A tournament kicks off on Thursday at the Centurion Club near London that may change the golf world forever. How the new multi-billion-euro LIV Golf Invitational Series is fueling a rift in the sport and much criticism of golfers who have moved to the new and controversial tour.
LIV Golf is organizing eight tournaments this year with a total prize money of 255 million dollars (238 million euros). In the first tournament in London – and in the six tournaments after that – a total of 25 million dollars (23.3 million euros) is available. That is the largest prize pool in professional golf history. The winner will receive 3.7 million euros, while all 48 participants are already assured of 112,000 euros. At the final tournament in Miami at the end of October, the total prize pool is even 74.5 million euros.
The staggering amounts come from Public Investment Fund† The Saudi government investment company, which also owns Newcastle United football club, has invested around 2 billion euros in the project.
The US PGA Tour does not allow its players to play with the competing organization† The organizers of the most important – and until recently most lucrative – series of tournaments threaten to ban golfers from its tour forever if they switch to LIV Golf.
Spaniard Sergio Garcia trains on the track of Centurion Club.
48 golfers don’t care about the menacing language of the PGA Tour and join the Centurion Club from Thursday to Saturday. Among them are seven former winners of a major (one of the four biggest tournaments in golf): Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson, Martin Kaymer, Sergio García, Charl Schwartzel, Graeme McDowell and Louis Oosthuizen. They are not at the RBC Canadian Open in Toronto, the tournament that the PGA Tour is organizing this week and where the total prize money is 8.7 million dollars (8.1 million euros).
Several golfers have since canceled their membership of the PGA Tour. This means they are ahead of a possible punishment from the American organization. The American Kevin Na was the first to take this step. “I want to have the freedom to play golf where I want and this way I get that opportunity,” said the world’s current number 34. The PGA Tour must therefore fear that its tournaments will be devalued by a less strong field of participants.
The golfers do not deny that money is a big factor in their move to LIV Golf. “I’m a pro, we’re going to play for good money, so why not?” said the South African Oosthuizen. “I don’t want to spend the rest of my life playing golf and I felt like I should have done that on the PGA Tour,” said Johnson, a former world number one.
For golfers, it is also important that they see that in other professional sports in the US the average salaries are much higher. World top golfers can earn millions of dollars a year, but their earnings are nowhere near the money earned by the best basketball players in the NBA or the best American football players in the NFL.
Program LIV Golf Invitational Series
- June 9-11: London (Eng)
- July 1-3: Portland (US)
- July 29-31: New Jersey (US)
- September 2-4: Boston (US)
- September 16-18: Chicago (US)
- October 7-9: Bangkok (Tha)
- October 14-16: Jeddah (SA)
- October 28-30: Miami (US)
Human rights organizations argue that LIV Golf is a way of ‘sportswashing’ is by Saudi Arabia† The Saudis have been trying for some time to polish their bad human rights image by organizing major sporting events. That policy was devised by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, who is the chairman of the Public Investment Fund. Bin Salman was directly involved in the 2018 murder of government-critical Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, according to US intelligence agencies.
According to director Greg Norman, LIV Golf operates independently of the Saudi government† “They’re not my bosses,” Norman, who has been the world’s number one golf player for 331 weeks in the past 331 weeks, told Sky Sports† “I don’t have to answer to Saudi Arabia or to Bin Salman. I don’t know what the Saudi government is doing and I don’t want to talk about politics.”
Norman called Khashoggi’s murder “reprehensible” in the same interview. “But if you go to Saudi Arabia, you see that they are trying to change the culture,” said the 67-year-old Australian. “And they do that through golf.”
Former top golfer Greg Norman is the face of LIV Golf
“We are golfers, not politicians”McDowell said at a news conference at the Centurion Club on Tuesday. There, the golfers present received many critical questions about their switch to LIV Golf. “I know it’s an incredibly polarizing choice to participate in a Saudi-funded Tour. Just look at the situation with Khashoggi. No one denies it is terrible,” said 42-year-old McDowell, “But I I really think golf can have a positive impact on the world. If Saudi Arabia wants to use our sport to change, we’d love to help them do that.”
Amnesty International believes that golfers should speak out more clearly about the human rights violations in Saudi Arabia. “Graeme McDowell and the other golfers competing at the Centurion Club this week don’t seem to have good answers to questions about human rights, while they don’t seem to mind taking the Saudi money,” said Patrick Corrigan of the UK. branch of Amnesty International. “You don’t have to be a politician to support oppressed people. We can expect more from famous athletes.”