Sergio Garcia and Lee Westwood have been accused of “spitting on their home tour” as the split in golf’s burgeoning civil war continues to widen to historical levels. There may be almost 4,000 miles between Birmingham and Washington DC, but it is fair to say those cities have been united in the fact the Saudi saga has overshadowed both the British Masters and the Wells Fargo Championship, this week’s events on the European Tour and PGA Tour.
On Wednesday here, Westwood confirmed he has signed up to play in the rebel circuit’s first tournament, the $25 million (£20 million) LIV Golf Invitational opener in St Albans in five weeks. Telegraph Sport had already exclusively reported that the 49-year-old had applied for a release to compete for the $4 million first prize at the Centurion Club, and so too had Garcia.
Except the Spaniard announced his intentions in rather more spectacular style at TPC Potomac, shouting at a non-obliging referee who erroneously penalised him for a time penalty: “I can’t wait to leave this Tour… A couple of more weeks and I won ‘t have to deal with you any more.” The video of the ever-petulant 42-year-old’s rant quickly went viral, adding yet more thrust to a controversy that has blown the game off its axis.
Greg Norman, the Australian who has been entrusted with overseeing the attempted revolution, has claimed that LIV has more than 70 pros registered for the curtain-raiser at Centurion, including 15 of the world’s top 100. With $255 million up for grabs in the eight -event series, the riches are inevitably tempting, despite the traditional tours threatening lifetime bans, which will include banishment from the Ryder Cup.
Of course, Norman and the Saudis are chasing the big names, and although the likes of Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy have pledged their loyalty to the status quo – as well as the overwhelming majority of the youngsters at the top of the rankings – the statements of the likes of Garcia and Westwood have created outrage in the locker room. Nobody has reacted more passionately than Frenchman Mike Lorenzo-Vera, who claimed his feelings were widespread among the Tour’s rank and file.
“There are players who don’t need the money but are going to the Saudis,” he said. “Those guys will tell you they have given enough to the Tour, but they didn’t organise s—. We just arrive, shake hands, play pro-am, play great, earn a lot of money that someone organized for you. I’m very lost and a bit angry. Tensions are here and will come for sure. It is going to be interesting. Don’t get me wrong. If we take the two guys that have been in the news – Sergio and Lee – they have been fantastic professionally to me.
“But this situation I just don’t get. You cannot just spit on your home Tour like this. If you listen to them it feels like it’s been 20 very hard years and finally they have got out of that s—. But before this they were getting a s—load of money and everybody was happy.”
Lorenzo-Vera’s comments were preceded by Robert MacIntyre, the 25-year-old Scot, calling the amounts on offer “obscene” and vowing “never to be involved”. Paul McGinley, the 2014 Ryder Cup captain and member of the Tour’s executive board, sought to arrest the narrative that the circuit is paying a pauper’s wage. “A fact missed by many is that players on the DPWT are playing for a RECORD amount in total prize money on the Tour this season,” he tweeted.
The Irishman is correct, but the prize fund here is £1.6 million and in Hertfordshire it will be £20 million. Whoever finishes fourth here will earn less than the player who finishes last at Centurion (£97,000). The sense in the locker room, however, is one of greed and selfishness.
“Yeah, it is huge money and when I’m in bed I sometimes think, ‘Why don’t you just shut up and take the cash?’” Lorenzo-Vera said. “But one day my kids will ask me how we have such a comfortable life? How could I answer that?”