Written by Staff Writer
Rory McIlroy raised eyebrows on Thursday when he defended the right of professional golfers to compete in the Saudi Arabia Open in January, saying it was “a major decision” for them to accept a prize worth just $2.5 million.
However, the Northern Irishman went on to suggest that U.S. players might have made a “worse” decision by snubbing the event in question, which will take place at Royal Greens in the country’s capital Riyadh from January 20 to 26.
“It’s a Major decision for any professional to take when a golf tournament involves the Middle East because you have so many players from there already, so many tournaments have been played there,” McIlroy told reporters at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic.
“I think the reality of it is there are so many players who have never seen Saudi Arabia before or at least haven’t had the time to see the countries a lot of the players are from.
“But obviously we wouldn’t play if it was to play in Dubai or somewhere else in the west of Europe.
“I think you have to take into account what the players that may go there or who may play there and the exposure it would bring and what could be lost from not going there.
“I think because the prize money is so low I don’t think it would have much of an impact.”
In May, Colin Montgomerie announced that he would not be going to the Saudi tournament, which would be the Scot’s first tournament in the country since a stormy relationship between the two men in 1998 led to the Northern Irishman dropping out of an exhibition event.
Montgomerie’s comments sparked widespread shock and criticism from golf fans, and McIlroy’s participation has led to a number of players, including Martin Kaymer, Danny Willett and Brooks Koepka backing his decision to accept the Saudi invitation.
“I think the guys that probably are going to go there are already some of the biggest stars in the world,” said McIlroy.
“I think the benefit of going to Saudi Arabia would be that they would get more people watching the tournament on TV and I think you get a better chance to grow the game and to make the game bigger all-round.”
McIlroy is optimistic about the future of the sport in the Arab world and believes that African dominance of the game is waning.
“I think we have seen an explosion of African golfers over the last five to seven years and I think over the next few years you will see a shake-up in the rankings and it will start to be seen as more than a white boys golfing event,” he said.
“The majority of European boys are like that. They all want to be Jack Nicklaus or Tiger Woods and I think we will see some more European boys challenge that.
“But I also think in terms of the image of the game and the image of who you are as a golfer, I think the Africans are just going to be the ones who get to the top because they are the ones who are prepared to work hard.”