At last a name emerges. Get the posters ready. Finally a professional golfer has been identified seeking a release to play the opening event in Greg Norman’s Saudi-funded LIV Golf Invitational event near London in June.
This tournament will be worth $25m (£19.2m) which is $10m more than was shared out at the recent Masters. Think about that for a moment.
The winner at the Centurion Club in Hertfordshire will pocket $4m. It is a prospect, it seems, too attractive to resist for….wait for it….Robert Garrigus.
And why not? The 44-year-old from Idaho is ranked 1,043rd in the world, plies his trade mainly on the American feeder circuit and has banked just $162,000 this season.
According to Golfweek, multiple sources have confirmed that Garrigus is the first and only PGA Tour player so far to seek a waiver to allow him to play Norman’s opening event.
Applications must be submitted at least 45 days in advance, so the deadline for the Centurion Club tournament for PGA Tour players is next Monday and it is likely there will be a number spending this week weighing up their options.
Garrigus is partnering Tommy Gainey in this week’s Zurich Classic and will no doubt attract a lot more attention than he normally would at the New Orleans event.
Members of the European-based DP World Tour have longer to make up their minds. They must submit requests for releases to chief executive Keith Pelley at least 30 days prior, so have until 10 May to post an application.
To further confuse the situation, figures such as Ian Poulter and Lee Westwood, who play on both sides of the Atlantic, effectively require permission from both established circuits.
The Norman project, backed by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, is not quite as “dead in the water” as Rory McIlroy claimed earlier this year. However, the Great White Shark currently attracts only relative minnows.
In his last round of publicity interviews, Norman conceded as much, suggesting these will be events that include “journeymen” and that promising amateurs may receive invitations.
He has shelved plans to run the series as a league format, instead each event will run as an invitational tournament.
“We will be doing it like this for the next two years,” he told SI Morning Read. “We have eight invitational series events this year, 10 next year. And we will do thorough testing of how everything works.
“We will still do team events and then the league will be up and running in 2024. We’re just giving them an opportunity to go play one time for $25m or seven times for $25m with the ability to qualify for the team championship.”
Tournaments featuring the likes of Garrigus, who has not publicly commented on the reports he is seeking a release, are a long way short of the originally envisaged 18-tournament circuit featuring the world’s best players.
Norman hopes top players will see lesser lights cashing in and will then be swayed to give his project a go. “A few of our events will go by,” he told the Telegraph.
“And the top players will see someone winning $6m, $8m and say ‘enough is enough, I know I can beat these guys week in week out with my hands tied behind my back’.”
Twice Masters champion Bubba Watson was last week linked with the Invitational Series but quickly posted on Twitter an upcoming schedule that comprised eight PGA Tour events and a desire to qualify for the US Open and Open Championship.
Other top names, the likes of Dustin Johnson and Bryson DeChambeau, aligned themselves with the status quo following February’s publication of Phil Mickelson’s controversial comments on Saudi Arabia and using his involvement as “leverage” against the PGA Tour.
Some stars are still tempted by the riches offered by Norman’s circuit. Westwood admitted he had signed a non-disclosure agreement and his social media activity has been largely supportive of the Australian former world number one and Saudi involvement in pro golf.
But with the PGA and DP World Tours working more closely than ever, a united front needs to be dismantled before Norman’s series can make meaningful headway.
Both established circuits have a policy of non-engagement with upstart projects. This also includes the Premier Golf League, the original disrupters who want professional golf to follow a grand prix style circuit.
Sources suggest the PGA Tour has been told not to respond to the PGL’s long-standing invitation for dialogue, despite offers of millions of dollars for tour players as compensation for restructuring what is a members organisation.
Anyone wanting to shake up the established order in men’s professional golf is being made to play a long game.
That includes Norman, a world number one famed for his long game when in his playing pomp. In his current business incarnation, it means having to hang his project on the likes of Garrigus.
And although he is not the biggest name, what happens to his reported request for a release will be significant. If the PGA Tour refuses a waiver to ply his trade elsewhere, then what happens?
You can be sure all sides have lawyers at the ready. It will not just be the golfers who get richer.