Professional American golfers wrong to abandon PGA for LIV Golf

Members of the HY Flyers GC team, including TK Chantananuwat, Justin Harding, Phil Mickelson and Chase Koepka, appear at a press conference ahead of the LIV Golf Invitational Series event in London. (Adrian Dennis/AFP via Getty Images)

American professional golfers on the PGA Tour bolting for big checks on the Saudi-backed LIV Golf League are doing themselves, their chosen sport, and the American communities that have supported them a deep disservice. And the implications go farther than the golf course. 

In the name of supposed competition and reform, they are selling themselves to the highest bidder — irrespective of that bidder’s character — reflecting a pervasive and deep-seated cultural rot in this country and in sports. Because, if a deep-pocketed sovereign with a dubious track record can target and take over an American institution like the PGA Tour that took some 100 years to build, what can it not buy? Worse yet — what are Americans not willing to sell? 

The controversy surrounds LIV, an upstart golf league backed by the Saudi Arabian Public Investment Fund (PIF). It offers seemingly unlimited sums of “guaranteed” money to buy off players — designed purposefully to gut the PGA Tour. Keep in mind, The Saudis aren’t the Swiss. This is a repressive monarchy that — for any positive steps they take — actively discriminates, spreads anti-semitism, breeds anti-Americanism, and has a track record of funding terrorism, not the least of which was its connection to the Sept. 11 attacks. 

Of course, many of LIV Golf’s defenders offer ham-fisted replies and moral equivocation when asked about the Saudis. “Don’t criticize them,” they say, “they are no different than anyone else making money on Saudi Arabian oil.” No one buys this rationale. We don’t want to buy oil from Saudi Arabia; the Biden administration is forcing us to buy oil from Saudi Arabia, in part because our president and his administration are carrying out an anti-American slap-dash unicorn energy policy that makes us reliant on our enemies. A real American energy policy would have us energy independent, and not begging Saudi Arabia for oil. But here we are. 

Further, yes our government engages with the Saudi government because we can partner to check the Iranians or for other geo-political purposes — but doing so doesn’t make it hypocritical to criticize the LIV. Because golfers have a choice. They are choosing Saudi money specifically over the PGA Tour because they simply want the cash.   

For example, six-time Major winner Phil Mickelson reportedly signed for $200 million just to play — and that’s before any potential wins. Two-time major winner Dustin Johnson was bought off for $120 million. Other payouts are significant and “guaranteed,” undermining the meritocracy at the core of the Tour. These are, effectively, expensive participation trophies. 

But, truly, this whole issue strikes at the heart of the soul of the game of golf itself and the core of being an American. We are supposed to have honor. We are supposed to stand alongside the folks who helped get us where we are — the old adage, “dance with the one who brung ya.” The PGA Tour — and its related endeavors — is the one who brung ya. 

For the uninformed, the PGA Tour is the premier golf league in the world. It developed out of the early years of professional golfers transitioning away from the old gentleman’s amateur game to a professional circuit in which golfers, quite literally, “followed the sun.” The tour built around community-based tournaments — many of which have been around since the early to mid 20th Century. In Texas, for example, we have the Colonial in Forth Worth and the long-standing Texas Open in San Antonio, which I proudly represent in Texas’ 21st District. 

The Tour has grown over the years in popularity — seeded by the work of Ben Hogan, Byron Nelson, and Sam Snead, then developed out of the massive growth from Jack Nicklaus and Arnie’s Army, and ultimately punctuated by Tiger Woods’ explosion onto the scene. Now, it is an international operation that has poured over $2 billion into charities and communities throughout the country. It’s part of the fabric of life for millions of Americans. Even more, it has folded in development leagues — notably the Korn Ferry Tour — which operates as a proving ground more or less like a Triple-A affiliate does in Major League Baseball. 

Now, there are some fair critiques about the structure of the Tour — as with any large organization like it — but ultimately, the economics of the Tour work. Notably, however, the LIV Golf League is not built on a bunch of investors working a new idea, but on a Saudi government backed wealth fund used by Greg Norman to recruit Phil, DJ, Patrick, Sergio, Bryson, and other players to take out the Tour. And they know full well that the game of golf must compete for dollars against the MLB, NFL, NHL, NBA, college sports, and all other forms of entertainment — and are perfectly fine risking the very game that made them all massively wealthy. 

This Independence Day weekend, the LIV Golf League will make its first U.S. stop out at Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club in Portland. It’s hard not to see it as a deliberate insult to the sport and to its rich American history here in the United States. That these players have a right to bolt does not make it the honorable or right thing to do.   

But honor does remain: in Tiger Woods’ decision to turn down almost a billion dollars, in Rory McIlroy’s ringing defense of the Tour, and in great young players like Jordan Spieth, and both recent PGA Champion Justin Thomas, and US Open Champion Matt Fitzpatrick, who have chosen to side with the legacy and history of the PGA Tour, one of America’s great institutions. Those who have done the right thing deserve our praise. They have acted with integrity and they are fighting to uphold values that transcend a big check.  

I’ve played the game of golf most of my life — as a kid with my dad, half-way competitively for a while in college, and now as a dad with my son. And through all of that, it’s also been great to watch the greatest players of the world carry on tradition and leave their mark on the sport through the PGA Tour. Perfect? No. Honorable and American? Yes.

Roy represents the 21st District of Texas.

Tags Dustin Johnson LIV golf Phil Mickelson Saudi Arabia

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