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PGA Tour's rivalry with Saudis coming to a head with issue of exemptions

Phil Mickelson is among the star players who have already committed to playing the Saudi International in FebruaryGETTY IMAGES

The PGA Tour has until Jan. 4, 30 days before the first round of the Asian Tour Saudi International, to "decide whether to grant releases to members who want to compete in the Kingdom," according to Eamon Lynch of GOLFWEEK. Amid a brewing rivalry between the Tour and a rival Saudi-backed Super Golf League, the Saudis have announced a "lengthy list of committed players" -- including Bryson DeChambeau, Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson and Xander Schauffele -- "none of whom yet have permission" from PGA Tour HQ. The Saudis "have forced" PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan to "make a problematic decision." Denying some or all of the waiver requests "will protect one of Monahan’s most important partners in AT&T," which sponsors the Pebble Beach AT&T Pro-Am opposite the Saudi event. But "denials would also immediately" have Greg Norman "claiming that the Tour is not representing players’ best interests and is denying them lucrative opportunities." Golfer Rory McIlroy said the Tour "should grant releases." McIlroy: “I do see reasons why they wouldn’t grant releases, but I think if they’re trying to do what’s best for their members ... we’re independent contractors, and I feel like we should be able to do that.” McIlroy, who chairs the Tour’s Players Advisory Council, said that "most players share his view." Lynch: "Monahan ought to concede this battle over one tournament for the sake of the broader war against Saudi Arabia’s hostile takeover" (GOLFWEEK.com, 12/3).

RISE TO THE COMPETITION: MORNING READ's Alex Miceli wrote when Monahan took over as Commissioner in '17, he "could never have envisioned that the PGA Tour would be under siege by not one but two separate groups early in his tenure." Outside of the Saudi group, there is the Premier Golf League, whose "face is Andy Gardiner." The PGL idea "has gotten little traction, and once the Saudis ended their support of the concept, it does not appear to have the legs or the funding to compete with the PGA Tour or the Saudis." Unlike the PGL, the Saudi-backed Asian Tour is "fully capitalized, has a prominent face in Hall-of-Famer Greg Norman and has a schedule that will attract players worldwide thanks to lavish appearance money and purses." But even with that "formidable resume," many golf observers "suggest that it will take a lot more money, and they can’t see the Saudis pouring millions of dollars into golf for what might take 20-plus years to create any real movement" (SI.com, 12/3).

HEADED FOR COURT? GLOBAL GOLF POST's Jim Nugent writes as the Golf Saudi saga has "unfolded in recent months, there has been a sense that the new entity would like nothing more than to have its day in an American courtroom in front of a judge." The organization is "believed to have lawyered up accordingly." Their case can be "expected to be as follows: The PGA Tour is a monopoly, controlling the men's professional game and it is structured in such a way as to preserve its position, essentially excluding any potential challengers." Their argument "will be that this is illegal exclusionary conduct." The Tour's position "can be expected to be this: That it is a non-profit players association run for the benefit of the members by the members." It "makes its own rules, and those who seek to join the organization are required to observe those rules." No pro is "required to join the organization, and pro golfers are free to ply their trade elsewhere should they choose" (GLOBAL GOLF POST, 12/6).

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