Evaluating the Implications of the Saudi Golf League (LIV Golf)

By: Emerson McQueen

Professional golf is in a terrible spot. Division amongst the players and greed overcoming passion in people who are already multi-millionaires have torn the sport apart in recent months. On the other hand, players like Harold Varner III, #46 in the world, are receiving death threats for simply making a choice that he views best benefited his family. Despite protests about Saudi Arabia’s human rights record, a new Saudi-funded men’s golf competition is drawing notable players. The LIV Golf League has been one of the largest controversies in golf for as long as anyone can remember. But what really is LIV Golf? Why is it so problematic? How will the sport’s leading association for the past century, the PGA Tour, react to it? And what does it indicate for the development of the sport?

LIV Golf, originally branded as the ‘Super Golf League’, is a Saudi-funded project which includes eight events in 2022 with no cuts, shotgun starts, and a $30 million dollar purse. Greg Norman, who has won 20 PGA Tour events, and 2 majors, has turned on his former tour, the PGA, and has become the CEO of LIV. Norman drew pushback when he commented, “We’ve all made errors,” in response to serious inquiries about Saudi Arabia’s human rights record. Norman was then asked further about the beheading of 81 Saudi people on a single day in March. “I got a lot of messages, but quite honestly I look forward, I don’t look back,” he said. “I don’t look into the politics of things. I know the mission I have as CEO of LIV Golf and that’s how we can grow the game globally. I’m not going to get into the quagmire of whatever happens in someone else’s world. I heard about it and I just kept moving on.” The Arabian ‘Public Investment Fund’ is projected to be valued at $600 billion US, and the kingdom is reported to be eager to invest a few billion in the coming years on their golf organization. To develop and expand the kingdom’s enormous profits from oil sales, the fund has taken a big position in Uber and Live Nation.

LIV Golf offered Tiger Woods, one of the world’s most prolific athletes, up to $1 billion to play for them, according to Greg Norman. Tiger Woods ridiculed the proposal and LIV CEO Greg Norman’s ambition during The Open in the summer. Dustin Johnson, former World No.1 and two-time Major champion Phil Mickelson, four-time Major champion Brooks Koepka, US Open winner Bryson DeChambeau, Masters winners Bubba Watson, Patrick Reed, Sergio Garcia, and Charl Schwartzel, Open champions Henrik Stenson and Louis Oosthuizen. Cameron Smith, current world #2 and the 2022 Open Champion, declared in August that he will be participating in LIV Golf, the strongest setback to the PGA Tour yet. “Money was obviously a part in my choice,” he said. “I’m not going to dismiss that or claim it wasn’t a factor. It was a business choice, an opportunity I couldn’t pass up.”

LIV athletes are presently prohibited from participating on the PGA Tour, but the four major tournaments (the Masters, PGA Championship, US Open, and British Open) are all regulated by separate organizations and are open to all eligible participants for the time being. It seems unlikely over the past few weeks that they will be able to play in the Masters, the U.S Open, and definitely not the PGA Championship. Due to the huge funding and support from the Public Investment Fund, it seems unlikely that this controversy will end soon. “We have a long-term vision and we’re here to stay” Norman said. It is too early to tell if the success of LIV Golf will have an impact on sports in America, but due to the constant funding from the PIF, it is possible that in the future, the Saudis will try to compete in American markets.


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