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How Saudi Arabia’s new pro golf series is revolutionizing the sport

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The LIV Invitational Series, a controversial new golf tournament backed with money from Saudi Arabia, is causing a major upheaval in the golf world.

The series’ website claims it is an “opportunity to reinvigorate golf,” but opponents and human rights advocates say Saudi Arabia, whose government was found responsible for the murder of a Washington Post journalist and has a history of human rights violations, is using golf to cleanse his reputation, a strategy known as “sports laundering.”

Despite the controversy, the LIV Invitational has already attracted dozens of professional golfers by promising them lucrative prizes and undisclosed login payments.

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But participating in the series also means golfers have to choose sides. The prestigious PGA Tour has suspended all golfers participating in LIV events from PGA events.

As the Saudi-funded golf series comes to American soil for the first time with a tournament in North Plains, Oregon, this week, the debate over whether the series is good for the sport is growing louder.

Oregon lawmakers have publicly opposed the tournament’s presence, with Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) calling it a “page out of the playbook of autocrats covering up injustices by misusing athletics.” in hopes of normalizing their abuses,” reported Oregon Public Broadcasting. .

North Plains Mayor Teri Lenahan also signed a letter with 10 other neighboring mayors protesting the Oregon tournament, saying the event was “sponsored by a repressive government whose human rights abuses are documented.”

Here’s what you need to know about the division in golf caused by the Saudi-funded LIV Invitational Series.

How does Saudi Arabia lure golfers away from the PGA?

The Saudi Arabian government has a mixed record of human rights violations, according to Grant Liberty, a London-based human rights advocacy group.

“Saudi Arabia is trying to use the good reputations of the world’s most beloved sports stars to obscure a human rights record of brutality, torture and murder,” Grant Liberty spokeswoman Lucy Rae told The Guardian last year.

The Saudi kingdom’s sovereign wealth fund, the Public Investment Fund, invested a whopping $2 billion in the LIV Invitational Series, according to Forbes magazine.

The Saudi Arabian government created the PIF, which is led by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, to invest in assets that will protect and strengthen the oil-dependent country’s economy. In recent years, the Saudi kingdom has used the fund to invest in sports around the world, including boxing, soccer and Formula 1 racing, according to Front Office Sports.

Grant Liberty released a report in 2021 revealing that Saudi Arabia spent an estimated $1.5 billion on international sports, including golf.

What are professional golfers doing about it?

The LIV Invitational is already becoming one of the most lucrative golf tournaments in history.

The total prize pool for each tournament in the series is reportedly $25 million, Sporting News reported. In March, ESPN reported that the total prize money for the eight events in the series will be $255 million.

That’s in addition to the money golfers are paid to sign up for the series.

Legendary golfer Tiger Woods turned down a potential nine-figure deal with the series in June, according to LIV CEO Greg Norman, who spoke to The Washington Post about his decision. According to the Post, both Woods and Jack Nicklaus, another golf legend, rejected the new league’s lucrative deals to protect golf’s legacy.

Norman, a world champion golfer who was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2001, has been hired as commissioner and CEO of LIV Golf.

“Woods turned down a deal that was mind-bogglingly huge; we’re talking high nine figures,” Norman, who was the 1995 PGA Tour Player of the Year, told the Post in early June.

Decorated golfer Phil Mickelson accepted a $200 million contract in June to become the face of the LIV Golf Series. However, Mickelson reportedly acknowledged that the golf league was being used by the Saudi government to enhance its reputation as a repressive and deadly regime.

“It’s scary to get involved with them,” Mickelson told his personal biographer Alan Shipnuck, who shared an excerpt from his book about the golfer in February.

According to Shipnuck, Mickelson said:

We know that they killed [Washington Post reporter and U.S. resident Jamal] Khashoggi and they have a horrible record on human rights. There they execute people for being gay. Knowing all this, why would he even consider it? Because this is a unique opportunity to reshape the way the PGA Tour operates. They have been able to get by with manipulative, coercive and heavy-handed tactics because we, the players, had no recourse. Such a nice guy [PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan] it gives the impression that unless you have influence, it won’t do the right thing. And Saudi money has finally given us that leverage.”

How is the PGA Tour responding?

In early June, after the LIV Invitational launched its inaugural event in London, the PGA Tour announced it would suspend golfers participating in the Saudi-backed series from PGA events.

On top of that, PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan recently announced that the tour was making drastic changes to its schedule in the fall of 2023 in response to the LIV Invitational, and would increase the prize pool for PGA events. PGA.

For example, the PGA increased the prize pool at next year’s FedEx Cup playoff tournaments from $15 million to $20 million. Several other prominent events on the PGA Tour have increased their purses from $12 million to $20 million, The Washington Post reported.

The PGA Tour has also reduced the size of the courses for the FedEx Cup (LIV Golf tournaments are shorter and played on smaller courses) and modified its tour schedule to more closely match the lighter, more flexible schedule it offers. LIV Golf, which was a favorite with some golfers.

Announcing the changes last week, Monahan referred to the Saudi-backed golf league as an “unreasonable threat” to the sport.

“Let me be clear: I am not naive,” Monahan said during a news conference at the PGA Travelers’ Championship on Wednesday. “If this is an arms race and if the only weapons here are dollar bills, the PGA Tour can’t compete.”

Monahan added: “The PGA Tour, an American institution, cannot compete with a foreign monarchy that is spending billions of dollars in an attempt to buy the game of golf.”

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