One of the glories of golf is the escape it provides from the world’s madness. There’s the incomparable venues, great green pastoral gardens. There’s the leisurely pace and the peace of mind and the satisfaction that comes from playing a shot well. There’s the splendid civility with which the game is conducted at both the amateur and professional levels.
Golf has been this way, an oasis of tranquillity, forever. How dispiriting, then, to see it now caught up in a tawdry, destructive dance with the devil by way of its ties to a new tour run by Saudi Arabia.
And how offensive that three of the game’s great stars – Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson, and the new tour’s CEO, Greg Norman – are the ones leading golf down this money-grubbing sinkhole.
The new tour is called LIV Golf. Citing the ghastly Saudi murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, cynics prefer another name: Bonesaw Tour.
The tour starts Thursday with an inaugural tournament in London, thus overshadowing the long-standing, well-respected Canadian Open at St. George’s Golf and Country Club in Toronto.
LIV is a testimony to the tenacity of greed. The Saudis, of course, have an endless supply of megabucks and they’re putting up twice and thrice more than other tours – this week’s winner gets $4-million – to lure players to sign on. Many have done so, with the risk of becoming pawns in the Saudis’ public-relations agenda.
“They are not golfers but instruments of deceit,” raged Golf Channel’s lead commentator, Brandel Chamblee, of those who have bolted from the PGA Tour.
Aussie Greg Norman’s ethics were on full display in responding to a question about Mr. Khashoggi’s murder. “Look, we’ve all made mistakes,” said the man nicknamed the Great White Shark (who was the Great White Choker in many major tournaments). “You just want to learn by those mistakes and how you can correct them going forward.”
There you have it. The next time someone carves someone to pieces with a bonesaw, let’s hope they learn from it and move on.
Mr. Norman called the very popular Rory McIlroy “brainwashed” for coming out against the breakaway tour and Jack Nicklaus a “hypocrite” because he says the Golden Bear was initially supportive of it. Wayne Grady, a fellow Aussie and a former major tournament champion, said of Mr. Norman: “You should hang your head in shame, Shark.”
It’s just a sampling of the state of upheaval the normally polite world of golf has entered into. Many are hopeful the new tour won’t survive. It is without a TV contract. It is starting with only eight tournaments, two of which Donald Trump is pleased (no surprise) to host at his golf courses.
But with their limitless funds, the Saudis can absorb losses and carry on. The money offered will be just too much for players to ignore. Mr. Mickelson is reportedly being given $200-million just for showing up. This, despite the author of a new, unauthorized Mickelson biography quoting the golf great as having said of the Saudis: “We know they killed Khashoggi and have a horrible record on human rights. They execute people over there for being gay.”
Mr. Mickelson has had to pay off huge gambling debts in recent years. It’s clear he wants the money and that he also wants to get back at the PGA Tour, against which, like Mr. Norman, he holds a long-standing grudge. That tour, which holds events in repressive countries like China, is hardly without serious flaws and needs changes as well.
To be noted is that it is primarily just the veteran golfers wanting to feather their nests – players like Sergio Garcia, Louis Oosthuizen, Lee Westwood, Ian Poulter – who are signing on to the new tour. The young stars of the game, like Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas and Mr. McIlroy (who is anything but brainwashed), are commendably staying away.
The PGA has threatened penalties, even banishment from its tour for those who play in LIV Golf events, but a ban probably will not hold up in court. The Saudi tour got a good break this week when the United States Golf Association said it would allow players teeing it up in London to play in the U.S. Open next week. If breakaway players are allowed into more of golf’s major championships, more will be willing to take a chance with the Saudi tour.
It’s been a smooth run for golf but the Saudi intrusion is a pox on its character. Like so much else, professional golf has now become brutally politicized. LIV may well come to mark one of its saddest moments.
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