GOLF

Column: Saudi money could put university stars in a difficult situation

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DUBLIN, Ohio (AP) — Texas A&M senior Sam Bennett was a mixture of joy and exhaustion after clearing the 36 qualifying holes of the US Open for the first time. Yet to come the toughest test in golf.

This could all be child’s play considering what could be waiting.

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The temptation of Saudi money from the LIV Golf Invitational series has yet to present itself to Bennett, the No. 5 player in the world amateur rankings.

“I think they know I’m coming back for my fifth year,” he said.

What if he wasn’t?

Bennett thought for a second. US amateur champion James Piot is in London this week, having received a signing bonus before he could even play for a $25million prize. The same goes for Andy Ogletree, another former American amateur champion.

And then he smiled and said, “Yeah, I’d probably take it.”

Where else would he have access to riches beyond his dreams right out of college and never have to prove himself?

Piot has missed the cut in his five PGA Tour events. Ogletree has missed five cuts in the seven events he has played since he was a weak amateur at the 2020 Masters.

Rory McIlroy wasn’t quite accurate in February when he offered his ratings of the Saudi-funded takeover attempt.

“Dead in the water,” he described when Dustin Johnson and a small parade of other top players pledged support for the PGA Tour. And then Greg Norman waved too much money at Johnson – The Daily Telegraph puts his signing fee at $150m – to keep his word.

“Who is left? Who is left to leave? I just don’t see any reason anyone would go,” McIlroy said.

One reason: money, a seemingly endless supply from the Saudi government-controlled Public Investment Fund.

McIlroy also called it a pre-Champions Tour track, and that holds up. Of the six great champions playing outside of London this week, all are 37 or older. Most of the others won’t miss, if someone paid attention to them in the first place.

But the college scene seems to be ripe for recruiting.

They are not members of the PGA Tour and would not fall under any discipline Commissioner Jay Monahan has in mind for players. who defected. Even though they have a good kit deal and a few sponsors, that can’t match what Norman has to offer.

“I feel bad putting this pressure on a kid,” said Xander Schauffele. “Your parents have a lot of influence. They shape you to that point and then you have those numbers thrown. I think it’s brutal for them to deal with these numbers from the start.

Even though the launch of this 54-hole, uncut, shotgun-start series was only two days away, many questions remained that go beyond the immediate ramifications.

Will the LIV Golf Invitational earn World Ranking Points? Even if it was the case for the former, the field projects to be equal to an opposing field event on the PGA Tour.

What is more worrying is the reaction of the majors.

And so the conflict for college players is whether to take the money now and be financially secured, while potentially giving up a chance to get into the majors except to go through the US and British qualifiers. Open.

Take the money now and they could still be waiting to start their PGA Tour careers, starting from scratch with the Korn Ferry Tour qualifying school or trying to qualify in PGA Tour events on Monday. This is the road Patrick Reed took a long time ago.

But the good guys know they could be fighting for the majors soon after they graduate from college. Jordan Spieth proved it. He was halfway to the Grand Slam in his third year out of Texas. Collin Morikawa graduated from Cal in 2019. Two years later, he had already won two majors and was on his way to world No. 1.

Davis Riley had to spend two years on the Korn Ferry Tour because the COVID-19 pandemic delayed major league graduation by a year. As a rookie, he’s already lost in the playoffs and is No. 21 in the FedEx Cup.

“You see guys like Justin (Thomas) and Jordan fighting in the majors a few years out of school,” Riley said. “There is a lot of money to play here. Stocks are going up. I guess some guys like chasing the dollar, some guys like chasing the trophy. I can’t speak for the other guys. I just want to be there. I’ve dreamed all my life of coming here and playing on the PGA Tour. I want to win tournaments on the PGA Tour.

Do others dedicate themselves to what they have always wanted, even if at the time it was the only option? The Norman group is banking on the fact that players see their peers with much less ability getting much more money and wanting a piece of it.

Bennett has a tattoo on the inside of his left arm.advice his father gave him before Alzheimer’s disease robbed him of their ability to communicate and ultimately cost him his life.

He asked his father to write it down and he transferred it to his arm so he could see it whenever he settled on a plane.

“Don’t wait to do something.”

Fifth year at Texas A&M kept him waiting. This time, maybe that’s not a bad thing.

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