Opinion | Saudi-backed golf rival to the PGA is a case of ‘LIV and let it die’


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Rick Reilly, a former Sports Illustrated and ESPN contributor, is the author of “So Help Me Play Golf: Why We Love The Game.”

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but professional golf is triple bogey right now. It is on the brink of disaster.

LIV Golf, Saudi Arabia’s effort to launder its murderous human rights record by buying professional golfers with stupid money (Phil Mickelson: allegedly $200 million), is working.


The inaugural event of this LIV and Let Die Tour, with a massive $25 million total purse, wrapped up on Saturday at the Centurion Club in North London. LIV has already entered nine major winners, with more big-name dropouts to come.

These LIV golfers know that the Saudis massacred Post contributing columnist Jamal Khashoggi. They know that the Saudis imprison dissidents, criminalize homosexuality and oppress women. And in response, the players have sent a message loud and clear: we don’t care. We want bigger planes.

It’s funny to hear Mickelson and the others try to justify working for blood money. Well, sure, he knows the Saudis are “terrifying mothers,” as he told his biographer, Alan Shipnuck. But he also says: “I have also seen the good that golf has done throughout history.”

Right. Nothing soothes the downtrodden people of a despotic nation like a well-hit 6-iron. Remember when Kim Jong Il shot 34 one day and the North Korean people suddenly weren’t starving? Yes me neither.

Mickelson says it’s not about money. (It is). No, he says that working for the Saudis is part of his plan to “reshape” the PGA Tour that he did. What he’s really trying to reshape is his retirement account.

Two-time major winner Dustin Johnson says it’s not about the money. (It is). No, his decision to take $125 million from the country that roughly 75 percent of the 9/11 terrorists called home is about doing “what’s best for my family.” He married a Gretzky, was already rich in Kardashian and only has two children. What does he want, that each of them have their own yachts?

Tiger Woods, meanwhile, turned down (I heard) more than $500 million to invest. He would have taken that booty on the first day of Sheikh Week. In every LIV tournament, in every round, he could have set up radio stations (103 and 107) and still win enough to drown out a member of the Walton family. He didn’t want to be a part of it.

But the trickle of golfing ratfinks is turning into a fire hose. Superstar Bryson DeChambeau and his 400-yard biceps have just signed up, as have 2018 Masters champion Patrick Reed and Players champion Rickie Fowler. There is also talk of Bubba Watson. Hey, could the last guy off the PGA Tour bring the flags, please?

This sucks for golf. It means that the number of events in which the best perform better will be farther apart than desert oases.

Not surprisingly, the PGA Tour began suspending players signed by Saudi Arabia within minutes of LIV’s first tee shot on Thursday. They were so distraught that they had to console themselves by counting all the zeros on their checks.

Players and the media are already discovering what life is like under an autocracy. An Associated Press reporter was kicked out of an LIV press at the Centurion last week for not being “courteous.” (He was asking a difficult question; they finally let him in.) Shipnuck came under pressure Thursday as Mickelson was about to speak to reporters.

And now that? Nobody knows. The PGA Tour does not say how long the ban will last. US Open officials say they will allow jumpers to play in the tournament this week, but what about next year? What about DeChambeau and Johnson, who have 10-year waivers to play in the tournament? Augusta National hasn’t said a word, but would you ban five Former Masters champions?

The US PGA is also stagnant. If he bans all LIVers from the Ryder Cup, it will be more boring than C-SPAN 3.

The Saudis are not going away. There is no bottom for their wallets. The PGA Tour will have to change, and I mean yesterday. You need to start allowing appearance fees. He has to start paying for hotels and medical insurance for the caddies. You need to start offering your own smaller cash shots, without making the cut and with star thickness. He needs to stop worrying so much about the 101st ranked player and start worrying about the first.

And the PGA Tour needs to open a small window to let these quitters back in. Because otherwise, you’ll soon be up at 2am to watch the all-important Mecca Masters.

PS Phil, be careful with your new bosses. If they start talking about “sudden death”… run.