By Bernie McGuire, Bahamas.
Justin Rose believes the New Year will see a heightening of tensions over the rights of players to compete in next February’s fourth edition of the Saudi International.
The new DP World Tour is already staring at a showdown with some of Europe’s best including former Tour No. 1 Tommy Fleetwood plus the major winning foursome of Graeme McDowell, Sergio Garcia, Henrik Stenson and Shane Lowry along with Lee Westwood, Tyrrell Hatton, Rafa Cabrera-Bello and Paul Casey.
The PGA Tour is facing a similar standoff with double Saudi winning Dustin Johnson along with fellow US-born major champs Phil Mickelson, Jason Dufner, Bubba Watson and Bryson DeChambeau, plus Olympic Gold medal winning Xander Schauffele.
All players need to seek a release from their respective tour to tee-up in the now Asian Tour’s flagship event and therein lies the concern.
Rose said: “If the PGA Tour doesn’t give the releases, then it is only going to heighten the tensions around what is trying to go on right now in the world of golf and amongst the players
“In my mind, the PGA Tour needs to keep the players on side and I’ve got no problem with players travelling around the world.
“Obviously Saudi is controversial, but I’ve been down there and I enjoyed my time there. It’s actually a fun golf tournament and a good golf course while the country is trying to edge towards a more socially-acceptable stance on their policies and you’ve got to start somewhere, right?
“Players deserve the opportunity to play around the world and also capitalise. Guys like Xander and Collin Morikawa deserve the chance to play in the Middle East and show off their games. It’s good for growing the game of golf and it’s part of your responsibility as a talented young golfer who is doing incredibly well to do that the best you can.
“A lot of these guys are now the idols that kids are looking up to and, if you can showcase yourself in different markets, it can only be good.
“That’s why it’s really important and I think a lot of the young Americans have the opportunity to just stay home because the tour is so great. So, I think it is good for the world of golf that they travel.”
However, in a big turnaround and a boost for the PGA Tour in this debate, four-time major winner Brooks Koepka, who contested both the inaugural 2019 event and 2020, says he will not be returning the course laid out along the Red Sea.
Koepka: “I’ve been speaking with Jay (Monahan – Commissioner PGA Tour) and others that I won’t be going to Saudi and I’m happy staying with the PGA Tour.
“I enjoyed my two visits to the tournament and it was a great experience but, as I said, I’m now PGA Tour.”