Threat of Saudis taking over golf was a worry, admits DJ Russell

A former European Tour board member has spoken about feeling “worried for a while about the threat of the Saudis taking over golf”.

DJ Russell reckons a proposed Saudi-backed Super League would have “blown everything else out of the water” if Greg Norman had succeeded in signing up the game’s top players.

But, believing that former world No 1 Norman is trying to steer the game in the “wrong direction”, Russell is relieved that the likes of Jon Rahm, Rory McIlroy, Collin Morikawa, Dustin Johnson and Bryson DeChambeau have all declared “fealty” to the PGA Tour.

East Lothian-based Russell, a two-time winner on what is now called the DP World Tour, sat on the circuit’s board from 1992 through until this year.

DJ Russell, far left, celebrates with Des Smyth, Sandy Lyle, Ian Woosnam and Peter Baker after they formed Europe's backroom team in the 2006 Ryder Cup at The K Club in in Co. Kildare. Picture: Andrew Redington/Getty Images.

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One of Ian Woosnam’s assistant captains for the 2006 Ryder Cup at The K Club in Ireland, he also had a spell as chairman of the European Senior Tour.

“Obviously being on the board and knowing the inside of a few things, the threat of the Saudis trying to take the game over has worried me for a while,” he told The Scotsman.

“The game is in a pretty rosy position, I would have said, and there’s a reasonably fair stepping stone to the PGA Tour and the DP World Tour.

“People who don’t make it think it is very unfair, but anybody who is good enough does make it and especially the great players, the likes of Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and now Viktor Hovland.

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“I disagree when I hear people say they don’t get a fair chance as I reckon there is a wonderful system in place.

“I think there could be more depth on tours that tie into it. I think they work a bit too separately. But the Saudi thing would have blown everything out of the water and taken everything away.

“It would have concentrated like Formula 1 does on the top players without worrying about the people below that Formula 1 level.”

McIlroy, who sits on the PGA Tour’s policy board and was its Player Advisory Council (PAC) chairman until recently, reckons the Saudi League is now “dead in the water”.

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But, in an explosive open letter to PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan, Norman has said: “This is just the beginning. It certainly is not the end.”

“I hope so,” said Russell, who recorded one of his tour triumphs without dropping a shot in 72 holes, as he sided with McIlroy. “I just feel that it (the Super League) wasn’t the right direction to take golf.

“I understand it from a media perspective as it probably would have been quite exciting if it involved the top players in the world competing against each other on a weekly basis.

“But, very quickly, they might not be the top players in the world and how do you then involve the younger players coming though.

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“There are people who are amateurs now who might be in the top five in the world in two or three years’ time and, under that system, how do you get them involved?”

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