The PGA Tour framed the struggle with LIV Golf as good versus literal evil.
The morally bankrupt rogues taking blood money from a nefarious, oppressive regime were on one side. And the tour was on the other, aligned with those who stand tall to remind the world of Saudi Arabia’s human rights abuses, of its ties to the 9/11 attacks and complicity in murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Simple. But not very effective so far. The almighty dollar remains undefeated for a reason. But also because even a powerful argument can fall flat when it is impossible to process.
That’s why it’s fitting the LIV roadshow is pulling up to Bedminster this weekend. The renegade tour has embraced strategic chaos. Now it will spend a few days hanging out with the man who has mastered the art. Donald Trump isn’t just hosting LIV at Trump National; he is providing it with a few pages from his playbook.
Let’s try to keep this all straight. In the past few weeks, LIV has signed Henrik Stenson and spurred his firing as European Ryder Cup champion. It has launched a high-profile and profoundly confusing broadcasting courtship of Charles Barkley. Trump appears to have jumped on-board as an unofficial hype man. An Asian Tour-based world ranking points scheme has been floated. Caitlyn Jenner is showing up to the Pro-Am (as are Barkley and Trump). Promotion and relegation have been put on the table. Now Bubba Watson is joining too. And hey, Clay Travis just walked in!
It’s a lot. It’s quite Trumpian. Which is almost assuredly the point. If you have one wild headline, generate nine more. Than you will have none. And then say and do some crazy stuff for good measure.
The activism and anger of 9/11 families deserves to be heard. Needs to be heard. The same for those who hold Crown Prince Mohamed Bin Salman responsible for Khashoggi’s grisly assassination, and the rest of Saudi Arabia’s litany of sins. Greg Norman, Phil Mickelson and the rest of the LIV defectors should have to answer for these issues and acknowledge their money — significant, ridiculous money — is coming from the Public Investment Fund with a clear agenda tied to it.
But facts and truth can only travel so far when forced to fly through a muck of nonsense. Trump has taught the nation and world that for seven years and running. All publicity is good publicity. Each new scandal is just another step closer to the goal. And now LIV is following suit. They have generated their own chaos and drafted off that conveniently provided by others.
President Biden vowed to make Saudi Arabia a pariah when he was campaigning for his job. And then he went and gave MBS a fist-pump. Put the foreign policy and political debates aside; everyone should be able to realize this is the type of whatabout anecdote the LIV lobby can seize on. The same goes for the perception of a double standard for the NBA, Nike and athletes like LeBron James when it comes to China.
The “sportswashing” label fails to resonate. It is definitely sportswashing. But not in the classic sense. When WWE has a show in the desert and constantly throws around buzz words like “progress” and “respect?” That checks the box. When the PIF buys the Premier League’s Newcastle United and makes their alternate jersey the colors of Saudi Arabia’s flag? Ditto. Holding shotgun start golf tournaments with music in rural New Jersey? Not so much at first glance.
As much as the PGA Tour (and its media lapdogs) try to make this a moral crusade, most see through it. Big Golf had no issue doing business with the Saudis and other questionable partners in the past. It got caught flat-footed by a competitor it did not take seriously enough. This is an economic temper tantrum more than anything.
The PGA Tour had clear vulnerabilities and was overdue for disruption. But commissioner Jay Monahan misread the situation while LIV capitalized on the weaknesses. The result is LIV is here to stay and getting stronger by the day. And the PGA Tour will be the one that has to cave a bit to sustain itself. That eventual process will sting even more, too, because of the unnecessary self-inflicted damage.
Suspending the LIV golfers was foolish. Especially when they will still have access to the major tournaments. You’ve really chastened Brooks Koepka by denying him entrance to the Sheboygan Open, huh. And it seems inevitable there will be a reversal at some point, perhaps driven by antitrust concerns. When that happens, it will mean more embarrassment for the PGA Tour.
Giving Stenson the boot from the Ryder Cup team felt a bit rash. It’s not a perfect comparison, but imagine if Harry Kane left Tottenham Hotspur to make some ridiculous salary at Newcastle. Does the English national team strip his captainship? Would any major European soccer nation do the same with their captain? Probably not.
There is nothing redeeming about LIV Golf. It is uncomfortable and unseemly. The competitors are sellouts. The benefactors’ motivations are malignant. And there are many admirable, brave and compelling voices boldly pointing out the sham of it all. But unfortunately their cogent assessments are being muffled by the manufactured circus all around them. Which is almost assuredly by design.
James Kratch can be reached at [email protected]