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DIANE KNOX: The Invernessian in America discusses the controversy surrounding the introduction of the LIV Golf series

By Diane Knox

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2013 Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open, Castle Stuart Golf Course...Phil MICKELSON USA...Picture: Callum Mackay. Image No. 022754.
2013 Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open, Castle Stuart Golf Course...Phil MICKELSON USA...Picture: Callum Mackay. Image No. 022754.

If you follow golf, or don’t follow golf, it’s been hard to escape the controversy surrounding the introduction of the LIV Golf series. In case you have no idea what I’m talking about, I’ll briefly break it down for you.

Former PGA Tour player Greg Norman is spearheading this Saudi-backed “rebel” golf tour, where players from the PGA Tour and the DP World Tour have signed up to play in the eight worldwide events for ridiculously large amounts of money. For example, Dustin Johnson reportedly signed for an amount in the region of $125 million, with Phil Mickelson joining LIV Golf for close to $200 million. These figures don’t even seem real!

Not only that, but the prize fund for each tournament is $25 million, meaning the eventual winner picks up an additional $4 million. Even if you finish in last place, you’ll receive a hefty cheque for $120,000. Again, ludicrous sums of money.

Now, when news of the new tour began to circulate, the PGA Tour made it clear that players who played on their tour would have to apply for a special exemption to make an appearance with LIV Golf. They subsequently denied all requests and enforced the point that punishments would be served to those who went ahead and played anyway – and last week they stood by their word. As soon as the first tee shots were struck in London at the inaugural LIV Golf event, the commissioner of the tour sent a strongly-worded letter to all players notifying them that suspensions were now in place.

The PGA Tour has now lost a number of big names to this breakaway tour, such as the aforementioned Johnson and Mickelson, as well as Patrick Reed, Bryson DeChambeau, Sergio Garcia, Ian Poulter and Lee Westwood. What happens next? Who knows, but it’s abundantly clear this new tour isn’t going away.

Morality is at the centre of all of this. As I mentioned, the Saudi Public Investment Fund (PIF) is ploughing the money into LIV Golf, and have somewhere in the region of half-a-trillion dollars to spend on this venture. Their aim? To “grow the game” and ultimately paint the country in a better light. The fund was set up to invest on behalf of the Saudi Arabian government and has been criticised for being one of the least transparent sovereign wealth funds in the world.

Anything funded by the PIF has sparked condemnation by human rights organisations worldwide, such as the purchase of Newcastle United FC and now LIV Golf. And rightly so – the country’s human rights record is appalling, to say the least, and the assassination of journalist Jamal Khashoggi is just one example that’s attracted a great deal of attention.

The golfers that have made the move to LIV Golf are very reluctant to say they went for financial reasons, when the motivation is apparent to all. They’ve been accused of “selling their souls for blood money” and labelled as traitors, stamping on the legacy of the professional tour that made them great. They defend their decisions by comparing golf to other sports (who have also been accused of sports-washing) such as Formula 1 and the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix that took place earlier this year.

So where do you draw the line? I’ve spoken to many PGA Tour players who refuse to even entertain the idea and find the move by many of their peers disappointing. I suppose we all have the right to make our own decisions, whatever the motivation behind those decisions may be, but with choices come consequences.

LIV Golf and the names that support it will be answering many tricky questions for a long time to come.

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