Does Rory McIlroy’s take on appearance fees explain Harold Varner’s Saudi win?

The big names struggled to make an impact in the Saudi International but the Northern Irishman may just have hit on the reason why.

Let's be honest. There was one big reason why a plethora of big names flew in from the United States to contest last week's Saudi International.


While Pebble Beach staged its annual PGA Tour event in California, much of the focus centred on the Royal Greens Golf and Country Club in Saudi Arabia.

Teeing it up there were Dustin Johnson, Bryson DeChambeau, Phil Mickelson, Ian Poulter, Shane Lowry, Sergio Garcia, Xander Schauffele, Cameron Smith, Tommy Fleetwood, Tyrrell Hatton, Lee Westwood and on and on it went.

Those taking part had to seek special exemptions from the PGA Tour and DP World Tour to play in the event - one of 10 being sponsored by the Saudi Public Investment Fund.

Speculation about how much the big stars were being paid was rife and startling figures were mentioned when the chat moved on to the bigger picture of the breakaway Super League. Just how much was being dangled to participate in that?

One notable absentee was Rory McIlroy.

Rory McIlroy watches his shot from the 12th tee during the second round of the BMW Championship

The Northern Irishman remains adamant that he would never sign up to a Super League although he understood why others would.

But one thing that McIlroy mentioned was more than worthy of a revisit when the trophy had been handed out at Royal Greens on Sunday afternoon.

Explaining his position, Rory noted: "It's the competitive integrity to me that's one of the biggest issues here, right.

"It's like, how hard are guys going to compete when they know that they are guaranteed whatever the money is?

"Even when I started to get appearance fees back in 2009 or whatever, I struggled with that, going to tournaments in Korea and Japan feeling like I had already won before I teed it up.

"I had to get over that mental battle of that."

It's a fair point: if you've already pocketed the wonga, does that take some competitive edge away.

Varner had the desire to win

Looking at the final leaderboard from Saudi, it's hard not to think that McIlroy was onto something.

The winner was unheralded Harold Varner, the American finishing in front of Bubba Watson and Adri Arnaus.

One of those in fourth was England's Steve Lewton, a man ranked 523rd before the event teed off.

Forgetting money (if that's possible), the actual prize on offer was an Asian Tour victory.

With all due respect, that's not the same status as a PGA Tour win or a DP World Tour win.

Varner didn't have a PGA Tour victory going into the event, his only pro success a win at the Australian PGA Championship in 2015.

That showed Varner could take his game to foreign climes and triumph. But given that it was his sole success, it surely also highlighted that he was hungry for any win - something the big guns weren't overly fussed about.

Of course, Varner would have received appearance money too but it didn't diminish his desire to go out and grab some silverware.

Can the same be said for the likes of DJ, DeChambeau, Mickelson and co when their pockets had already been lined?

The addition of an Asian Tour win to their packed CVs would hardly have registered. To Varner it meant a great deal.

The point about desire could apply to Bubba too. Although the left-hander is a two-time Masters winner, he's slipped to World No.60 after a poor run and his last victory anywhere came nearly four years ago.

Arnaus has nothing more than a Challenge Tour win to his name while Lewton hasn't won anything since a Philippine Golf Tour victory in 2017.

As McIlroy said, he personally doesn't have an issue with players being paid exorbitant amounts of money.

But if it leads to a drop-off in competitive desire, that's something he's concerned about.

We've seen it time and time again with footballers who lose some of their edge when the big, new contract has been sorted.

Golfers are fallible to those same dynamics too.

The last thing paying viewers want to see is big stars going through the motions.

If they're paid eyewatering sums to contest tournaments which have no great history or standing, will they really go that extra mile?

READ MORE: Harold Varner III wins the Saudi International in sensational style after Bubba Watson charge

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