LIV Golf: The Saudi-funded tournament that is dividing the sport | Sports | German football and major international sports news | DW
Will Phil Mickelson make his return at the start of the LIV Golf Invitational Series? This remains an open question.
What is certain though, is that the new series is set to open with a tournament in North London on June 9, and 42 out of 48 names have been announced – meaning there would still be room for Michaelson, 51. , who chose not to defend his PGA Championship title.
Meanwhile, 13th in the world and two-time winner Dustin Johnson surprised everyone by announcing that he would indeed be among the participants in the first event of the new series. It wasn’t until February that Johnson insisted he was “fully committed” to the PGA Tour. Now, the 37-year-old is expected to be the Centurion Club’s headliner.
Dustin Johnson won the 2020 Masters in Augusta, Georgia
Getting back to Mickelson, however, it wasn’t until a year ago at the PGA Championship that he was celebrated as the oldest pro to win one of the four majors. Since then, many have changed their view of him, including Tiger Woods.
“Phil said some things that I think a lot of us who are committed to the Tour and committed to the Tour legacy have pushed back,” Woods said ahead of last month’s PGA Championship.
American author Alan Shipnuck, the author of Mickelson’s unauthorized biography, revealed in February that Mickelson told him that the Saudi financiers of the new LIV-Golf series were “scary motherfuckers to get involved with… We know they have kill [Jamal] Khashoggi and have a horrible human rights record. They execute people there for being gay.
“Knowing all of this, why would I even consider it? Because this is a unique opportunity to reshape the way the PGA Tour works. They’ve managed to get by with manipulative, coercive and heavy-handed tactics. Because we players , had no recourse.”
Mickelson also said that “Saudi money finally gave us that leverage.”
He later apologized via Instagram for his remarks and said he was taking a break from golf. But the damage was done and the sponsors distanced themselves from Mickelson.
Arguments on the new series are about politics, power, and big money. The organizers want to spend 200 million dollars (188 million euros) for eight events this year. The winner of a single event would win $4 million. By comparison, this year’s PGA Championship winner, American Justin Thomas, took home a check for $2.7 million. The big winner of the new series would be aiming for an income of $18 million, provided he competes in at least four of the eight events.
Even the last of the 48 competitors would win $120,000, which would make the competition interesting for professional golfers in the middle of the pack. PGA Tour players must make the cut if they want to get a portion of the prize money. There will be no cup at the LIV Golf Invitational Series, which means everyone goes home with something in their pocket. The compromise is that only three rounds (54 holes) instead of the usual four will be played. LIV is 54 in Roman numerals.
Trump is involved
The invitational series directly challenges the PGA Tour. Five of the eight sites (Portland, Bedminster, Boston, Chicago, Miami) are in the United States, the other three in the United Kingdom (London), Thailand (Bangkok) and Saudi Arabia (Jeddah).
Ironically, two of the courses (Bedminster and Miami) on the new tour belong to former US President Donald Trump. The 2022 PGA Championship was to be played in Bedminster, but because of the Trump-fueled storm at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, the PGA moved the tournament to Tulsa. That the former US president is now involved in the LIV Golf Series is considered a provocation for the PGA.
Donald Trump is a huge golf fan and investor
Trump’s clan has long had ties to Saudi Arabia, particularly Jared Kushner, Trump’s former senior presidential adviser and son-in-law. Additionally, the chairman of LIV Golf Investments, former world number one Greg Norman, is a friend of Trump.
“We have a long term vision and we are here to stay,” said the 67-year-old Australian. Norman announced that LIV Golf is aiming to invest a total of $2 billion in the sport between 2023 and 2025, with the number of events taking place during this period increasing from eight to 14.
‘Everybody makes mistakes’
LIV Golf is not short of money. The majority shareholder is the Saudi sovereign wealth fund PIF (Public Investment Fund), which manages total assets of around 500 billion dollars. Last year, PIF took over 80% of Premier League club Newcastle United.
Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman is chairman of the PIF. He wants to carry out his “Vision 2030” plan aimed at making the country more modern and less dependent on oil money. Investments in sport play a part in this plan, but human rights organizations have accused Saudi Arabia of washing the sport away.
The powerful in Riyadh want to use high profile sporting events to distract from the human rights abuses taking place in the country. Crown Prince Bin Salman, for example, is suspected of being behind the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
“Listen, we’ve all made mistakes and you just want to learn from those mistakes and how you can fix them in the future,” LIV boss Norman said at a promotional event for the tournament in the UK. United, asked about Khashoggi.
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (left) at the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix
The oppression of women in Saudi Arabia, denounced by human rights organizations, was something else the former golf star did not believe was a problem. “You walk into a restaurant and there are women. They’re not wearing burkas. They’re playing golf,” Norman said in an interview with US magazine “Golf Digest.”
Who will risk a break with the PGA?
Norman and Co. has been scrambling to recruit players for the new series who were previously on the PGA Tour, with the promise of more prize money. According to Norman, six players from the top 50 want to play in the new series and have therefore applied for an exemption permit. This is necessary if there is a PGA event at the same time, and in the case of the opening tournament in London, this would mean getting a bye to play the Canadian Open in Toronto. The pros who have requested a bye include Mickelson, Spaniard Sergio Garcia and Germany’s most famous golfer, Martin Kaymer.
PGA President Tyler Dennis denied their release. Anyone who disregards this must reckon with being disqualified from starting the PGA Tour. “Unfortunately, the PGA Tour appears intent on denying professional golfers their right to play golf,” Norman said.
It’s unclear whether the controversial Mickelson will be on the opening hole for the start of the new series, but he was not present to defend his PGA Championship title earlier this year.
In an interview with ESPN, Norman said Mickelson’s comments in February damaged both the PGA Tour and the LIV Golf Series, but added that Mickelson was “always going to have an open door.”
This article has been translated from German.