Playing on golfers taking money from Saudis ignores the realities of a complicated world


Instead of knocking some morally afflicted golfers over the head for getting whipped by Saudi Arabia, let’s give credit to at least one of them.

Here’s Talor Gooch, a 30-year-old man who would probably need to wear a sign that read “I’m Talor Gooch” to be recognized in public (and even then, that’s not a guarantee), at a conference Tuesday in London, asked about the human rights implications of becoming a de facto employee of the Saudi regime on the new LIV golf circuit.


“I’m a golfer,” he said. “I’m not that smart. I’m trying to hit a golf ball into a small hole. Golf is hard enough already.

Although almost certainly unintentional – if we take him at his word, Gooch wouldn’t have the ability to figure this out on his own – the defending RSM Classic champion came across one of the most telling quotes about the condition. human an athlete ever has. delivered.

Saudis think they can buy whatever they want and whoever they want, largely because there is always someone out there who wants to be bought. If it’s not a golfer or a Formula 1 driver, it’s the current President of the United States, whose political stance is so tied to gas prices that he plans to visit the Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman next month after calling the Saudis a “pariah”. because of their human rights record. Or it was his predecessor, who chose Riyadh for his first trip abroad as commander-in-chief so he could kiss the ring. Or it’s decades of foreign policy that have made Saudi Arabia the biggest buyer of American-made military equipment in the world, most recently for waging a horrific war in Yemen.

Dustin Johnson speaks during a press conference ahead of the upcoming LIV Golf Invitational Series event at the Centurion Club in St Albans, north London.

That point is this: When it comes to every facet of our relationship with Saudi Arabia, America sees what it wants to see and justifies what it wants to justify. Are we really going to hold “not-so-smart” Talor Gooch and the likes of Dustin Johnson, who has never said anything interesting in public on anything other than golf, to a higher level?

Yes, it would be much cleaner and more honest if these guys were just telling the truth. The LIV Tour, backed by hundreds and hundreds of millions from the Saudi Public Investment Fund, will guarantee them an even higher standard of living than they were able to achieve on the PGA Tour. They will earn more by playing less. If you can stop worrying about where the money is coming from, that’s a lot.

Fortunately for Gooch, Johnson and Phil Mickelson, doing business with the Saudis follows a long American tradition of doing just that – for the right price, of course.

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And that’s where a lot of the backlash against these guys feels a little misguided and unfair. Yeah, what they’re doing is ridiculous because of who they slept with. At the same time, the PGA Tour is not a sacred vessel.

It benefits the PGA Tour to turn this exclusively into a morality game where anyone who wants to partner with their new rival accepts blood money. In the end, this may be what saves the tour from losing more stars.

But if LIV survives in the long term, it will ultimately be two competing business models with very different visions of how professional golf works.

The philosophy of the PGA Tour has always been based on competitive merit. There are no warranties or appearance fees. You qualify for the tour, show up each week, and collect what you earn based on your level of play.

Thanks to Tiger Woods and the huge amount of money that has been poured into the sport over the past 20 years, this arrangement has worked out pretty well for the players. Last year, the golfer ranked 100th on the PGA Tour prize list again earned nearly $1.3 million.

LIV’s model makes golf more like any other professional sports league where the big money for top players is tied more to attendance than results. While the prize money for individual tournaments also seems quite attractive, LIV is essentially presented as an entertainment product more than a competition where value is both derived and funneled to the stars who simply show up.

If you were to blow up the PGA Tour and start from scratch, it would undoubtedly be more like LIV. And the PGA Tour knows it, which is why it’s offering $50 million through its ‘Player Impact Program’ to put more in the pockets of its most popular members while offering $18 million to the winner. of the season-ending FedEx Cup, an event that has no more impact on the wider sporting landscape in 2022 than it did in its debut in 2007. As a golf event, the FedEx Cup is a total siesta. In order to make sure the stars get paid more while making sure no rival startup tour can take off the top players, he mostly did his job – even in the face of LIV’s open checkbook.

But you can see why some players need more than a reference to the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi to turn down Saudi money. Sport is not geopolitics, but telling athletes – not corporations or governments – that they are the only ones in the world who cannot make money from repressive regimes seems wildly inconsistent and unfair. .

It’s inconsistent even in sports. Until Brittney Griner was detained in Russia this year, you had never heard criticism of female basketball players accepting money from an oligarch to play for their teams in the WNBA offseason. What, did you think women’s basketball was so much more popular in Russia that Griner could earn almost five times more than in the United States? Is anyone yelling at horse breeders in Kentucky about sport washing as Saudi princes and Emirati sheikhs come to spend millions auctioning yearlings while employing hundreds of Americans on their farms and in their racing operations?

Of course not, because we are all overwhelmed by these thorny moral entanglements, whether it is the manufacture of our shoes and our telephones, what our government is doing to lower the price of gasoline or political causes in various countries which are supported by certain companies we patronize. That doesn’t help matters. We’d all like to think that if we were in the same position as these guys, we’d have the moral clarity to say that playing under the LIV banner isn’t worth the sacrifice of conscience.

It’s easier not to draw those hard lines in our complicated world, but what’s worse is not even acknowledging that they exist. If someone like Gooch really isn’t smart enough to do more than hit a ball in a hole, he probably belongs.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: LIV golfers get hit for taking Saudi money; it is complicated