GOLF

Paul Casey changes stance and defends Saudi Arabia ahead of LIV Golf debut

ADVERTISEMENT

Paul Casey is one of three new golfers making their LIV Golf Invitational Series debut this week.

Although there has been plenty of backlash for those who have joined the controversial Saudi-backed venture – especially with this week’s event taking place at former President Donald Trump’s golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey, about 50 miles from the World Trade Center in Manhattan – Casey isn’t bothered.

ADVERTISEMENT

His position on Saudi Arabia has changed dramatically.

“I was very aware of the ramifications of making that choice,” Casey said.

Casey changes stance on Saudi Arabia

Casey spoke with Charles Howell and Jason Kokrak on Wednesday ahead of their debut in the third LIV Golf event.

While most of the questions posed to the trio focused on Saudi Arabia and the country’s involvement in sport amid its human rights abuses, Casey believes the country is making progress.

[Set, hut, hike! Create or join a fantasy football league now!]

“I’ve been to the kingdom many times and seen change happening in the kingdom, so I can say with confidence that change is happening and what we’re doing is having a positive effect,” Casey said.

This position is a radical departure from what it was a few years ago. Casey, a former UNICEF ambassador, declined to participate in the Saudi Invitational in 2019 due to the country’s involvement in Yemen. Playing there, he said at the time, would make him a “hypocrite”.

“I’ve seen the numbers,” he said in 2019, via ESPN. “In Yemen, 22 million people face starvation, including 11.5 million children.

Casey was asked about his partnership with UNICEF and said they “actually encouraged me to go” to Saudi Arabia. He has since played in several Saudi Internationals.

“I then went to Arabia while I still had this relationship,” he said. “As they reminded me, it’s about inclusion, and by not engaging and not participating and not traveling to countries, you harden positions if you do that. You have to be inclusive.”

Casey, Howell and Kokrak were also asked directly about Saudi Arabia’s record on gay rights, though all three declined to comment.

Casey, who is ranked No. 31 in the Official World Golf Rankings, is one of the top golfers to make the jump to LIV Golf. The 44-year-old has three PGA Tour victories and 15 on the DP World Tour in Europe. Kokrak also has three PGA Tour wins under his belt, as does Howell.

The three can no longer compete on the PGA Tour and will likely be banned from all Ryder Cup teams. We do not know if they will be able to play in the major championships.

While it’s unclear how much the three were paid to play in the LIV Golf League, it’s almost certainly a significant pay raise. Still, Howell and Casey insisted the decision wasn’t about the money.

“Money was not a factor,” Howell said. “For me, I was [on the PGA Tour] for 22 years, and it’s been great. I have nothing but good things to say about the PGA Tour, what they have given me, the opportunities etc. But when it happened, I’m 43, I’ve done a lot. I still love the game. I love the game more now than I did five years ago… Like those guys mentioned, I even got a little more excited when someone, say Bryson [DeChambeau] reaches out and says, I would like you to be on my team. It’s a compliment, but it’s also a responsibility. OK, I have to play well; I am responsible not only for myself but for Paul, for Bryson, for others.

“It’s new and exciting. Not that the PGA TOUR has gotten boring, but I’m extremely excited to be here for the next few years, and yes, it’s a new adventure, and at this age and part of my life, that’s perfect .

Paul Casey, Jason Kokrak and Charles Howell will all make their LIV Golf debuts this week in New Jersey. (Konathan Ferrey/LIV Golf/via Getty Images)

ADVERTISEMENT