LIV Golf’s unspoken secret: Players are scamming the Saudis


Oscar Wilde was defining a cynic when he wrote of “a man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing,” but today his aphorism could easily apply to a crown prince (act three, Lady Windermere Fanif your majesty deigns, though you may wish to avoid deep on the same shelf). The gap between price and value is relevant when it comes to LIV Golf, the Saudi-funded series that shakes the usually calm waters of professional golf, not just as an abstract philosophical question but as a matter of basic fiscal responsibility.

It is almost impossible to muster sympathy for the Saudi regime, as that emotion is best reserved for those who live under its military boot. Still, one can almost sympathize with MBS’s (increasingly obvious, though perhaps not to him) fate of being duped into funding what amounts to welfare for wealthy, unsuccessful golfers. Consider the amount of someone else’s money that Greg Norman has been willing to give to players whose potential is largely depleted, limited, or unrealized.

A couple hundred million for Phil Mickelson, 52, an irresponsible overspend, even if it’s overstated by a multiple. Something similar so that Dustin Johnson can achieve his stated goal of not playing golf. A resounding setback to calm the blushes of Brooks Koepka, who had to take a turn that would be the envy of Linda Blair in The Exorcist. Another nine figures for Bryson DeChambeau, whose surgically repaired hand will have an easier time carrying the check than his future as a player. And that’s all before you count ‘B’ tier types like Sergio Garcia (best to add a premium to cover the tissues from his incessant tears) and Lee Westwood (whose thirst for lucrative tin tournaments predates his comfortable landing, aged 49, in Saudi Arabia). scrap heap).


Viewed through a clear business lens, these players would not be classified as active but rather passive, their peaks long past and their popularity severely declining. But its pragmatic value is unrelated to its price when Norman writes checks on MBS’s account. Which is why those who managed to get aboard Greg’s gravy train can’t believe their luck.

“This opportunity has been like winning the lottery,” said Pat Perez. The 46-year-old, five years after the last of his three PGA Tour victories, hasn’t even bought a ticket. He gave himself to her.

“It’s a question of money,” echoed Matthew Wolff, whose tenderness in years hides the scar tissue and aloofness of a weary veteran.

“The more I get paid, the better,” said Abraham Ancer, apparently dissatisfied with his ratio of a win to $15 million in career prize money.

His comments explain why so many are itching to feast before the Crown Prince realizes how deeply the well-fed have sunk into their trough. Last month, Norman announced that he had secured another $2 billion from the Saudi Arabian Public Investment Fund, on top of the princely sum that he had already torched. It is proving terribly expensive to finance the bruised egos of Norman and Yasir Al-Rumayyan, the head of the PIF, who has been angered by the refusal of the PGA and DP world tours to accommodate him.

A threadbare armchair analysis says the Saudis have a bottomless purse and can finance Norman’s madness in perpetuity. That’s true, on a surface level. They can, but will they? Even the Saudis will reach a point of accountability, when some hapless bureaucrat must reconcile what was spent with what was returned. The LIV Golf book already shows an imbalance that is impossible to correct, and not only financial.

Even if one sees it as a sporting whitewashing exercise where the only desired return is reputation, LIV Golf is proving to be a great white elephant, serving only to draw attention to matters the Crown Prince would rather see forgotten. The dismemberment of Jamal Khashoggi, for example. Or the links between his country and the 9/11 hijackers, as the families of his victims have repeatedly pointed out. Or the hit-and-run murder of 15-year-old Fallon Smart not far from Pumpkin Ridge, where LIV Golf is hosting an event this week. A Saudi citizen faced manslaughter charges in her death, but she was brought home before she could stand trial, and the regime has refused to return him to face justice. Until Norman found a willing puppet place in Pumpkin Ridge, Smart’s death had been forgotten except by those who loved her.

This whole dirty episode has been made possible by what golf people are willing to forget or set aside, things like character, honesty, morality, loyalty, integrity. Do that, and it’s easy money. Not unlike a con artist helping himself to the funds of an inattentive fool. The intriguing question is how long it will be before MBS realizes that he is the mark.


How it started and how it’s going: Here’s what pro golfers said about LIV Golf before and what they’re saying now

2022 LIV Golf London

2022 LIV Golf London