The accusation weighs heavily: With a new series of golf tournaments, the torture state of Saudi Arabia is “sportswashing”. Nevertheless, numerous well-known golf professionals are taking part in the competition, which starts on Thursday. Now the established PGA Tour has reacted with a drastic measure.
Golf is usually very civilized. Playing partners give each other the “honor” on the tee, and care is taken not to cough into the other person’s swing. And until recently, dress codes were still restrictive in many places on the mostly carefully trimmed golf courses (no shorts. No shirts!).
But in the professional field, there is no other way to put it, there is a real mud battle going on at the moment. Words like “motherfucker” are doing the rounds. There’s a crack in the scene. On the one hand professionals like Tiger Woods and Rory McIllroy, who can be summarized as representatives of pure teaching. They face renegades like former world number one Dustin Johnson and crowd favorite Phil Mickelson.
The object that has been making the golf world, which has been clearly structured for decades, shake, is called the LIV Tour. This is a newly created tournament series that aims to compete with the established professional tours in North America (PGA Tour) and Europe (DP Tour, formerly: European Tour). The first event of the new series, which initially has eight stations around the world, starts this Thursday in London.
Well-known golf pros let themselves be lured by entry fees
What makes the new tournament format so tricky: Astronomically high entry and prize money will be paid out, which will be financed from the 800 billion dollar sovereign wealth fund of Saudi Arabia. The accusation that is being raised and that the participants (in addition to Johnson and Mickelson, well-known professionals such as Sergio Garcia, Lee Westwood and also the German Martin Kaymer have announced their start) have to deal with: For the Gulf state, the founding of the new Tour series primarily a PR campaign. “Sportswashing” in its purest form, with which the rulers in the Gulf want to distract from executions and human rights violations in their own country, from the oppression of women and the persecution of homosexuals. Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman is also accused of ordering the murder of dissident Jamal Kashoggi.
Not all of the participating professionals are as honest as the German Martin Kaymer. “Money is a motivator for everyone. You don’t have to deny that finances also play a role at LIV Golf,” said the former world number one in an interview with the FAZ.
For others, the justifications were far more convoluted. Northern Irishman Graeme McDowell belittled the situation in Saudi Arabia as “polarizing”. And added: “Ultimately we are only golfers. And golf can do a lot of good in the world.” The two-time major winner Johnson said only succinctly: “I have to do what is best for my family.”
Nevertheless, everyone who tees off today at the start of the first LIV Golf tournament in London is open to the suspicion that their morality has been bought from them with obscenely high entry fees and prize money. According to press reports, Mickelson is set to receive $200 million for taking part in the new series. The tournament in London is endowed with 20 million dollars, the winner alone gets four million dollars (for comparison: Scottie Scheffler received prize money of 2.7 million US dollars for his triumph at the Masters in April).
What also makes the series interesting for the mass of pros: There is no cut at the three-day event, even the last one gets a check for $120,000. At the same time, a new type of team rating will be created, which will also pay out millions again, which will then be shared among the members of the winning teams.
Golf superstar Tiger Woods cancels participation
But not all professionals are seduced by the Saudi sums. So superstar Tiger Woods has declined his participation. And that despite the fact that he had an offer in the “high, nine-digit range”, as Greg Norman, head of the new LIV series, blurted out in the “Washington Post”. But Woods let it be known in advance that tradition and history are a “legacy”. One that is obviously more important to him than the sums that those in power in Saudi Arabia are throwing around.
Northern Ireland’s Rory McIllroy positions himself more clearly. “It’s obvious that money is a deciding factor in a lot of things, but not every money-based decision in life goes in the right direction,” said McIlroy, who won his title at the Canadian Open in Toronto instead of competing in London want to defend.
It is still unclear how the conflict will continue. The PGA and the DP World Tour had already threatened to sanction participants in the LIV series. And at least the PGA Tour put their plan into action today and banned the players participating in LIV Tour events from PGA tournaments. In addition, the players would be removed from the FedEx Cup points list, among other things, according to a two-page letter from the PGA Tour Commissioner, Jay Monahan.
Can the PGA really keep the bans up?
However, it is questionable whether the bans will actually develop their deterrent potential. The PGA ban may lack enforcement because many tournament organizers follow their own invitation policy. The organizers of the US Open, which will take place next week, have already announced that the participants of the LIV tour will also be able to tee off at the tournament in Brookline/US state of Massachusetts.
Many pros are probably still undecided and are probably looking at how the first LIV tournaments will be received and what is actually happening with the renegades. It is quite possible that some of them will later succumb to the obscene charms of the Saudi millions when they see the PGA suspension prove a blunt sword. Despite all moral concerns.