Tony Jacklin isn’t opposed to Greg Norman’s breakaway venture – but he is concerned about what it means for the Ryder Cup. He talks to Alex Perry for this week’s Slam
Hello folks. Welcome to this week’s edition of The Slam. I had a chat with Tony Jacklin recently thanks to the team at BoyleSports. As a seven-time player and four-time captain, I wanted to talk to him about the Ryder Cup, but there are more pressing things in the world of golf right now, so of course we started with the Saudi Golf League. (Yes, I know Greg Norman doesn’t want us calling it that, but this is my ball and if you don’t want to play I’ll take it home.)
I was actually surprised by his response.
“I would definitely hear out the Saudis,” he started.
To be fair, we all know what they do to people who don’t.
“I hope it gets accommodated in some guise. It’s hard to ignore when there is such serious money on the table, as well as certain aspects on how to change the spectacle of golf as entertainment being undeniably attractive.”
Jacklin continues: “Greg has made a huge commitment towards it, and starting something up in the current world climate is tough.”
I smile. Tone, it’s a multimillionaire launching a series of golf tournaments backed by an entire country with a bottomless pit of money. Not a single mum opening a café in Portishead.
But it’s OK that we don’t agree on this subject. It’s fascinating to hear from those who have been there and done it all.
Jacklin goes on to describe Phil Mickelson’s comments as a “masterstroke” – “The PGA Tour has already come up with umpteen millions more dollars,” he says – while accepting that Lefty had to take a “reputational hit”.
So who does Jacklin see playing in what Norman wants us to call the LIV Golf Invitational?
“Many golfers these days are pretty set – they can make their minds up on what they want to without any worries.
“I fully understand someone like Lee Westwood, a bloke in his late 40s, seeing a Saudi arrangement attractive – not just the money, but the time element, the match play element, the team element. All things which might spice the entertainment up around golf.
“I hope it can create more opportunities and less animosity among the game’s biggest names.”
Jacklin explains that Rory McIlroy, the first high-profile player to reveal a complete lack of interest in the Saudi project, “has no reason to have his head turned, but should understand those who do”.
Intriguingly, when the subject of today’s prize pots versus those available in his day, the conversation seems to one-eighty.
“I wish I had been born 50 years later!” Jacklin says with a knowing smile. “You’re looking at a guy who never had $1 million in the bank. I was playing for $20,000 first prizes. When I won The Open, I got £4,250.
“On the European Tour, there were £2,000 first prizes. You’re talking about players who get offered $30-to-50 million. It’s la-la land. I see golfers on the PGA Tour who have never won a tournament but have made over $10 million in prize money, which is ludicrous.
“The money in the game is quite baffling for me as a player from a former era. Golf does reward mediocrity too much.
“Unless you’re butting heads with the best players on a continuous basis, you’re going to take your foot off the gas. That is just human nature. So players will need to be pushed, they will need inspiration from their team.
“Marry that in with the Saudi deal, where there are more opportunities to not win, no cut, three rounds, only have to play 14 times, and earning more money than you know what to do with, golfers will be intrigued by all this as an alternative – if they do not have big aspirations.”
And, right there, Jacklin hits the nail on the head. In a recent Slam, I asked how players could find the motivation to win if they know they’re getting a six-figure pay-out regardless of where they finish. We could argue that the Saudi Golf League is the definition of rewarding mediocrity, but we don’t have long left and haven’t got to the Ryder Cup yet…
“One of the things that hasn’t been said is how the outcome of the Ryder Cup moves forward in the shadow of this,” Jacklin pondered.
“If people are going to be blacklisted for playing in the Saudi series, it is going to spell the sad death of the Ryder Cup.
“We’ve always had the 12 best from Europe and America and, for the tournament to maintain its status as the pinnacle of golf, you need the best of the best taking part and available.
“If certain players aren’t there, who deserve to be there on ability, it would be tantamount to a glorified exhibition match. Nobody wants that.
“We have had so much emotion, nail-biting finishes, and tears shed over the past decades, it would be a shame to see that end on a point of stubbornness.
“You cannot invent the passion which comes with the Ryder Cup, and all the emotion that goes into it. Once you start leaving people off a team due to ulterior factors, you are going to lose that truth and the heart of the sport’s best competition.”
Regardless of your feelings on the Saudi Golf League, it’s certainly not going to be going away any time soon. And it’s interesting to hear from the likes of Jacklin about the potential knock-on effects. We’re certainly in for an interesting few months ahead…
Has Westwood missed his shot?
While we’re on the subject, Jacklin believes Lee Westwood – “the obvious next captain” – has taken a risk by not putting his name forward for 2023.
“Naturally it would be his turn, but he wants to see if he can make another team as a player,” Jacklin explained. “He may never get the chance again. Was he already being wooed by this Saudi thing? Who knows?”
As for other hopefuls to succeed Henrik Stenson, Jacklin explained that “there a lot of cabs waiting to go off the rank”, but two names stand out.
“Luke Donald is a wonderful guy with a lot of experience of winning Ryder Cups. He’s got all the credentials. And in the next two times, Ian Poulter has to get his chance to be captain. There’s no doubt about that.
“It’s different to 40 years ago, there are a lot of deserving guys.”
So who won this week?
Golf has a brand new World No 1! And what a rise it’s been for Scottie Scheffler, who just a few weeks ago hadn’t even won on the PGA Tour. Now he’s the best player on the planet after defeating Kevin Kisner in the WGC-Match Play final…
Speaking of players who have burst onto the scene, Atthaya Thitikul is is now an LPGA champion after hoisting the JTBC Classic in California.
The Thai sensation, still a teenager, won her third and fourth LET titles last year and is now making her mark on the US circuit.
The DP World Tour was in Qatar this week and has a brand new winner in Scot Ewen Ferguson. And what a putt to seal it!
And there was also a maiden win in South Africa where Sweden’s Linn Grant earned her first LET title with a thumping five-shot victory at the Joburg Ladies Open.
Right, that’s enough from me for another week. Now the longer nights are back, I hope you will be getting out for some twilight action.