The chief executives of the main Tours and the leaders of the majors will meet at ‘The Match’ to discuss the ever-rising threat of LIV Golf in Florida next week.
It will not just be the result of an encounter involving Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy that will be at stake, but perhaps the future of the elite professional male game itself.
Telegraph Sport has learned that as well as Jay Monahan and Keith Pelley, the PGA Tour and DP World Tour heads, R&A chief executive Martin Slumbers will also attend the Pelican Golf Club, along with Mike Whan, the chief executive of the US Golf Association and Seth Waugh, the chief executive of the PGA of America.
It is as yet unclear if Fred Ridley, the chairman of Augusta National, will also be at the upscale course near Clearwater, but with the other three majors all sending their top brass, the Masters may not want to miss out. They will not be there to watch the 18-hole made-for-TV encounter featuring Woods and McIlroy versus Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas, but instead to draw up plans on how to respond to the Saudi-funded circuit.
The Greg Norman enterprise is due to announce its 2023 schedule in the forthcoming days, with the 14-event league due to tee off in Mexico in February. Norman has promised to announce the signing of more big names, to join the likes of Open champion Cam Smith, Dustin Johson, Brooks Koepka, Bryson DeChambeau and Phil Mickelson.
The game’s landscape has been radically altered since LIV launched with its first £22 million event in St Albans in June and with the new campaign offering £335 million in prize money alone – on top of upfront signing-on fees of up to £200 million – the rebel set-up is clearly not going away. Thus the formation of this golfing ‘war council’ that could signal the beginnings of a drive for a peace deal between the factions.
Both Woods and McIlroy have been vocal in their opposition to LIV. They gathered the top players to a summit at the BMW Championship in Delaware in August and this inspired Monahan to overhaul his schedule for 2023, increasing purses at selected tournaments to £16.5 million on condition that the best performers appear. That was seen as an effective, if knee jerk, solution to stop the talent drain, but the key factor remains how the majors will react.
Slumbers has vowed not to ban any LIV players from the Open, but has been vague concerning how difficult it will be for the defectors to qualify for Hoylake next July. The same largely applies to the US Open and the USPGA, while the Masters is also tight lipped if it will impose any sanctions. As they all want the highest quality fields possible, it must be doubted if they will erect any notable barriers and it could well emerge that they want the Tours to broker some sort of negotiation with LIV.
Last month, Telegraph Sport exclusively revealed that the Saudi overlords have been considering moving Norman upstairs and two weeks ago, McIlroy declared that the Australian should “exit stage left”. “No one’s going to talk unless there’s an adult in the room that can actually try to mend fences,” the world No 1 said. Insiders have indicated that they believe it would be far more realistic to bring Monahan to the table with LIV, if Norman was out of the picture.
For its part, the upstart league is sticking by Norman with Majed Al-Sorour, the LIV managing director, insisting the two-time major winner will remain “our CEO and commissioner”. But in the background there are definite rumblings of a desire to give LIV full legitimacy as it attempts to secure a TV contract and gain official world ranking status.
There were whispers that Al-Sorour – who is also a director on board of Newcastle United – was thinking of attending the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai earlier this month. DP World, which is primarily a global ports operator, enjoys close links with Saudi Arabia and would obviously wish the sporting civil war to end. Pelley has previously acknowledged that he flew to Malta for a meeting with LIV out of courtesy for DP World, which last year signed a multi-million dollar, long-term deal as title sponsors of the circuit formerly known as the European Tour.
Considering the influence of Woods and McIlroy it is no surprise to see this hush-hush confab being conducted in their presence although McIlroy is adamant he would not want to be involved. “Frankly, I wouldn't really want to be part of it [negotiations],” he said. “That would be for whoever the top people are. You know, that's certainly above my pay grade. That's not something I want to get involved with. I'm a golfer and I'm trying to stick to that line of work.”
But for this exhibition, McIlroy has finished his competitive year. However Woods plays in the Hero World Challenge, the 20-man event promoted by his charitable foundation, that begins in the Bahamas on Thursday. It will be Woods’s first appearance since missing the cut at the Open at St Andrews five months ago.
But for this exhibition, McIlroy has finished his competitive year. Woods was supposed to play in the Hero World Challenge, the 20-man event promoted by his charitable foundation, that begins in the Bahamas on Thursday, in his first appearance since missing the cut at the Open at St Andrews five months ago. However, he pulled out on Monday with a foot injury.