I know what PGA Tour golfers are saying to themselves about the LIV Golf Invitational Series, the controversial startup tour sponsored by Saudi Arabia:
Should I join? Is it gonna last? Will the PGA Tour throw me out? How nasty are those Saudis, anyway? How low will my reputation sink? Do I care?
The money behind the tour — massive amounts of it — comes from Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, a sovereign wealth fund that is a desert swimming pool overflowing with oil money.
You realize why Saudi Arabia is a factor at all in pro golf, right?
We’re addicted to oil. They have gobs of it. They haul in a billion dollars a day from global oil exports. The Saudis can pay big money to start a league that is basically a PR show to sweeten the country’s image. Such a procedure is now called “sportswashing.” It’s devious, but it often works.
And remember this. According to Bloomberg News, the Saudis’ main trading partners are, in order: China, India, Japan, South Korea and — hold on to your chair — the United States.
So we’re their pals, sort of. But we also loathe them because they’re guilty of many human-rights violations, and U.S. intelligence says they murdered Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018.
Well, not just murdered. A secret Saudi security unit called the Tiger Squad allegedly chopped him up inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, and carried him out in suitcases. Or dissolved him in acid. Or something else hideous.
One anonymous source said the Tiger Squad brought Khashoggi’s fingers back to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman as proof of the assassination. Bin Salman is, don’t forget, the main man behind the funding of LIV Golf.
The new tour, which has had one event so far — held at Centurion Club just outside London this past weekend and won by 2011 Masters champ Charl Schwartzel and his team to the tune of $4.75 million — is seen as the embodiment of a sporting deal with the devil.
The concept of LIV Golf is new and full of techno twists and amusing things such as four-man teams with names like Stingers, and it clearly has as its goal the sucking in of younger golfers and younger fans, thus reaping the passion that can come with new entertainment.
Yet that murder lingers.
Respected USA Today sports columnist Christine Brennan called LIV Golf front man Greg Norman, “the despicable epitome of unabashed greed, a man apparently with neither soul nor conscience.’’
This is all about money. Of course, it is. Lest we forget, that’s also what capitalism is all about.
Capitalism — which the United States chose at the outset as our preferred economic system — has no essential morality to it. The market is all. As Gordon Gekko said, “Greed, for lack of a better word, is good.’’
The morality must come from laws and individuals’ own consciences. There’s no law against LIV Golf, but there might be moral compunctions against it.
Most PGA golfers have said no to it. But Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson, Sergio Garcia, Lee Westwood, Kevin Na, Patrick Reed, Bryson DeChambeau and other stars have said yes.
“I chose what’s best for me and my family,’’ Johnson said.
If LIV Golf flourishes, will we someday forget the dark money behind it and see it as a breakthrough competition that fills a viewing need? Remember, many pro teams in America, including the Bears and Arizona Cardinals, were begun with the benefit of some dirty money and dubious morals.
And murder? Former President Barack Obama got much criticism when he approved the CIA killing of U.S. citizen Anwar al-Awlaki in 2011. According to the Watson Institute of International & Public Affairs at Brown University, our post-9/11 wars have resulted in the deaths of more than 387,000 civilians.
We have billionaire former athletes such as Michael Jordan and billionaire active athletes such as Tiger Woods and LeBron James. Their power is in their wallets.
We have exalted billionaires such as Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos, and our governance in Illinois is essentially decided by billionaires, including our billionaire governor.
Money is all these days. We count winners by how rich they are. Don’t PGA Tour golfers always get their career earnings listed as much as wins?
Hypocrisy? Doesn’t seem to matter much when we fill up our gas tanks with Saudi-refined gas, sell cancer-causing cigarettes in drug stores, use gambling taxes to help addicted gamblers.
LIV Golf? It seems filthy, but it might be oh-so modern, ever-so human.
It might buy itself into the country club. And in time maybe nobody will remember its hands were once bloody.