Jack Nicklaus says he turned down $100 million to lead Saudi-backed golf tour

The LIV Golf Invitational Series reportedly wanted Jack Nicklaus to be the face of the new tour, and it was willing to pay a pretty penny to get it done. 

In an interview with Fire Pit Collective that was published on Monday, Nicklaus said he was offered more than $100 million to lead the Saudi Arabian-funded tour. He said he turned down the offer out of loyalty for the PGA Tour, and the LIV Golf tour instead chose Greg Norman as its ambassador. 

“I was offered something in excess of $100 million by the Saudis, to do the job probably similar to the one that Greg is doing,” Nicklaus told the website. “I turned it down. Once verbally, once in writing. I said, ‘Guys, I have to stay with the PGA Tour. I helped start the PGA Tour.’”

The 82-year-old was among the golfers who left PGA of America to create the PGA Tour in 1968. He’s won 73 events on the tour, including a record 18 majors. 

The Saudi-backed league has a chance to shake up the golf world, splitting the sport’s player base into two. Phil Mickelson infamously wanted to take advantage of the new league when he flirted with the tour earlier this year. But his interest backfired when an author writing a book about the six-time major champion published comments Lefty made about Saudi Arabia and the tour. 

“They’re scary motherf——— to get involved with,” Mickelson said about Saudi Arabia. “We know they killed [Washington Post reporter Jamal] Khashoggi and have a horrible record on human rights. They execute people over there for being gay. Knowing all of this, why would I even consider it? Because this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reshape how the PGA Tour operates.

“They’ve been able to get by with manipulative, coercive, strong-arm tactics because we, the players, had no recourse. As nice a guy as [PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan] comes across as, unless you have leverage, he won’t do what’s right. And the Saudi money has finally given us that leverage. I’m not sure I even want [the Saudi golf league] to succeed, but just the idea of it is allowing us to get things done with the [PGA] Tour.”

Many in golf condemned Mickelson for his comments, specifically him saying he was willing to overlook Saudi Arabia’s human rights concerns to gain “leverage” over the tour. Mickelson, who hasn’t competed since his quotes were published, apologized for his comments after he was dropped by sponsors Workday, Amstel Light and KPMG. The PGA Tour also removed him as the host of The American Express event he had previously hosted. 

“My advice to Phil would be to be patient,” Nicklaus said. “The world is a very forgiving place. But he‘s the one — he has to decide where he wants to play and what he wants to do.”

The PGA Tour has threatened lifetime bans for any players who join the new tour and last announced that it would deny release requests if they conflict with a PGA Tour event. But several golfers are still rumored to appear in the LIV Golf Invitational Series when it debuts in June, including former world No. 1 Martin Kaymer and Ryder Cup players Ian Poulter and Lee Westwood. 

The new tour will begin June 9 at the Centurion Golf Club in London, with other events taking place in New Jersey (at former President Donald Trump’s Bedminster club), Oregon, Boston, Chicago, Bangkok and Saudi Arabia. The Centurion event is scheduled to have an eye-popping $25 million purse for a 48-player field. 

Playing at Trump’s Bedminster club in New Jersey is something the PGA Tour isn’t doing this year for the PGA Championship. Less than a week after the Capitol riots on Jan. 6, the tour announced it wouldn’t be playing the event at Trump’s course. The 2022 PGA Championship is in Tulsa this weekend.

“We find ourselves in a political situation, not of our making,’’ PGA CEO Seth Waugh said last year. “We’re fiduciaries for our members, for the game, for our mission, and for our brand. And how do we best protect that? Our feeling was given the tragic events of [Jan. 6] that we could no longer hold it at Bedminster. The damage could have been irreparable. The only real course of action was to leave.”

Nicklaus told Fire Pit Collective that the move was “cancel culture.”

“Donald Trump may be a lot of things, but he loves golf and he loves this country,” said Nicklaus, who endorsed Trump in 2020. “He’s a student of the game and a formidable figure in the game. What he does in the future in golf will depend on what the cancel culture will allow him to do.”

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