GOLF

How Saudi Arabia’s new pro golf series is changing the sport

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The LIV Invitational Series, a controversial new golf tournament backed by Saudi Arabian money, is causing a major disruption in the golf world.

The series’ website claims it is an ‘opportunity to reinvigorate golf’, but opponents and human rights advocates say Saudi Arabia, whose government has been found responsible murder of a Washington Post journalist and who has a history of human rights abuses, is using golf to clean up his reputation – a strategy known as “sportswashing”.

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Despite the controversy, the LIV Invitational has already attracted dozens of professional golfers by promising lucrative prize money and undisclosed signing payments.

But participating in the series also means golfers have to choose sides. The prestigious PGA Tour has suspended all golfers participating in LIV events from PGA events.

As the Saudi-funded golf series heads to American soil for the first time with a tournament in North Plains, Oregon this week, the debate over whether the series is good for the sport intensifies.

Oregon lawmakers have publicly opposed the tournament’s presence, with Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) calling it a “page in the autocrats’ playbook covering up injustices by abusing athletics in the hope to normalize their abuse,” Oregon Public Broadcasting reported. .

North Plains Mayor Teri Lenahan also signed a letter with 10 other nearby mayors protesting the Oregon tournament, saying the event was “sponsored by a repressive government whose human rights abuses are documented.”

Here’s what you need to know about the divide in golf caused by the Saudi-funded LIV Invitational series.

How is Saudi Arabia hijacking PGA golfers?

The Saudi government has a murky history of human rights abuses, according to Grant Liberty, a London-based human rights group.

“Saudi Arabia is trying to use the good name of the world’s most beloved sports stars to hide a human rights record of brutality, torture and murder,” the spokeswoman said. Grant Liberty, Lucy Rae, at the Guardian last year.

The Saudi kingdom’s sovereign wealth fund, the Public Investment Fund, has invested a whopping $2 billion in the LIV Invitational series, according to Forbes magazine.

The Saudi government established the PIF, which is led by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, to invest in assets that will protect and strengthen the oil-dependent country’s economy. In recent years, the Saudi kingdom has used the fund to invest in sports around the world, including boxing, football and Formula 1 racing, according to Front Office Sports.

Grant Liberty released a report in 2021 revealing that Saudi Arabia spent around $1.5 billion on international sports, including golf.

What are professional golfers doing about it?

The LIV Invitational is already becoming one of the most lucrative golf tournaments in history.

The total purse for each tournament in the series would be $25 million, Sporting News reported. In March, ESPN announced that the total prize pool for all eight events in the series would be $255 million.

This is in addition to the money that golfers are paid to enter the series.

Legendary golfer Tiger Woods turned down a potential nine-figure deal with the series in June, according to LIV CEO Greg Norman, who spoke to The Washington Post about his decision. According to the Post, Woods and Jack Nicklaus, another golf legend, rejected lucrative new league deals to protect golf’s legacy.

Norman, a world champion golfer who was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2001, was hired as commissioner and general manager of LIV Golf.

“Woods turned down a deal that was incredibly huge; we’re talking high nine numbers,” Norman, who was the 1995 PGA Tour Player of the Year, told The Post in early June.

Decorated golfer Phil Mickelson agreed to a $200 million deal in June to become the face of the LIV Golf series. However, Mickelson reportedly acknowledged that the Saudi government was using the golf league to enhance its reputation as a repressive and murderous regime.

“They’re some scary motherfuckers to get involved with,” Mickelson told his personal biographer Alan Shipnuck, who shared an excerpt from his book about the golfer in February.

According to Shipnuck, Mickelson said:

“We know they killed [Washington Post reporter and U.S. resident Jamal] Khashoggi and have a horrible human rights record. They execute people there for being gay. Knowing all of this, why would I even consider it? Because this is a unique opportunity to reshape how the PGA Tour works. They were able to get by with manipulative, coercive and heavy-handed tactics because we players had no recourse. Such a nice guy [PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan] seems like, unless you have leverage, it won’t do the right thing. And Saudi money finally gave us that leverage.

How is the PGA Tour reacting?

In early June, after the LIV Invitational kicked off its inaugural event in London, the PGA Tour announced it would suspend all golfers who had played in the Saudi-backed series of PGA events.

On top of that, PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan recently announced that the Tour is making dramatic changes to its Fall 2023 schedule in response to the LIV Invitational, and increasing purses for PGA events.

For example, the PGA has increased the purse for next year’s FedEx Cup playoff tournaments from $15 million to $20 million. Several other PGA Tour highlights have increased their purses from $12 million to $20 million, The Washington Post reported.

The PGA Tour has also reduced the size of the courts for the FedEx Cup – LIV Golf’s tournaments are shorter and played on smaller courts – and changed its tour schedule to better match the lighter and more flexible schedule offered by LIV Golf, preferred by some golfers.

When announcing the changes last week, Monahan called the Saudi-backed golf league an “irrational threat” to the sport.

“Let’s be clear: I’m not naive,” Monahan said during a press conference at the PGA Travelers Championship on Wednesday. “If this is an arms race and the only weapons here are dollar bills, the PGA Tour can’t compete.”

Monahan added, “The PGA Tour, an American institution, cannot compete with a foreign monarchy spending billions of dollars trying to buy the game of golf.”

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