The new Saudi golf league attracts players’ interest

Led by Greg Norman and backed by Saudi Arabia, the LIV Golf Invitational Series, a competition for the PGA Tour, is preparing to announce a roster of players with several notable names, according to a new report in the Telegraph.

Norman is pressing ahead with the project despite fierce public criticism of Phil Mickelson’s ties to the endeavor, and has indicated to the Telegraph that he will formally announce the “highlights” who will be joining the tour in the coming weeks.

The Telegraph report mentions two-time Masters winner Bubba Watson, longtime PGA Tour player Kevin Na, and Westwood and Ian Poulter of the Ryder Cup are likely to join me. (Poulter, Westwood, Nana, and Watson, all active on social media, have not publicly challenged the report.)

For players, LIV Golf offers one important temptation: money. The eight-event tour will begin this summer at the Centurion Club in St Albans, England. Future events are scheduled in Portland, Boston, Chicago, Bangkok and Jeddah; Other locations include Trump Bedminster in New Jersey.

The Centurion event is set to fetch a $25 million purse for a 48-player stadium, and other tournaments will receive similar rewards. For perspective, the Masters last week had a total purse of $15 million, the highest value ever for this event. Norman said he has sent out invitations to 250 players, but plans to hold the event no matter which player plays. Norman believes that enticing golf’s biggest names will be the chance of a big win on a less talented course.

“Quite frankly, it doesn’t matter who’s playing, we’ll organize the event,” Norman told The Telegraph. “There’s a first prize of $4 million. I hope a kid wins 350th in the world. It’s going to change his life and the life of his family. And then some of our events will pass and the top players will see somebody win $6 million, $8 million, and say, ‘Enough, I know I’m I can beat these guys week after week, my hands tied behind my back.’

Again for comparison, Scottie Scheffler earned $2.7 million to win the Masters.

Mickelson was connected to Project LIV until his comments about Saudi backers of the tour became public. “They are scary [expletives] Mickelson told veteran golf reporter Alan Shipnock. We know they were killed [Washington Post reporter Jamal] Khashoggi has an appalling human rights record. They execute people there for being gay. Knowing all this, why am I even thinking about it? Because this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reshape how the PGA Tour works.”

The barrage of criticism that followed sent Mickelson into hiding. He has not played in the Masters Tournament and has not made any public comments in months. At the same time, many notable names have actively distanced themselves from this endeavor, including Bryson DeChambeau and Dustin Johnson. Tiger Woods announced his loyalty to the PGA Tour. Rory McIlroy, who was never associated with the project, called it “dead in water”.

Norman acknowledged that Mickelson’s controversy was a setback, but emphasized that the project was still progressing. “We respected the masters and let it go, but now our journey is beginning to bear fruit – for the players, not for me,” he said. “The place for them to get what they want. That’s why they are still very, very interested. We have players who are signed, unlike the white noise you hear there.”

The Centurion Club event is scheduled for June, one week before the US Open.

Junior golf association Greg Norman is seeking big names.  (Luke Walker/Getty Images)

Junior golf association Greg Norman is looking for big names. (Luke Walker/Getty Images)

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Jay Busby is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter at jaybusbee or reach out to him at jay.busbee@yahoo.com.