Former world No 1 Lee Westwood believes players from other tours will see the big-money investment into the Asian Tour as a threat to the sport.
The Asian Tour is undergoing a major overhaul thanks to a $300m investment by LIV Golf Investments, fronted by Greg Norman and backed by the Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF), with a 10-event International Series including an England-based tournament for the first time.
The tournament also has the Saudi International as its flagship event, previously part of the DP World Tour, where massive appearances fees have helped attract a world-class field to Royal Greens Golf and Country Club.
Westwood has signed a non-disclosure agreement about any possible participation in any proposed Super Golf League (SGL), while Dustin Johnson said he is “not allowed to disclose” whether or not he has received a multi-million-pound offer to contest the Saudi-backed breakaway circuit.
“The players of the other tours see the Asian Tour as a threat now, don’t they, because of the huge investment,” Westwood said ahead of the Saudi International.
“It’s kind of like a game of poker really where the European Tour and the PGA Tour have had the biggest hand, and now there’s somebody else come to the table with more chips, so everybody is on their guard and very defensive and are clearly seeing the Asian Tour as a threat. Nobody can deny that.
“There wouldn’t have been all this trouble with releases and things like that if that wasn’t the case. I can see why they feel threatened, but at the same time, the PGA Tour and the European Tour have gone into areas I suppose in the Asian Tour’s path over the years and never had any problem playing tournaments all over Asia and the Middle East, which I think has probably cost Asia, as well.
“Now that the Asian Tour has this backing, it appears to me like they’re just doing what the PGA Tour and the European Tour have been doing the last 25 years.”
Multiple media reports indicated Ian Poulter had been offered up to $30m to join the breakaway lead, with Johnson acknowledging he had been offered a deal but it was “not similar” to the Englishman’s.
“Obviously whether they have or haven’t, I’m not allowed to disclose. You’d have to ask Ian (Poulter) on that one,” Johnson said.
While Westwood could not go into any specifics about the SGL, he did speak approvingly about the concept, in particular the team aspect which would see the 48 players competing in 12 four-player teams, as well as individually.
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“When I’m at home I watch a lot of sport but not a lot of that sport is golf because it seems to me it’s just 72-hole stroke play week in and week out, and when I’m playing it, I’ve had enough of it by then,” Westwood said.
“The weeks and days that I would watch I would turn on for the Ryder Cup if I wasn’t in it. I would turn on for the Match Play. I think the first day at the Dell Match Play when you’ve got 32 matches going is one of the most exciting days viewing all year really.
“I think golf has got to move with the times and become more heat-of-the-moment, volatile and impactful right from the word go. Certainly if you do it like the team aspect, there’s more action happening in more different places.”