Leave aside the surprise news that Dustin Johnson will headline the inaugural LIV Golf Invitational near London next week.
The real contest continues to lie outside the ropes and it could not be more significant for the game.
We are now witnessing a battle for the future of men’s elite professional golf. Will it remain in the hands of America’s PGA Tour, supported by their European-based strategic partners the DP World Tour?
Or will Saudi Arabia-backed upstarts muscle in? LIV Golf Investments, fronted by Greg Norman, is promising to revolutionise the game with a shorter, sharper product that is lucrative enough to attract the biggest names.
It is understood that there are massive signing on fees, running into millions of dollars, so make no mistake, this comes down to money, and the Saudi Public Investment Fund, which is financing Norman’s project, has pots and pots of it.
Certainly enough to turn Johnson’s head. The 37-year-old US Open and Masters winner sided emphatically with the PGA Tour in February so this is a dramatic change of heart.
“Dustin has been contemplating this opportunity off-and-on for the last couple of years,” said Johnson’s agent David Winkle in a statement on Tuesday. “Ultimately he decided it was in his and his family’s best interest to pursue it.”
It is less of a shock that the likes of Spain’s Sergio Garcia, England’s Lee Westwood and Ian Poulter, and Northern Ireland’s Graeme McDowell will be at the Centurion Club in Hertfordshire for next week’s shotgun start 54-hole opener.
They made little secret of their interest even though all four were regarded as future European Ryder Cup captains. Occupying that role in coming matches must now be in serious doubt.
DP World and PGA Tour players were refused official permission to take part and sanctions may follow. What action is taken against them remains to be seen.
These players know what they are doing and have signed to a project that is a potential existential threat to the current golfing eco-system. It has £1,6 billion (US$2 billion) worth of backing and a decent chunk of that is heading to their bank accounts.
They are among the 42 names currently revealed for the 48-man tournament next week. Are they rebels or trailblazers?
Will they be banned or fined? And for the Europeans and Americans involved, does this spell the end of their Ryder Cup careers?
There are also implications for events such as the US Open, which takes place the following week, and July’s 150th Open Championship.
The various governing bodies are tightly aligned, perhaps more so than at any point in the history of the game.
The United States Golf Association and R&A will therefore be under pressure to support the main tours — who, by the way, they want to convince in the debate over ball distance control.
But these most established governing bodies have a historic duty to protect the “open” nature of their championships. They would surely struggle to bar any Saudi sign-ups eligible to play at Brookline or St Andrews this year.
Either way, the ball is now in Monahan’s court. How he reacts will be the next stage in the battle for professional golf’s future. — BBC Online.