The Saudi Golf League's momentum appears to have stalled ©Getty Images

The International Golf Federation (IGF) is refraining from taking a side over a Saudi-backed breakaway golf tour - although the so-called super league appears to have run into trouble before it has even begun in the wake of Phil Mickelson's remarkable admissions about the "sportswashing" project.

Two-time major winner Greg Norman was appointed chief executive of LIV Golf Enterprises last year, and speculation mounted this month that a long-rumoured Saudi Golf League was close to being announced by the company.

However, the breakaway has suffered a major blow after American stars Bryson DeChambeau and Dustin Johnson - two of the most high-profile active golfers not to have so far distanced themselves from the project - declared their allegiance to the PGA Tour.

It is with this backdrop that IGF executive director Antony Scanlon told insidethegames that "until we officially learn of specific details [about the Saudi Golf League] and the IGF Board has had an opportunity to review and discuss any plans that might come forth and their potential impact, any response to your questions would merely be speculative and therefore premature".

"At this point, we don’t even know if or when the league might start," Scanlon added.

Some members of the IGF Board have not been so reserved.

Jay Monahan, PGA Tour commissioner and chair of the IGF Board, has warned players that they face suspension and potentially lifetime bans from the PGA Tour should they take part in the rival events.

European Tour chief executive Keith Pelley also sits on the IGF Board.

The European Tour - now branded as the DP World Tour - has insisted it is "aligned with the PGA Tour in opposing an alternative golf league, in the strongest possible terms".

Phil Mickelson, golf's oldest major champion, spoke with remarkable candour about the backers of the breakaway league and their "horrible record with human rights" ©Getty Images
Phil Mickelson, golf's oldest major champion, spoke with remarkable candour about the backers of the breakaway league and their "horrible record with human rights" ©Getty Images

The European Tour did however include the Saudi International, an event backed the by Public Investment Fund (PIF) which operates on behalf of the Saudi Government, on its calendar in 2019, 2020 and 2021.

It is now an Asian Tour tournament and this year attracted many of the world's best players with a large prize pool. 

The PIF is the majority shareholder of LIV Golf Enterprises.

Speculation was rife last week that the Saudi Golf League had reached its initial target number of players to join the breakaway, but momentum now appears to have been lost.

Two-time major winner Dustin Johnson committed to the PGA Tour in a statement released by the circuit.

DeChambeau, winner of the 2020 US Open, said in a carefully-worded statement that "as long as the best players in the world are playing the PGA Tour, so will I".

World number one Jon Rahm from Spain, number two Collin Morikawa and fellow Americans Jordan Spieth and Brooks Koepka have all said they will not defect, and so too Rory McIlroy.

Four-time major winner McIlroy, who played for Ireland at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, chairs the PGA Tour Player Advisory Council and has been among the Saudi Golf League's harshest critics.

Mickelson, the 51-year-old American who has won six majors, came under McIlroy's fire following a Fire Pit Collective report which detailed how Mickelson had paid lawyers to write the Saudi Golf League operating agreement.

Mickelson admitted the project was "sportswashing", claiming the Saudi partners were "scary motherfuckers to get involved with" and "have a horrible record on human rights".

Yet he defended the breakaway as being in players' best interests as the PGA Tour is "really a dictatorship", as reported by Fire Pit Collective.

Mickelson's comments were made public before Johnson and DeChambeau - seen as potentially the breakaway's marquee players - pledged allegiance to the PGA Tour.

McIlroy has claimed the Saudi Golf League is now "dead in the water", saying there is "no one" left to join, and was scathing in his criticism of Mickelson.

"I don't want to kick someone while he's down, obviously, but I thought they [Mickelson's comments] were naïve, selfish, egotistical, ignorant."

Golf has appeared at each of the last two Summer Olympic Games, and is on the programme at both Paris 2024 and Los Angeles 2028.

Two Americans - Nelly Korda and Xander Schauffele - won the respective women's and men's gold medals at Tokyo 2020.

Saudi Arabia's PIF has moved into sport in a major way in recent years, including the purchase of English football club Newcastle United.

Saudi capital Riyadh is also due to host the Asian Games in 2034 - the country's first time doing so.