The Saudi Tour of Golf is a scandalous “sports sport”

Phil Mickelson and CEO of the Asian Tour Cho Min Thant. (Photo by Stephen Baston/PA Images/Getty Images.)

From June 9-11, LIV Golf held its first tournament, at the Centurion Club, outside London. The winner was Charles Schwarzl, the South African superstar (who won the 2011 Masters Award).

Leaf golf? Yes, it is also known as the “Saudi Golf Tour”. It is financed by the Public Investment Fund – the Public Investment Fund or the Sovereign Wealth Fund – of the Saudi government. The head of the fund is Mohammed bin Salman, the crown prince, who effectively acts as the country’s dictator. The CEO of the new tour is Greg Norman, a veteran Australian golfer, also known as the Great White Shark.

What does “LIV” mean? It’s not an acronym. It’s a Roman number, referring to the fact that the courses in the tour will take place in three rounds, or 54 holes. Traditional tournaments, such as those on the PGA Tour, are four rounds, or 72 holes.

Regardless of these details, the Saudi government is engaged in “sports laundering”. This is the practice whereby bad actors try to clean their reputation by participating in sports. The Chinese are good at sport washing, as they proved in the Olympics, and the Saudis are good at it too. In addition to their golf league, they own a football club in the English Premier League, the club located in Newcastle.

In its inaugural season, the Saudi Golf League will feature eight tournaments, two of which are on courses owned by former President Donald Trump: his club in Bedminster, New Jersey, and his club in Miami. The PGA Tour is not pleased with the new league, and has made players choose: “You can play with us or with them, but not both.”

What is the attractiveness of the Saudi Golf League for players? Moolah, Lotsa Moolah. The Centurion Club’s initial tournament portfolio was $25 million. The concurrent event on the PGA Tour – the Canadian Open – had a relatively paltry $8.7 million purse. But this is not the big attraction for the players.

No, the biggest attraction is that they get guaranteed money from the Saudis: money just to show up, just to participate. There is no “cut” – no exit from the championship – in the LIV Golf 54-Holers. You get a huge amount of change no matter how well you play.

If you’re really big—big name, big draw—you make a lot of money. Phil Mickelson earned $200 million for joining the new league. Dustin Johnson, who until recently was the number one player in the world, earned $125 million.

There were 42 players in the first tournament. Many of them were golfers of a certain age – on the other side of the hill, and behind them were their best years of income earning. Examples of such players include Mickelson and Sergio Garcia. However, others are in the prime of their lives, such as Johnson. And soon Bryson DeChambeau, who is in his prime, and a big star in the game, will soon be joining the tour.

The biggest star ever, Tiger Woods, refused to jump from the PGA Tour to the Saudi Tour. He turned down nearly a billion dollars from the Saudis. “Amazingly formidable,” is how Greg Norman puts it. “We’re talking about a high nine,” he said of the deal Woods rejected. Jack Nicklaus – who was Woods before Woods, if you will – was also offered a deal. According to Nicholas himself, that deal would have brought him “more than $100 million”. All that money to play, at age 82? No, to basically get Norman’s job.

Northern Ireland star Rory McIlroy stayed put – he stayed on the PGA Tour. “I don’t see the point in slandering the extra millions,” he said. John Ram, the great Spaniard, did the same. “I don’t do this for money,” he said. “They throw you numbers, and that’s supposed to impress people. I’m in this game for the love of golf and the love of the game and to be a champion.”

All very noble. But you can say that McIlroy and Ram are able to refuse the guaranteed money. Other players are unable to resist the temptation. “I want to do what’s best for me and my family,” is a shared line.

At a press conference before the inaugural tournament, two veteran players, Lee Westwood (49) and Ian Poulter (46), were asked if they would play in a tournament hosted by Vladimir Putin, if the money was right. No comment.

Greg Norman was asked about the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. (Khashoggi, you remember, was the journalist and dissident who was tortured, murdered, and then cut with a bone saw in October 2018. US intelligence determined that the killing was ordered by Mohammed bin Salman.) Norman replied, “Look, we’ve all made mistakes, and you just want to learn from Those mistakes and how you can correct them in the future.”

It was Mickelson Very honest about the Saudis—In comments by a writer who claimed that, after being published, it was meant to be unofficial. “They are scary moms to get involved with,” Mickelson said. We know that they killed Khashoggi and they have an appalling human rights record. They are executing people there for being gay.” He went on to say that he wants to use the Saudi Tour as leverage against the PGA Tour, to bring about changes he considers desirable.

When his comments came out, much of the world fell on his head. His old sponsor KPMG accounting giant dropped him. Because of his Machiavellian schemes? Because of his immorality towards the Saudis? KPMG has three offices in Saudi Arabia. Mickelson’s real crime, to be sure, was that he was frivolous with the truth.

Personally, I support competition. I believe in markets, including golf courses. I am against monopoly. But I choked on the Saudi side. If you’ll forgive me, the more you know–and the more you know about the Saudis and their practices–the less you’ll be able to enjoy the Saudi golf league, even with lovable crooks like Mickelson in it.

Over the years, I have written Many Saudis political prisoners, who are tortured, sometimes even death. I have interviewed many family members – wives, brothers and sisters – who are fighting for the release of their loved ones. They do it at great risk to themselves, by the way. The Saudi government does not treat human rights campaigns kindly. And don’t hesitate to target people on foreign soil, let alone Saudi soil.

Maybe I can bring up one case.

Last month, I an interview Areej Al-Sadhan at the Freedom Forum in Oslo, Norway. Her brother Abdul Rahman is a political prisoner in Saudi Arabia. Al-Sadhan originated between Saudi Arabia and the United States. Abdul Rahman went to the University of Notre Dame de Namur in Belmont, California, and graduated in 2013. He then went to Saudi Arabia to start his career. Because it is a kind of sympathy, he joined the Red Crescent (as the Red Cross is known in Muslim-majority countries).

On Twitter, Abd al-Rahman directed some criticism of the government. He is an advocate of freedom, democracy and human rights. Government, not so much. He tweeted it anonymously – but his cover was blown and it was grabbed from his desk. Then he “disappeared” and has not been able to contact his family for two years.

But the family has received reports from relatives of other political prisoners. It is clear that Abd al-Rahman was being tortured – and that is what the Saudi authorities do. They were exposing him to traditional music: electric shocks; sleep deprivation; Suspension by foot spanking. But they added a twist. When they hit the prisoner’s hand, they sneered, “Is this the person you’re tweeting about?”

In a secret and sham trial, in April 2021, Abd al-Rahman al-Sadhan was sentenced to 20 years in prison, to be followed by a 20-year travel ban. The government hates that its victims are in a position to tell their stories.

Many people scoff at human rights, often claiming that they are mundane or realistic. They say “it’s a big bad world out there”. “You cannot keep track of every bird’s fall.” In early 2017, Bill O’Reilly told the new president, Donald Trump, “Putin is a killer.” The president replied, “There are many murderers. We have many murderers. What do you think our country is so innocent?”

In a recent interview, Greg Norman made a similar comment. In response to a question about Saudi Arabia and its horrors, he said: “Every country has a cross to bear.”

After Jamal Khashoggi was murdered and dismembered, President Trump was asked who should be held accountable. he is repliedPerhaps the world should be held responsible, because the world is an evil place. Later, talk to Bob Woodward, Trump He said“I saved his ass,” referring to Mohammed bin Salman. “I managed to get Congress to leave him alone.”

Next month, President Biden will travel to Saudi Arabia, in hand, as America is pinched on oil.

Democracies often need relationships, including alliances, with dictatorships. We can talk about the US-Saudi alliance in another article (or book or series of books). But what about individuals? According to reports, Jared Kushner’s private equity firm owns $2.5 billion – $2 billion of which comes from the Saudis. Is this person not in a position to get his money from other sources? Less dirt?

Elon Musk is the richest man in the world. Does he really have to open a new Tesla showroom and office in Xinjiang, China, as he did earlier this year? Xinjiang is where the Chinese government mobilized the Uyghur people into internment camps. The US State Department has designated China’s persecution of the Uyghurs as genocide.

I’m all for making money. But do golfers really have to make money from the Saudis? None of them were in danger of going to the bread queue, as far as I know.

In my experience, people either care about human rights or they don’t. (Some care about them selectively, depending on the perpetrators and victims.) I often have a chance to quote Lyle Lovett’s song: “It may not be a big deal to you, but it’s a very big problem to me.”

Jay Nordlinger is Senior Editor at National reviewFellow of the National Institute of Review, and music critic The new standard.