A group of golfers have officially asked the PGA Tour for permission to play in the Saudi International next February, according to Golfweek — something the Tour has previously pledged not to allow whatsoever.
The controversial tournament has drawn intense criticism in its four-year existence for numerous reasons, and it has since been dropped from the European Tour circuit. Full-time PGA Tour players are required to get a release in order to participate in other events, or they could face a fine.
The Saudi International will kick off on Feb. 3 at the Royal Greens Golf and Country Club in Saudi Arabia. The Tour told Golfweek that it is not required to make a decision on waivers until 30 days before a tournament starts.
There are eight golfers so far that have applied for the waiver, including defending champion and world No. 2 Dustin Johnson. Graeme McDowell, Abraham Ancer, Lee Westwood, Tommy Fleetwood, Henrik Stenson, Kevin Na and Jason Kokrak — who is actually sponsored by Golf Saudi — have also applied for a release, per the report.
"We have requested a release and don't know when we'll hear back, but I have heard verbally that the Tour is still taking everything under consideration," said David Winkle, Johnson's longtime agent, via Golfweek.
The Saudi International will take place opposite the PGA Tour’s AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am in February. The Saudi event has a purse of $5 million, while the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am is set at $8.7 million. The Saudi event, however, has a long history of paying top players to come and participate and chartering a jet for them. Phil Mickelson, Bryson DeChambeau and Brooks Koepka are among stars who have been paid to participate in the past, per the report.
What about the Premier Golf League?
Part of the criticism surrounding the Saudi International has to do with the Saudi Arabian government, which has a long history of human rights abuses and more. The government has invested in countless sporting events in recent years, partly as an effort to change how the country is viewed internationally.
A big reason for the backlash now, though, has to do with the proposed golf super league.
An alternative tour to the PGA Tour and European Tour has been around for nearly a decade, though it gained significant traction once again last year. The Premier Golf League, backed by a group of Saudi investors, was prepared to offer golfers paydays of up to $30 million each to jump away from their respective tours and join the super league instead.
It gained mixed reviews from some of the sport's biggest names. Rory McIlroy and Justin Thomas slammed the idea — McIlroy called it a “money grab” — but Phil Mickelson sounded very open to the tour.
PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan said in May that any player who leaves for the super league would forfeit their Tour rights and “likely” be expelled for good. A Tour spokesperson told Golfweek in July that it wouldn’t grant any releases for the Saudi International going forward, too, as it is now considered an “unsanctioned” event.
Whether the Tour stands by that — and if any golfers still make the trek to Saudi Arabia anyways — remains to be seen.