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Pro golf has been disrupted by Saudi-funded LIV Golf. It’s complicated; let me explain. While playing in the Saudi International tournament, in an interview with Golf Digest in early February, Phil Mickelson blasted the PGA Tour for its “obnoxious greed,” citing mainly the Tour’s strict control over TV and media rights for all Tour players.
Then in an interview with Alan Shipnuck, now writing a biography of Mickelson, Mickelson admitted that he paid lawyers $2 million to prepare the operational plan for the LIV Golf tour as a way to get back at the PGA Tour. That bombshell became public on Shipnuck’s FirePitCollective.com website. Reacting to the heavy fallout of his words and actions, certainly tarnishing his legacy, Mickelson went into exile for four months. He didn’t play in the Masters and declined to defend his PGA Championship victory from 2021. Mickelson has now lost Amstel Light, Workday and KMPG as sponsors. However, he is going to play in the first LIV Golf event.
As the war of words started heating up in late February when PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan explained to the press at Florida’s Honda Classic that he told the players “we’re moving on and anyone on the fence needs to make a decision” about joining the LIV tour. The next day Greg Norman, LIV CEO, sent a strongly worded letter to Monahan, that included “your lawyers at the PGA Tour must be holding their breath,” referring to whether the PGA Tour can legally ban players for playing in another league. By mid-May, the PGA Tour declared the LIV Golf tour “out of bounds” and denied requested releases to play LIV events to dozens of PGA Tour players.
Jack Nicklaus recently claimed the Saudis offered him over $100 million to front the new LIV league. He replied, “I have to stay with the PGA Tour. I helped to start the PGA Tour (in 1968).” His Nicklaus Design Company is building a new championship golf course near the Saudi capital of Riyadh. Norman called him a “hypocrite.”
Fast forward to the current situation. The first of eight LIV Golf no-cut, 54-hole events will be held June 9-11 at Centurion Golf Club just outside London. There will be 48 players; the purse is $25 million with the winner getting $4 million. The first big-name player to enter this first event is former world No. 1 Dustin Johnson. Next was Graeme McDowell. Both have been dropped by Royal Bank of Canada (RBC). Other well-known golfers playing include Lee Westwood, Louis Oosthuizen (both dropped by UPS), Ian Poulter, Kevin Na and Sergio Garcia. Johnson, with 24 PGA Tour wins, and Kevin Na, who has won $38 million in 19 years on Tour, have both resigned from the PGA Tour. And now Bryson DeChambeau and Patrick Reed have signed on. At this point, golf club companies, like TaylorMade, Titleist, Ping and Callaway, have not indicated their position on endorsement status on players paid to used their equipment. On June 9, the PGA Tour issued a statement that 17 Tour players, including Johnson and Mickelson, have been suspended indefinitely by the Tour. Ten already resigned. Apparently, the gobs of Saudi money offered by LIV Golf makes endorsement cash seem like chump change to many pro players. Johnson and Mickelson reportedly each received $125 million cash for signing.
There’s an old saying that you can’t buy a golf game. But obviously it’s possible to buy professional golfers.
Dr. Charlie Blanchard is a licensed psychologist specializing in sports and leadership. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.