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So much for the soaring principles, then. So much for all the PGA Tour’s none-too-subtle efforts to paint the LIV Golf renegades as mercenaries complicit in the legitimising of a bloodthirsty Saudi regime.
For when presented with their own stark choice between taking Riyadh’s billions and staying steadfast in their morals, the main tours decide the morally defensible path is overrated. And so, after posturing as the decent brokers fighting against a rotten plot to split golf in two, they resolve that the simpler solution is, effectively, to let the Saudis annex the sport. Hypocrisy has seldom been so craven.
The joint announcement by the PGA Tour, DP World Tour and LIV that they are coming together “under one umbrella”, all bankrolled by a Saudi Public Investment Fund estimated at £500 billion ($930b), marks a watershed in the nation-state takeover of sport.
It is a signal that resistance to the Saudis’ limitless sovereign wealth is, ultimately, futile. Their logical next step, having played the disruptors through the LIV experiment, is to gobble up golf altogether. And if Jay Monahan, the PGA Tour commissioner, is content to abandon his righteous indignation to let it happen, what hope is there for anyone else who conscientiously objects?
Rory McIlroy must be wondering why he bothered. One moment, he is being feted as the saviour of golf, prioritising his integrity over LIV’s blandishments. The next, he is the object of derision on social media, with one meme crowing: “Passed on a few hundred million dollars and hasn’t won a major in almost a decade. But he has morals!”
Just think of all the grief this political schism has already brought McIlroy: all the distractions from preparing for majors, all the lost friendships with his Ryder Cup teammates. What was it all for when his ally Monahan just decided, after so much high-mindedness, to take the Saudi riyals in any case?
Rory McIlroy turned down half-a-billion dollars to join LIV Golf.Credit: Getty
It is an astonishingly shameless move that leaves Donald Trump looking like a true clairvoyant. Last July, the 45th president wrote on his Truth Social network: “All of those golfers who remain loyal to the very disloyal PGA, in all its different forms, will pay a big price when the inevitable merger with LIV comes, and when you get nothing but a big thank you from PGA officials who are making millions of dollars a year. If you don’t take the money now, you will get nothing after the merger takes place, and you will only say how smart the original signees were.”
In almost every detail, this is exactly what has transpired. For there is nothing to be gained in golf from being a paragon of virtue. McIlroy may as well have taken the £320 million offer reputedly on the table from LIV. The fact that he did not owed much to his loyalty to Monahan, and his belief that the PGA Tour would, as the powerful competitive counterpoint to LIV’s gaudy exhibition-style alternative, do the right thing. But sadly, he picked the wrong sport for idealism.
Golf is about realpolitik, not scruples. If you want a compelling illustration of this, rewind to last year’s Canadian Open, where Monahan had the gall to say of players cashing the Saudi cheques: “I think you’d have to be living under a rock not to know there are significant implications. Two families close to me lost loved ones in 9/11. I would ask any player who has left, or any player who would consider leaving, ‘Have you ever had to apologise for being a member of the PGA Tour?’”
‘This is a brutal reckoning for anyone who thought there was still a place in sport for honesty, integrity, and consistency of argument.’
How hollow, how dripping in faux self-righteousness those words now seem. How dare Monahan invoke bereaved 9/11 relatives to make a point of honour on which he has so spectacularly reneged? So many players said no to LIV, and today they can only watch helplessly as the minted rebels are handed a free pass back into the fold.
LIV defector Phil Mickelson has described the merger as an ‘awesome day’.Credit: Getty
What the tours have done, by confirming that PIF is the “exclusive investor” in their “new entity”, is to punish allegiance and to reward defection. Just look at who is happiest by this warped arrangement: a certain Phil Mickelson, once condemned by McIlroy as “naive, selfish, egotistical, ignorant”. Only this week, Mickelson was taunting his nemesis, claiming that players would not tolerate McIlroy being on any of the LIV teams “because they’d have to deal with all his BS”. Now, full of schadenfreude at the PGA Tour siding with the Saudis after all, he is proclaiming an “awesome day”.
This is a brutal reckoning for anyone who thought there was still a place in sport for honesty, integrity, and consistency of argument. It is a reminder that the Saudi coffers are so deep that they can force even the most committed critics into a brazen reverse-ferret. But it is, more than anything, a day to challenge faith in the PGA Tour, who drew a clear ethical line and forced their players to adhere. Then, once the price was right, they did not just cross that line but leapt headlong over it. In the collision of morality with cold financial reality, the results are uglier than ever.
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