LIV Golf – money trumps morality

The Saudi backed series of golf events under the LIV brand kicks off in England this week.

54 holes; no cut; ludicrous amounts of prize money; and for the marquee names appearance money that leaves them set up for life even if they finish last in the 48 player field.

There is something vulgar about the whole business. It is as obvious an attempt at sportswashing as one is ever likely to see.

Useful idiots that can be bought for a price and are willing to rebrand and promote the KSA as a benign, warm, sports-loving nation distant from their backing of 9-11; their dismal human rights record; their treatment of women as second class citizens and of course the murder and dismemberment of Jamal Khashoggi.

Lining up at the inaugural event are some of the least liked golfers from the US PGA. Phil Mickelson, who memorably described his prospective Saudi benefactors as “scary” people to get involved with, will be there. As will:

Dustin Johnson who is rumoured to have been paid US$150 million just to join the LIV tour. Mickelson even more.

Bryson de Chambeau, Patrick Reed and Ricky Fowler are not playing in London but have apparently all committed to future LIV events. Fowler is a disappointment, I thought he placed more value on the history of the game and the legacy it can leave.

From Europe – European tour veterans Lee Westwood, Sergio Garcia, Ian Poulter, Graham McDowell. The South Africans Louis Oosthuizen, Charl Shwartzel and Branden Grace. All have won or made multiple millions on the European and PGA tours and through their sponsors. But offered another few million for less work and guaranteed pay-outs; thank you very much.

The chief executive of the LIV tour is Australian, Greg Norman. Speaking at a promotional event in the UK last month, the Australian was quizzed about the death of Khashoggi and issued a response that prompted outrage. “Look, we’ve all made mistakes and you just want to learn by those mistakes and how you can correct them going forward,” he said. Greg Norman is the CUI – Chief Useful Idiot.

Most of us do not brutally murder and dismember Washington Post journalists because we do not like what they have written about us.

McDowell, one of Irish golf’s star names, with career winnings of more than $35m, stated that he had “decided that following the LIV opportunity was best for me and my family” even if it is likely to cost the 42-year-old future captaincy of the European Ryder Cup team. Of course, Graham.

Their pre-tournament media interviews have been embarrassing. They are all clearly prepped by a PR firm that, like too many of their kind, also has no moral compass. Feigning outrage; saying that it is all about growing the game and being role models. Would they play a tournament in Putin’s Russia was one of the questions….it is a hypothetical question was the standard reply. Of course they would – for the right price.

Meanwhile the PGA this weeks tees up in Canada for the RBC Canadian Open. A tournament much higher in prestige and that will take a lot more winning. But those competing in it will be acutely aware that its $8.7m purse is a pittance compared to the riches on offer in Hertfordshire for what amounts to morally questionable but far less difficult work.

One standard question is why should golfers- and other sports people – not deal with Saudi Arabia when governments around the world buy their oil; sell them ludicrous amounts of weaponry, much of it used in the Saudi oppression of Yemen, and even now, describe their nations as allies? The state is not an individual – and there is basically a state recognition of a both a dependency on Saudi Arabian oil and a need to retain KSA as an force for a stable Middle East. Geopolitical necessity.

The question remains why should sportspeople be held to a higher moral code?

Which rather misses the point. The issue is that they are not held to a higher standard; but they are very public figures. They are being used specifically for their names; their fame. They are being used as window-dressing by a regime that knows that money can buy anything.

And that is what LIV is counting on – greed. For blood money.

They may well be right. More players will jump to LIV for the cash on offer. The European Tour (now unfortunately known as the DP World Tour) is near death; the purses are too small; the players are not good enough; and for the most part no one, other than family friends or Sky Sports actually cares. Name the winner of last week’s Porsche European Open? I doubt many can.

The Asian tour has already hitched its future to the LIV tour with 13 Asian Tour golfers lined up to play in this week’s LIV tournament.

Outline a possible future: there will be two primary tours; LIV and the US PGA (which will have to go global and incorporate the European Tour.) The Majors will continue – for instance the US Open is run by the USGA not the USPGA. But the majors will also need to go global as well. That 3 of the 4 majors are in the USA is head in the sands stuff!

The problem with the US PGA tour is that it is too parochial; too local and too comfortable. Patrick Reed, love him or hate him, embraced the European Tour because of the challenges of different countries, courses, climate etc. The US PGA is pretty much cookie-cutter courses played by cookie-cutter golfers each week.

The European tour will become a development tour – much like the Korn Ferry Tour in the USA.

Prize money will need to increase to create near parity of the remaining tours. Golf will need to appeal to a new generation; the 54 hole shotgun format may work; a 2pm start each day with everyone finished by 6.30pm. Think T20 cricket rather than a test match. Louder; noisier, brasher; better suited to an audience that has a myriad of other distractions.

LIV may in the end be necessary for golf; but it needs to be honest and transparent in its actions and objectives. As do the mercenaries that have already signed up.

The LIV 2022 tournament schedule is:

1 Centurion Club Hertfordshire, England June 9-11
2 Pumpkin Ridge Portland, Oregon June 30 – July 2
3 Trump National Golf Club Bedminster Bedminster, New Jersey July 29-31
4 The International Boston, Massachusetts September 2-4
5 Rich Harvest Farms Chicago, Illinois September 16-18
6 Stonehill Bangkok, Thailand October 7-9
7 Royal Greens Golf & Country Club Jeddah, Saudi Arabia October 14-16
8 Trump National Golf Club Doral Miami, Florida October 27-30