Talking point

Saudi-backed LIV golf series: ‘a controversial threat’ to the sport

Multimillion-dollar rebel event tees off as stars quit established tours

The controversial, Saudi-backed LIV Golf Invitational Series will finally tee off today at the Centurion Club in Hertfordshire.

Before the lucrative event even began it has been accused of “disrupting the dynamics in professional men’s golf”, said USA Today, and threatens to continue doing so as the season goes on.

“Hanging above the shifting balance of power in the business of golf are the questions of ethics and morals facing players and executives who have joined the league,” explained the newspaper.

The new series presents a very real and “controversial threat” to the historic US PGA Tour, according to Martin Rogers on Fox Sports, while the pros joining the new set-up were labelled by Jamie Weir on Sky Sports as a “rag-tag bunch of struggling players” who were purely motivated by the “cold hard cash on offer”.

Potential sanctions

Tuesday’s announcement that former world No. 1 Dustin Johnson would quit the PGA Tour to play in the new eight-match tournament came as the latest significant blow. The American will join five other players in relinquishing their membership of the US tour to join LIV.

Others, like Phil Mickelson and Graeme McDowell, have resisted quitting the official tour but face potential sanctions for their involvement with the new event. The Times reported they could face punishments ranging from “temporary suspensions or fines” to complete bans “depending on the level of involvement”.

High-profile players such as Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods have openly opposed the tournament but the likes of European Ryder Cup stars Lee Westwood, Ian Poulter and Sergio García are playing in the inaugural Centurion Club event, and The Telegraph reported that American major winners Bryson DeChambeau and Patrick Reed have signed up and will play in the second event, starting in Portland on 3 July.

Eye-watering sums

Backed by the Saudi government controlled Public Investment Fund and fronted by former Australian pro Greg Norman, the LIV Series is offering eye-watering sums of money to attract participants.

Six-time major champion Mickelson is expected to receive $200m for his participation, while the first event in the series will feature an overall prize pot of $25m, with the winner receiving $4m. For contrast, the winner of the US Masters tournament in 2022 received $2.7m from a prize pot of $15m.

LIV’s monetary power, as well as the disruption to the traditional calendar, leaves golf “mired in turmoil” and with uncertainty “it has never encountered before”, said Fox Sports. Players, and LIV frontman Norman, have refused to earnestly engage in questions around Saudi-sportswashing – the country's attempt to “gain legitimacy on the world stage and deflect from [its] human rights violations”, as The Times said. 

“Just tell us it’s the money,” said Brendan Quinn in The Athletic. “Stop telling us you’re excited to play what amounts to video game golf.” Weir agreed, writing for Sky Sports: “There’s one motive and one motive alone for these players. Money.”

Fans will decide

Ultimately the success of LIV will rely on how many people consume it, though the tournament will initially only be streamed on the organisers’ website and on Youtube and Facebook. “Fans must choose whether this is a black eye for golf,” said Rogers on Fox Sports.

Three-time major winner Padraig Harrington, though, believes controversy around Saudi money will pass as the LIV series attracts viewers. “As much as it’s being used as a stick to beat those guys and it’s a big issue for anyone who is going,” Harrington said, “clearly time will pass,” Sports Illustrated reported. 

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