Blood money is as easily spent as anyone, I suppose.
It was the first thought that came to mind when Dustin Johnson, former world No. 1, currently ranked 13th and winner of two major tournaments, last week became the biggest name to move from the PGA Tour to the new LIV circuit, led by Greg Norman. and supported by the Saudi government’s Public Investment Fund.
In other words, it is the vehicle of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman and the latest mechanism for an oil-rich kingdom to wash away its human rights failings. These include the 2018 murder and dismemberment of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi – a critic of the Saudi regime and a US resident – at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.
When it was brought up recently, Norman reportedly replied, “We all make mistakes.”
Do you really want to do business with these people?
Phil Mickelson was right even when he was wrong, in these quotes released months ago by golf writer and author Alan Shipnuck in which Lefty tried to justify his support for the new venture. Mickelson, you’ll recall, spoke of it as an opportunity to throw a grenade at the PGA Tour’s modus operandi. But he also admitted that the Saudis are “scary (so-and-so)” – you can fill in the blank, I’m sure – and have a “horrible human rights record”.
Mickelson, interestingly, is not currently on the entry list for next week’s first LIV Tour event in London. It’s a surprise, given what he’s already thrown in with these comments, but there are still a few openings to fill.
Mickelson ducked himself out of the public eye once his earlier comments were published, skipping the Masters and choosing not to defend his PGA Championship title. And it was dropped as host of the American Express, the former Bob Hope Classic, in the Coachella Valley.
Doubts, perhaps? Or will it be a spectacular announcement of the “return of Lefty” on the eve of the event?
So what about Johnson’s involvement? When the PGA Tour was at the Riviera Country Club in February and the Normandy-Saudi Tour was a topic of conversation, Johnson was one of those who said he was staying where he was. “I am fully committed to the PGA Tour,” he said in a statement released by the Tour’s communications office. “I am grateful to have the opportunity to play on the best tour in the world and for all that it has given me and my family.”
But when asked about it again ahead of last month’s PGA Championship, here’s his response: “I mean, I think golf is in a good position, and I think what they’re doing is – could potentially be good for the game of golf.I’m excited to see what happens here in a few weeks.
I wonder if that was before or after he signed a $125 million deal with LIV Golf, as reported by James Corrigan and Tom Morgan of London. Telegraph. The old adage says money talks, but when the numbers are big enough, it screams, baby.
Circuit LIV is the logical extension of all those Oil Kingdom cash-grabbing events with their lucrative appearance fees at the start of the calendar year. On this tour, there will be 48-man fields, no cuts, everyone gets paid and… well, that $125 million sounds like a huge amount of money.
But there have already been fallouts. Johnson and fellow LIV attendee Graeme McDowell have had their sponsorship deals with Royal Bank of Canada terminated, and it’s probably no coincidence that RBC is sponsoring the Canadian Open in Toronto the same week as the event. LIVE in London.
PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan made it clear from the start that players would have to choose one tour or the other and would not be welcome on the PGA Tour if they skipped. None of its members have been cleared to play LIV events, a Tour statement reiterated last week, and those who do “are subject to disciplinary action”. Presumably, the lawyers weighed in on the Tour’s power to suspend or ban renegades.
Beyond Johnson, it’s not an overwhelming field in London. McDowell, Louis Oosthuizen, Charl Schwartzel, Martin Kaymer and Sergio Garcia are the other big winners hired, while others on the list include Ian Poulter, Talor Gooch, Hudson Swafford, Kevin Na and Lee Westwood. Only Johnson, No. 20 Oosthuizen, No. 33 Na (who announced on Saturday that he was leaving the PGA Tour) and No. 35 Gooch are in the top 50 of the world rankings.
LIV Golf announces the course for the first event in London next week. Among the big names: Dustin Johnson, Sergio Garcia, Ian Poulter, Kevin Na, Lee Westwood, Louis Oosthuizen, Martin Kaymer, Charl Schwartzel, Graeme McDowell, Talor Gooch. Not listed: Phil Mickelson. pic.twitter.com/AUlcFD5oS4
— Jason Sobel (@JasonSobelTAN) June 1, 2022
Back in February at Riviera, Rory McIlroy noted: “Greg Norman should put it in place to fill the field. Who else is going to do it? I don’t think they could have 48 guys.
They could. Of course, the tournament fields may include a few stallions and a slew of has-beens and never-weres. (Three amateurs help fill the field in London.)
When it comes to deciding which tour to pay attention to, it’s not a choice at all.
Last week before the Memorial, when asked if he thought the PGA Tour should crack down on those who jumped, McIlroy told reporters on site that he hadn’t, noting that “j I have very close friends who play in this event in London, and I certainly wouldn’t want to stop them from doing what they think is right for themselves.
But, he added: “Look at the pitch this week. Watch the pitch next week in Canada. These are real golf tournaments.
Ultimately, this standoff could come down to how the tournaments that most define a player’s legacy decide to deal with defectors. Oddly – ominously, perhaps – on Friday afternoon there had yet to be a peek from representatives of the majors, and the first test will take place in a few weeks at the US Open.
With any luck, they will show courage and close the doors to renegades. Blood money may be expendable, but legacies – and good consciences – are forever.
The late Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi was a US resident, on a temporary visa, when he was assassinated in 2018. A previous version of this column described him as a US citizen. His fiancée, Hatice Cengiz, said in a Post op-ed in 2018 that Khashoggi had applied for US citizenship.