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TEE TO GREEN, STEVE SCOTT: The big golf tours’ fortress against the Saudi assault still looks unassailable

Former champion Greg Norman has not been invited to the 150th Open celebrations.

The first shots in golf’s civil war in 2022 have been fired. Only, it’s with a pop gun.

Think we’ve had a fairly tumultuous last 18 months in golf, with Covid and all? 2022 is being billed as even worse, with a reckoning due between the established Tours, the incoming and ambitious Saudis, and a split in players’ ranks about to happen.

Even Greg Norman’s involved. The now 66-year-old former No 1 is apparently being put up as the front man for the Super Golf League, the Saudis’ stalled vision of the world game under their control.

A concept that is still struggling to conceive

Brad Clifton in Golf Digest Australia reveals the rumours Norman is going emerge from recent obscurity to promote the concept which has been on the runway for a fair while – seven years say some – yet resolutely failed to get airborne.

Of course the Great White Shark would make all the difference. Even if he’s been basically an irrelevance in the wider world of golf since he left Fox Sports’ golf now defunct coverage years ago.

Much more relevant is Golfweek’s Eamon Lynch revealing that eight PGA Tour members have applied for releases to play in the Saudi Invitational next February.

This event, you’ll recall, was once sanctioned by the European Tour until the Saudis decided on the SGL route. That arrangement was then abruptly terminated.

Instead, with SGL stalling, the Saudis have pumped $100m into the Asian Tour in an effective takeover. Their Invitational is now part of that, with $5m up for grabs as well as the requisite appearance fees and fuel refills for private jets.

But the PGA Tour publicly last July (and the European Tour privately) have already said they won’t grant releases to players to play in Saudi, whatever tour it is part of.

Simply testing the water

Graeme McDowell won the Saudi Invitational in 2020.

So why have the eight – Dustin Johnson most prominently, but also Graeme McDowell, Lee Westwood, Tommy Fleetwood and Henrik Stenson – asked for permission?

It’s most likely simply testing the water. A mere fine is the most likely sanction if players defy a refusal for release. But if the two big tours are as serious as they appear, then a ban is possible.

That would lead to a lawsuit, no doubt. But which prominent player is willing give up the years – and outlay – it would take to progress such a case through the courts?

One recalls Vijay Singh’s defamation lawsuit over the infamous Deer Antler Spray ban. That took five years before the PGA Tour eventually settled.

If PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan, backed by the Players’ Advisory Council stand their ground – and there’s no suggestion they’ll shift – the players will surely fall into line.

They won’t put their PGA Tour careers in jeopardy for this one event. No matter how large the annual appearance fee is.

Slightly different is the question now for the rank and file on the European Tour. Prizefunds have plummeted post-Covid. The Tour is almost akin to the early 2000s in venues and in remuneration.

There are plenty of Asian Tour stalwarts in Europe who may now go back. Flush with Saudi cash, it be an option for others to cash in now.

The PGA Tour’s robust redoubt

But still, they’re not going to be of sufficient quality or numbers to break the PGA Tour’s robust redoubt.

Monahan revealed in August a 2022 schedule with plenty extra cash to add to the multitudes already available. He still has some things up his sleeve, no doubt to be drip fed if the Saudis come up with something a lot more appealing than Greg Norman.

There is the replacement of the discontinued WGC series, rumoured as a break from the current 72-hole weekly grind. There are further co-sanctions with their European Tour partners. You can see Wentworth, Dubai and the Irish Open going the same way as the Scottish before long.

You can sense the frustrations of the Saudis, so accustomed to getting their own way. But whether you think it’s a good or bad thing, the PGA Tour’s going to stay the fortress of the elite game.

Mental health issues in golf need to stay in the forefront

Talking of the Great White Shark, despite many obvious assaults to his mental health during his brilliant career, he kept coming back for more.

You’re tempted – the older and crustier you are – to decry the current attention being paid to mental health in golf. It’s been cited by Jon Rahm and Rory McIlroy of late. Bryson DeChambeau’s state of mind is an ongoing concern. Even caddies like Paul Casey’s Johnny “Long Socks” McLaren are stepping away.

You can almost hear the grumbles from the club bar. Hogan and Jack and Arnie and Norman didn’t bother about their mental health, did they?

Well, maybe not publicly. One of the illuminating aspects of the superb “Seve” documentary launched earlier this month was the revelation that the great man had huge struggles all his life with depression.

Plus, do we know how many great players didn’t make it because they couldn’t deal with the mental grind? The history of golf is littered with scores of “can’t miss” prospects who missed. How many could have fulfilled their proper potential with a greater understanding of these issues?

These are not the 1970s and 1980s

In these times, Covid and the cesspool that social media can become have unquestionably heightened the strain.

Of course, the small percentage of truly successful golfers are lavishly rewarded. Again you might be tempted to tell them to “man up” as a result.

But golf is possibly the most cut-throat of sports at the top end. You lose form, there’s no seeing out the contract: you’re gone, and with bewildering speed.

Plus you’ve definitely got more time to think in golf than any other game. It’s a rare – and possibly unnatural – mind that thinks only positively.