Opinion: Trump’s ego and greed are helping to divide a sport


Editor’s note: Michael D’Antonio is the author of the book “Never Enough: Donald Trump and the Pursuit of Success” and has written an award-winning article on golf. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his own. See more opinion on CNN.



As 40 pros chase small dimpled balls around his New Jersey course this week, at least four of former President Donald Trump’s favorite things will converge: publicity, money, conflict and golf.

Long his passion, the game has been marred by controversy over a new (league-like) tour backed by a Saudi sovereign wealth fund. Players must choose between tradition and the big money offered by this new tour, burdened by association with Saudi Arabia’s appalling human rights record.

Typically, Trump inserted himself into the middle of this feud. Players should “take the money” offered by the new LIV Golf Tour, he says, rather than stick with the venerable PGA Tour, predicting an inevitable merger. “If you don’t take the money now,” Trump wrote on his Truth Social account, “you won’t get anything post-merger and only say the intelligence of the original signatories.”

To be clear, only Trump is talking about possibly merging the organizations. Instead, according to CNBC, the PGA is hiring lobbyists to fight LIV because of what its commissioner calls “an irrational threat, one that doesn’t care about return on investment or true game growth.”

The US Tour is also investing in the Allied European Tour and banning LIV players from its events. Of course, this blow will be mitigated by major prize gains that LIV will offer this year, according to Forbes.

At the center of it all is the chairman of Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, known as MBS, who must be credited with LIV’s ambitious efforts to challenge the golf establishment.

Trump backing LIV by urging gamers to get money is entirely consistent for a man who once said in “The Art of the Deal,” “You can’t be too greedy.”

But money isn’t the only advantage LIV golfers enjoy; on the new circuit, they will actually have to play less golf. LIV events will be three-day, 54-hole events. (The name LIV is the Roman numeral version of 54.) PGA Tournaments are four-day affairs requiring 72 holes of play. More money for less work – what’s to lose?

Trump apparently thought he too had nothing to lose and a lot to gain when he agreed to LIV’s request to host an event in its inaugural season. It’s reminiscent of Trump’s involvement in the 1980s with an upstart football league called the USFL. Trump, then owner of the New Jersey Generals, attempted to file an antitrust lawsuit against the NFL. Although the USFL won the lawsuit, the NFL was only forced to pay a token dollar, and in the end, the long court battle sank the fledgling football league. Trump may be reliving that experience — and possibly reigniting his vicarious failure with golf.

There are also other advantages for Trump. There’s the fee Trump will receive for renting his Bedminster, New Jersey course, plus the valuable free publicity as the press covers both the event and the added controversy of a former US president working with a state-controlled organization with a terrible human rights record. (A State Department report notes that “(s)significant human rights issues in Saudi Arabia include: unlawful killings; executions for non-violent crimes; enforced disappearances.” Murder and dismemberment by American journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018 brought the kingdom’s record to the world’s attention.

Trump’s connection to Saudi Arabia was surely on the minds of members of 9/11 Justice, an advocacy group that represents the families of those killed in the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Fifteen of the 19 assailants, who killed nearly 3,000 people that day, were Saudi nationals. They were affiliated with al-Qaeda, which wealthy Saudis would help fund, according to an analysis by BBC security correspondent Gordon Corera. Nevertheless, Trump remains with the Saudis. (The Saudi government denies any involvement in 9/11.)

Trump seems immune to the efforts of others to shame him, so the fact that he is considering hosting the tournament is unsurprising. Add to that long-standing evidence that he views the kingdom as good trading partners and vital allies and his choice to choose the Saudis over the US tour and the objections of the 9/11 families seems inevitable.

In the 1990s, when Trump faced financial peril, the Saudis bought him a large yacht and a hotel, according to the Washington Post, and the Riyadh government also paid $4.5 million for a Trump apartment. . The Post reported that during his presidential campaign in 2015, he said of the Saudis: “They buy me apartments. They spend $40 million, $50 million. Am I supposed to dislike them? I love them a lot.”

As president, Trump made Saudi Arabia the first stop on his first trip abroad. When Khashoggi was assassinated at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Trump’s response to the scandal was muted, to say the least. Indeed, after the CIA reported that the murder was ordered by MBS, Trump released an official statement saying, “Maybe he did and maybe he didn’t. !” (The Saudi Foreign Ministry dismissed a similar assessment of a US intelligence report on MBS in 2021.)

Reaffirming his interest in the money, he also pointed to a pending US arms sale of $20-30 billion to Saudi Arabia. It was just part of an overall package that Trump claimed was worth $110 billion in sales over 10 years, brokered by Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, at the start of the Trump administration. (In fact, less than $4 billion in arms deals had been done when Trump made that claim, NPR reported, citing a Brookings Institution official.)

After Trump left, the Saudi sovereign wealth fund, led by MBS, invested $2 billion in Kushner’s stock fund, according to The New York Times.

While the financial elements of Trump’s decision are a bit difficult to follow, the golfing aspects are pretty clear. Trump has long sought the prestige that comes with holding professional tournaments on his courses. To date, the courses have hosted seven tournaments for major golf organizations. A few years ago, Trump’s Bedminister club was set to host its first major tournament, a category that includes the Masters, US Open, British Open and PGA Championship. However, following the January 6, 2021 attack on the US Capitol by Trump supporters, the PGA moved the 2022 Championship from Bedminster to a course in Oklahoma called Southern Hills Country Club.

During the 2016 campaign, the PGA Tour moved a tournament from Trump’s Doral Course in Florida to Mexico City. Although the tour has previously raised concerns about Trump’s provocative statements about Muslims, the lack of a sponsor to help foot the bill was the reason given when the decision was made, according to the Washington Post.

Trump’s support for LIV could be an act of revenge directed against the American golf establishment. But by choosing LIV, he won’t get the valuable attention garnered by the events of the PGA Tour. Currently, LIV does not have a broadcast contract, so it will not appear on television. The tournaments can be viewed online, but as The New Yorker recently noted, viewership there has been “pitifully small.”

How will Trump count his experience with LIV? Financially, he won’t get all the publicity he might expect from another tour. However, he did, by urging players to defect and side with LIV, put a thumbs in the eye of the powers that be who rejected him. Notable names that have been recruited from LIV include Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson.

Trump’s support for LIV will likely please MBS, who is Kushner’s investor and played a key role in LIV’s development. Better yet, for a man who owns golf courses, plays often and likes to talk about the game, the LIV event offers Trump a chance to play with a pro in a pro-am game. Can you imagine letting it pass?