There was a time in the distant past — that is, as recently as Monday — when the official position of the PGA Tour was that its competitor, the Saudi-backed golf tour known as LIV, was a scandalous, even odious, operation. Referring to Saudi Arabia’s horrific human rights record, PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan said last June, “You’d have to be living under a rock to not understand the implications of involving yourself with the Saudis.” But Monahan’s strong comment is now just a reminder that pencils have erasers. In news that was initially shocking but upon reflection really isn't, the PGA Tour announced Tuesday that it will permanently merge with the LIV tour. Monahan said, “The game of golf is better for what we’ve done today.”
PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan said last June, “You’d have to be living under a rock to not understand the implications of involving yourself with the Saudis.”
Does this mean that Monahan is now living under a rock? Because apparently, he doesn’t understand the “implications” of involving himself with the Saudis.
The Saudi Arabia Public Investment Fund, an entity controlled by the Saudi crown prince that has been backing LIV golf, is promising to invest billions of petrol dollars in this new PGA Tour-LIV merger, which has yet to be named.
In return, the PGA Tour is dropping all litigation against LIV for raiding its talent. The PGA Tour will now have a name that is at least jointly approved by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who has spearheaded a massive crackdown on dissent in the kingdom and pursued a war in Yemen that has resulted in one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world.
When the PGA Tour was still protesting LIV’s existence, its leaders claimed to be standing beside 9/11 Families United, which continues to demand, among other things, information “about the nations, especially Saudi Arabia, that helped the hijackers.” A 2005 FBI-CIA report asserts, “There is no evidence that either the Saudi government or members of the Saudi royal family knowingly provided support for the attacks.” 9/11 Families United’s response to the news of the LIV/PGA Tour merger is scathing, reading in part, “Our entire 9/11 community has been betrayed by Commissioner Monahan and the PGA as it appears their concern for our loved ones was merely window-dressing in their quest for money.”
ESPN quoted an anonymous PGA Tour player who said Tuesday of the day’s news: “It’s insanity. The LIV tour was dead in the water. It wasn’t working. Now, you’re throwing them a life jacket? Is the moral of the story to just always take the money?”
Tuesday’s announcement is the latest win in the Saudi Kingdom’s game of “sports washing,” that is, using sports as a shiny bauble to legitimize authoritarian regimes.
Tuesday’s announcement is the latest win in the Saudi kingdom’s game of “sports washing,” that is, using sports as a shiny bauble to legitimize authoritarian regimes and distract from the regime’s human rights abuses. Saudi Arabia has made it clear that it wants to host the World Cup and the Olympics in the 2030s. (Qatar, another country with questionable human rights practices, hosted last year’s World Cup.)
And given that the country has countless billions to achieve its goal, venal sports organizations are only too happy to roll out the blood-red carpet.
It isn’t surprising the country would find a willing participant in the PGA Tour, a right-wing, good ol’ boy organization steeped in racism and classism. Now it will happily re-embrace golfers it branded as traitors for leaving for LIV, such as Phil Mickelson, who took $200 million of Saudi money to leave the PGA Tour.
At the time he took that nine-figure check, Mickelson said the Saudis “are scary m-----f-----s to get involved with.” Referring to Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi citizen who wasn’t just killed but was beheaded and dismembered with a bone saw, Mickelson said: “We know they killed [Jamal] Khashoggi and have a horrible record on human rights. They execute people over there for being gay. Knowing all of this, why would I even consider it? Because this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reshape how the PGA Tour operates.”
Mickelson later apologized. Not to the Khashoggi family and not to LGBTQ people. He apologized to the Saud royal family.
The PGA Tour’s lack of human rights principles should surprise only the most naive among us. This is an organization that had a soft spot for that infamous cheat, Donald Trump. But then, of course, Trump also threw his lot in with the LIV tour as part of his unctuous charm offensive toward the Saudi royal family. Part of the price for this charm offensive was ignoring the murder of Khashoggi, and, in return, LIV sent several tournaments to Trump-owned clubs. A Saudi sovereign wealth fund led by the crown prince invested $2 billion in Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner’s new private equity firm six months after Trump left office — even though a screening panel for the wealth fund advised against it.
Last year Trump presciently — it must be said! — mocked the golfers who stayed with the PGA Tour and got on their high horses about Saudi human rights abuses.
Last year Trump presciently — it must be said! — mocked the golfers who stayed with the PGA Tour and got on their high horses about Saudi human rights abuses. As he wrote on his social media platform: “All those golfers who remain ‘loyal’ to the very disloyal PGA, in all its different forms, will pay a big price when the inevitable MERGER with LIV comes, and you get nothing but a big ‘thank you’ from PGA officials who are making Millions of Dollars a year. If you don’t take the money now, you will get nothing after the merger takes place, and only say how smart the original signees were.”
The unnamed PGA Tour player quoted by ESPN asks whether the moral of the story is to always take the money. In Trump’s view, yes: Only suckers look past the money to focus on the blood on the floor.
That thinking has now won the day among the PGA Tour brass. These are the politics of golf writ clear: authoritarian, angered at the thought of social responsibility, hostile to progress and always looking for some big whale to suck up to, with no regard to nationality or body count. Shame on any of us who thought this could have ended up in any way other than the Saudis’ gobbling up professional men’s golf while pink-faced PGA Tour fat cats look away from Saudi atrocities and count their money.