The LIV Golf Invitational Series is a new professional golf league which is financed by Saudi Arabian Public Investment Fund which according to cbssports.com is “the financial arm of the Saudi Arabian government” and the CEO is none other than the Shark, Greg Norman. According to the LIV homepage LIV is “Golf, But Louder.” LIV is a direct competitor to the PGA and has recruited some of the highest profile golfers from the PGA to the new league. The PGA has responded by issuing a “suspension of any players who compete on the LIV tour, now and in the future” according to sportsyahoo.com.
The LIV Golf Invitational will host 8 tournaments and according to livgolf.com “there will be a 7 event regular season where players will compete as individuals and teams for both points and prize money. At the end of those 7 events, an Individual Champion will be crowned based on points accumulated throughout the season.The 8th and final event will be our season-ending Team Championship match play event.”
The LIV tournaments consist of three rounds, (54 holes) and is limited to 48 golfers. Each regular season event will have a purse of 25 million dollars where all 48 golfers receive a cut. The first place individual will receive 4 million dollars and the 48th place individual will receive 120,000 dollars. The remaining 5 million dollars will be awarded to the top three teams, 3 million dollars for first place, 1.5 million for second and 500K for third.
The final event of the season will be a four round championship where the total prize money for individuals is 30 million dollars, 18 million for first place, 8 million for second and 4 million for third. The season ending team championship purse is 50 million dollars and all 12 teams receive a cut. The first place team will receive 16 million dollars and the last place team will receive one million dollars.
Who are the golfers who have signed with LIV so far? According to forbes.com the following golfers are playing in the inaugural LIV tournament in London at the Centurion Club, Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson, Louis Oosthuizen, Kevin Na, and Sergio Garcia. Bryson DeChambeau and Patrick Reed have indicated that they intend to join LIV but are not playing in the Centurion event.
The PGA’s Response
LIV exists, according to their website, to “supercharge the game of golf.” With the first tournament underway. LIV certainly has the golf world talking which you would think is a good thing for the sport. Not so fast. Not everyone is happy with the new kids on the block and by not everyone I mean the PGA. LIV has recruited some of the highest profile and highest ranking members from the PGA to join the new organization. LIV has acquired six of the top 100 golfers in the world from the PGA. Players who participate in LIV events will be suspended and ineligible to participate in PGA tour events. The PGA has suspended 17 tour players who have joined the LIV Golf Invitational Series. Nine of the 17 players had resigned from the PGA tour prior to being suspended. Dustin Johnson responded by resigning from the PGA Tour and noted that he intends to play in the US Open June 16th-19 from The Country Club in Brookline, Massachusetts. Phil Mickelson chose not to resign from the PGA Tour arguing “I earned my lifetime membership and I don’t want to give that up, I don’t believe I should have to, I don’t know what’s going to happen, but I have earned that (lifetime membership) and I don’t plan on just giving that up” according to The Athletic.
LIV responded to the suspensions with the following:
The response from the golfers in question varied from apathy to a willingness to appeal the suspension. Sergio Garcia was unphased by the decision “I’m very happy where I am and I’m excited for this tour. I thought that today was a great day to start and that’s what I’m going to focus on. I resigned a week and a half ago, so whatever the PGA Tour says doesn’t go with me because I’m not a member.” According to Reuters, Ian Poulter had a different view “I will appeal for sure. It makes no sense,having two Tour cards and the ability to play golf all over the world, what’s wrong with that?”
Critics of LIV have accused the Saudi government of employing a strategy called “sportwashing” , a strategy to try to legitimize and improve its global image. Human rights advocates point to “recent hosts of the Winter Olympics (Russia and China) and World Cup (Russia and Qatar)” as examples of sportwashing in recent history according to an article in the USA Today. The Saudi government has a history of human rights violations and Amnesty International went so far as to call any athletes who play in the league “willing stooges of Saudi sportswashing” due to its “appalling human rights record.” The Saudi government has an atrocious human rights record specifically with women and members of the lgtbq community.The murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi was a egregiously distressing event given that the Saudi government has been implicated in the murder.
Current LIV players were quick to condemn any human rights violations and expressed hope that the Saudi government was undergoing a culture transition that the game of golf could help implement. According to Prime New Now, Graeme McDowell stated “We’re not politicians, we’re professional golfers”. If Saudi Arabia want to use the game of golf as a way for them to get to where they want to be, I think we’re proud to help them on that journey.” Phil Mickelson added “I don’t condone human rights violations at all. I’m certainly aware of what has happened with Jamal Khashoggi and I think it’s terrible. Nobody here condones human rights violations and nobody is trying to make up for anything.” Despite the condemnation of human rights violations these golfers are still participating in the LIV Golf Invitational Series.
I am all for anybody getting as much money as they can for their talents and services. It is not my job to be the moral compass of anybody other than myself. That being said I think these golfers should be honest about why they are playing in the LIV series. The “why” is money and there is a ton of it to go around for these guys. I don’t begrudge them for wanting to make as much money as they can but don’t do it under the pretext that you are trying to effect cultural change in a country that has such a despicable human rights record. These players are under no obligation to justify their career decisions to anybody should they choose to answer these questions they should do so honestly.