If you have any interest in professional golf or follow the news at all you have heard about the arrival of a rival golf circuit to compete with the PGA Tour. The controversy comes from the fact LIV Golf (the “LIV” stands for 54 in Roman numerals, which is the dream score of birdieing every hole of a standard 18 hole course; it’s also the number of holes to be played in their events, as opposed to the 72 on the PGA Tour) is sponsored by and funded for the most part by the government of Saudi Arabia. You know—the country that’s not big on the human rights thing, especially if you happen to be a woman or generally unfortunate enough to be born in any configuration that is not heterosexual male. Also if you are fortunate enough to be born a heterosexual male, but you happen to have an opinion that differs somewhat from the ruling family’s in any significant way you may be invited to a public execution with a front row seat. No trucker convoys in Saudi land.
On one side you have people calling everyone involved, from the leader, Greg Norman, to the players who have accepted the very large amount of guaranteed cash, a lot of things I cannot reprint in a family publication. Dustin Johnson and Phil Mickelson have taken the brunt of the criticism, as they are the two biggest names involved in the defection, and in Johnson’s he jumped ship after stating a few months back he was not interested.
Mickelson, for his part, was dumb enough to state publicly he knew he was getting involved with some mean “motherf*****s,” but thought it was a way to leverage more money out of the PGA Tour.
The other side, which seems to comprise a much smaller, less vocal contingent that might fit into a VW Bug, feels business is business and competition is good for everyone involved.
I have discussed this situation with a number of people on both sides and I border on indifference to maybe siding with people who I don’t like very much as individuals. Never been a fan of Phil. Always thought him to be an arrogant, entitled phony who turned on and off the charm as the situation dictated. Dustin Johnson seems affable enough. Incredibly talented but seems about as deep as the new splash pads in town. Why side with them, then?
If you start scratching the surface of all the organizations that run sporting events around the world, if you start looking into the backgrounds of all the owners and sponsors of these teams, events, and leagues, and disqualify them based on morality, what have you got left? Not a hell of a lot. I would love sports to be only a force of good, and not have any negative connections or connotations, but that is not the world we live in.
The very tour and the big-name players who have raised the biggest stink are among the biggest hypocrites of all. The PGA Tour is run as a non-profit organization, which means it and its donors/sponsors get huge tax breaks (subsidies, really) from the government of the United States. How many people or corporations would pony up thousands or millions of dollars each week to play in the pro-ams or sponsor tournaments if they didn’t get a tax receipt? We will not find out anytime soon because every time a politician or reporter digs into the issue, the tour fires up the private jets and gets Jack Nicklaus or another big name supporter to fly into Washington and start wining/whining-and-dining any rebel representatives with an invitation to stop by and enjoy a round of golf any time they find themselves in the ‘hood. Also, “You wouldn’t want to see all those donations to children’s hospitals disappear would you?”
The very tour and the big-name players who have raised the biggest stink are among the biggest hypocrites of all
I love this threat from the very rich.
“If you take away our charitable tax breaks than we won’t donate to charity anymore!” Then by definition you are not charitable and if you are doing it to buy your way into heaven you are going to hell, if there is one, and you are a jackass either way.
Mickelson admitted he was only using LIV to get more money out of the PGA Tour. He mentioned in one of his harangues that if the PGA Tour is non-profit how did they have a few hundred million dollars lying around to juice up the purses and player incentives as soon as an alternative circuit for the players showed up? Is not a non-profit supposed to spend all of its “profit” on the charities it is supposedly aligned with?
Of course he wasn’t worried they weren’t dispensing these funds to charity, but to himself and the other players. I heard not one other PGA Tour member step up and criticize the tour for this management style. The rich ones like the status quo and most in the middle are keeping their powder dry until things settle down a little.
I imagine the players who left have been in touch with lawyers (likely at the expense of LIV) who have told them not to worry about a lifetime ban from the tour. Why? Because there is no way the PGA Tour is going to court to have all its dirty operating secrets splayed about for all the world to see and get mauled on sports talks show for days on end. The richer players who have set up their tax avoidance foundations in the name of charity would all rather not have their motives discussed in public either. The US Open just announced anyone eligible will be allowed to play regardless of their tour affiliation. Lawyers will be licking their chops but I don’t see anyone else interested in getting into this fight. I think the PGA Tour is hoping the Saudis get bored of this experiment after a year or two. The players who left come back with a very rich tail between their legs and serve a short suspension and continue on as usual. Not sure it will play out that way.
The best players in all sports are obscenely rewarded for their incredible talents. The difference in golf is that this status is reserved for very few. Yes, the average player on tour last year made $1.4 million dollars (based on approximately 150 members) but he also had to pay his own way to tournaments, pay his own meals and accommodations, pay for coaches and caddies. There is also no contract that says he is going to make that much for years to come. One injury or a little loss of confidence and it’s all gone. The NHL is by far the poorest of the four major North American leagues and the average player salary was $2.5 million dollars last year (with approximately 700 players) and they didn’t pay for a thing during the season. No travel, or accommodation, coaching costs. How can you blame someone who is taking guaranteed money exponentially greater than what they were likely to earn otherwise? Would Austin Matthews turn down $100, $200, $300 million dollars to go play in the Russian-based KHL next year?
I like Rory McIlroy. Thoughtful, honest guy. He has been very vocal against the LIV option and players leaving only for the money. Of course Rory is one of a handful of golfers who has $100 million dollar sponsorship contracts that allow him to never win another golf tournament in his life and not worry about the price of Cheerios. He has also accepted very large fees to appear at tournaments in countries with dubious human rights records.
I think anyone as a parent or advisor would have a hard time telling these athletes who are leaving for “the money” to do anything differently. Speak out as much as you can (Lewis Hamilton has managed to both take the money and say his piece in F1 racing) but do what is in your personal best interest, not anyone else’s. Maybe even donate some of that money to charity and refuse to take the contribution receipt. That would put you one up on many of your condescending peers.
Look, if these golfers had at one point been human rights advocates and spoken out against regimes who treat their citizens the way Saudi Arabia does, and then turned around and accepted their cash, I can see condemning them. Golfers as a rule keep their head down and mouth shut and toe the corporate line. Let those who are without sin throw the first golf ball. ◆
John Piccolo is a golf instructor and runs Piccolo’s Custom Golf Shop at Eagle Valley Golf Club in Niagara Falls. You may reach him at [email protected]