Saudi-backed golf tour lures PGA pros, but backlash lands them in the rough

The world of professional golf is caught up in a very nasty, very public divorce with hundreds of millions of dollars at stake.

On Thursday in London, 17 of the world’s top golfers, including Dustin Johnson and Phil Mickelson, teeed off at the first event of a new Saudi-sponsored LIV golf tour.

Commissioner Jay Monahan officially banned play at future PGA events shortly after the London event began, while 10 of the 17 players had already officially resigned from the PGA Tour. ..

LIV players are eligible to participate in four major golf tournaments not controlled by the PGA.

Phil Mickelson of the United States will play from the first tee in the first round of Thursday’s first LIV Golf Invitational. (Alastair Grant / Associated Press)

“These players made their choice for their own financial reasons,” Monaghan said in a statement. “But they can’t claim the benefits, considerations, opportunities, and platforms of the same PGA Tour membership as you. Expectations downplay you, our fans, and our partners.”

LIV Golf immediately replied: “It’s annoying that a tour dedicated to creating opportunities for golfers to play games is an entity that prevents golfers from playing.”

Like many divorces, this is about money.

The eight-event LIV tour is funded by the Saudi Arabia Sovereign Wealth Fund. The fund is managed by members of the Saudi royal family and has approximately $ 600 billion in assets. With $ 25 million in prize money per tournament, even the biggest wallet on the PGA Tour is dwarfing.

In addition, a large performance fee will be paid to get top players to participate in this new tour. Johnson and Mickelson are reportedly paid $ 150 million and $ 200 million before hitting the shot.

Game fracturing

One of the oldest stops on the PGA Tour, the RBC Canadian Open, totaling $ 8.7 million, is the first PGA event to face the LIV Tour directly this week in Toronto.

(LIV is the Roman numeral 54, which refers to the 54 holes that make up the tour event, as opposed to the 72 on the PGA Tour)

Even before the tournament began, RBC lost the face of its main spokesman and Canadian Open when Dustin Johnson suddenly joined the LIV tour.

Wyndham Clark of the United States will put a putt on the eighth green in the first round of the RBC Canadian Open in Toronto on Thursday. One of the oldest stops on the PGA Tour, the Canadian Open is also the first PGA event to face the LIV Tour directly. (Frank Gun / Canadian Press)

Tournament officials have seen a quality field and solid tickets with five of the world’s top 10 players as evidence that the PGA is stronger than ever, despite the arrival of the LIV on the scene. Point out the sale.

“You want to see some of the best players in the world, especially some of the best young players in the world. They are here in Canada. They are here in Toronto,” said RBC Canadian Open Tournament Director. Bryan Crawford told the CBC.

At the same time, players expressed concern about how this new pocket tour could change the future of golf.

“The decisions you make in your life purely for money usually don’t go in the right direction,” said four-time winner Rory McIlroy. “I think it’s a shame to break the game.”

Graham DeLaet, a Canadian golfer who played for more than a decade on the PGA Tour before retiring recently, says it will be difficult for many players to turn their backs on the money they have never seen in golf.

“There are a lot of ethical and moral questions about where the money comes from, but one decides for himself. When the check is hanging in front of you, it makes things a little harder.” DeLaet told the CBC.

As DeLaet points out, this story is more than just money and golf. It’s also about politics.

A new focus is on the emerging LIV tour and, more recently, the Saudi Arabian government’s support for its vicious human rights records, including the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

See | LIV Golf Big Money has pulled top golfers away from the PGA Tour:

Saudi-funded golf league plunders top talent on the PGA Tour

The LIV Golf League, funded by the Saudi Arabian government, is poaching some of the world’s top golfers, including Dustin Johnson, to leave the PGA Tour.

Golf vs politics

In the days leading up to the London event, players like Mickelson did their best to separate the world of golf and politics.

“I know for sure what happened to Jamal Khashoggi and I think it’s terrible,” Mickelson said. “I have also seen the good things golf games have achieved throughout history, and I believe LIV Golf will do many good things.”

Mickelson on the right is shaking hands with Saudi businessman Yasel Arurumayan after the first round of the first LIV Golf Invitational in St Albans, England. Arurumayan is the governor of Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, which supports LIV golf. (Paul Childs / Reuters)

Fellow LIV player Graeme McDowell rejected the idea of ​​normalizing or excusing the government’s atrocities by taking a Saudi-sponsored tour.

“As a golfer, I think we wouldn’t play golf much if we tried to cure the geopolitical situation in every country in the world where we play golf,” he said.

Still, some argue that for golfers who have made a lot of money by playing games, this should be more than the money hanging from the LIV tour.

Cheri Bradish, a professor of sports marketing at the University of Toronto Metropolitan, argues that golfers who have previously rejected LIV overtures could be the ultimate winners of this nascent battle.

“If you want to keep your partner, give a speech gig, and think about maintaining a commercial relationship, people will argue with $ 150 million, you don’t need them,” Bloodish said. Told.

“But you want to believe in this society. Athletes understand that they can, can and should do very good things with the platform they have. Probably. “

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