in the top 50 at season’s end to earn his precious card. 

Aaron Rai claimed a top six finish in the Farmers Insurance Open in California on Saturday

Aaron Rai claimed a top six finish in the Farmers Insurance Open in California on Saturday

The trick to keeping it is a good start, so you’re not behind the eight ball and under all sorts of pressure come the summer. 

Rai has certainly done that, notching a top six in the Farmers Insurance Open in California on Saturday for his third top-16 finish already for 47th place in the FedEx Cup (the top 125 keep their privileges). 

It looks like his decision to forego a comfortable life in Europe is paying off.

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