Some “less-than-savory” pro golfers are helping the Saudi golf association by “sportswashing.”
When a golfer hits an errant shot that might bonk an unsuspecting spectator on the head, the proper cry of warning is: “Fore!” But what do they shout when they hit a bad shot that boomerangs right back and bonks the golfer on the noggin?
In the polite world of golf — where there’s a rule of etiquette to cover every contingency — this boomerang shot has rarely if ever occurred, so there’s been no need for a clubhouse dictum to govern proper warning shout… until now. This spring, a small group of professional golfers — led by former Big Name superstars Greg Norman and Phil Mickelson — decided to turn the game that has made them fabulously rich into an unsporting game of SleazeBall.
They say they want to set up an independent series of global tournaments, called LIV Golf, to compete with the PGA, the Professional Golfers Association. Fine — at its best, pro sports should be about top-quality, honest competition. But there’s the rub: The LIV series is not honest, not a sporting competition and not even about golf. It is entirely about money — more specifically about callous greed.
Indeed, LIV Golf is a scam that’s entirely financed by the brutish family of petro-royals who ruthlessly rule Saudi Arabia. The family’s grotesque abuse of the kingdom’s own citizens has made the oil-rich regime a global pariah. Mohammed bin Salman, the crown prince who is the mastermind behind this multimillion-dollar golfing scheme, is the same fellow who ordered Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi murdered in 2018. But simply killing Khashoggi wasn’t enough. The prince had him cut into small pieces, packed in suitcases and tossed away. Now, his golf gambit is a blatant case of “sportswashing” — he is spending obscene sums of his family’s oil loot to buy the marquee names of a few dozen recognizable golfers to concoct a sports spectacle, in hopes of distracting attention from his government’s depravity. Hitler tried this by staging the 1936 Olympics in Nazi Germany, but it didn’t wash.
Likewise, the Saudi golf association won’t wash off the regime’s indelible ugliness. But — Fore! — it will boomerang on the money-grubbing golfers selling their once-good names to it. If you sell out your personal integrity in a vain attempt to give a patina of integrity to some notorious scoundrels, what have you gained?
Depends on your sellout price, chortle the ethically stunted professional golfers who’ve peddled both their honor and honesty to the murderous, moneyed monarchs. The golfing elites madly rushed to grab money thrown at their feet by the royal kingdom in a crude PR ploy that’s meant to buff up its public image by making them seem like generous benefactors bringing sports to the masses. Of course, a golf tournament needs golfers, but the Saudis had none of note, so they simply bought a batch. Right away, former stars Phil Mickelson and Greg Norman signed away their integrity to join, taking at least $200 million apiece. Then Dustin Johnson and Bryson DeChambeau took $150 million each from Team Saudi, and the likes of Brooks Koepka, Sergio Garcia and others quicky scrambled to get theirs.
Worse than the golfers’ unsightly money grubbing, however, is their insufferable dishonesty, trying to whitewash their taking of what is literally blood money. Mickelson faked moral outrage at the Kingdom’s rulers, gingerly calling them “less-than-savory individuals” and piously proclaiming that he did not condone “human rights violations.” But he certainly has condoned (and cashed) the checks written to him by the violators.
But Greg Norman, the former pro who led recruitment of golfer talent for the Saudis, offered the most pathetic moral excuse for selling out to such a villainous kingdom. Asked how he could link arms with a potentate so barbarous as to have had a critic of the regime murdered and chopped into pieces, Norman said: “Look, we’ve all made mistakes.”
There’s a word that describes what these golfing multimillionaires are doing: “Disgusting.” The good news is that most pros — including bigger-name stars like Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and Justin Thomas — have some values that they refuse to trade for dollars.