LIV Golf: New tournament series divides the golf world

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An ex-star as the face of the campaign, lots of money from a Saudi source. The new LIV golf series is a frontal assault on the established PGA Tour. It's about politics, power and a lot of money.

Former world number one Greg Norman is the frontman of the new Saudi LIV golf series

Is Phil Mickelson making his comeback at the start of the “LIV Golf Invitational Series”? The new golf tournament series, scheduled to debut in London on June 9, is dividing the golf scene. So does Mickelson. A year ago at the PGA Championship, he was celebrated as the oldest golf pro to win one of the four most important tournaments in the world. In the meantime, many have declared the 51-year-old US star an undesirable person. Colleagues like superstar Tiger Woods also distanced themselves from Mickelson: “Phil said some things that many of us who feel committed to the tour and the legacy of the tour have resisted,” Woods said the week before Start of this year's PGA Championship, where defending champion Mickelson was absent. By the tour, Woods meant the PGA Tour in the USA, which has been established for decades and was the most important and highest-paying tournament series in the world to date.

In February, Mickelson put himself between all stools with an interview he gave to US author Alan Shipnuck: He accused the organizers of the PGA Tour of “manipulative, coercive and brutal” tactics at the expense of the players, which were not sufficient would share in profits. Mickelson, on the other hand, described the Saudi sponsors of the new LIV Golf series as “terrifying bastards”: “We know that they murdered Khashoggi [A special commando from Riyadh killed journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi embassy in Istanbul in October 2018 – note. ed.] and that they have a terrible human rights record. They execute people because they are gay.” Still, Mickelson says he's flirting with the new series because the Saudi money is finally giving the pros leverage against the PGA.

From golf hero to undesirable: Phil Mickelson after his 2021 PGA Championship triumph

He later apologized via Instagram for his words and announced a break from golf. But the damage was already done. Well-known sponsors turned their backs on Mickelson. 

Guaranteed prize money

The dispute over the new tournament series is about politics, power – and a lot of money. Overall, the organizers want to pay out prize money of 200 million dollars for the eight tournaments planned for this year. The winner of a tournament collects four million dollars. For comparison, this year's PGA Championship winner, American Justin Thomas, received a check for $2.7 million. The overall winner of the new series can look forward to an additional $18 million. Prerequisite: He must have started at least four of the eight events.

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Even the last-placed of the 48 participants collects $120,000. This also makes the new series interesting for professionals in the second row. In contrast to the new series, the PGA Tour only pays out prize money to professionals who have made the so-called “cut” – that is, who have qualified in the first two tournament rounds for the last two rounds. In most PGA tournaments, this is the top 70 players. There will be no such cut in the “LIV Golf Invitational Series”. Whoever starts, also collects. Only three rounds are played instead of four, a total of 54 holes. LIV is the Roman numerals for 54.

Trump gets involved

The invitation series is in direct competition with the PGA Tour. Five of the eight tournament locations (Portland, Bedminster, Boston, Chicago, Miami) are in the USA, the other three are in Great Britain (London), Thailand (Bangkok) and Saudi Arabia (Jeddah). Ironically, two of the US golf courses in the new series – those in Bedminster and Miami – are owned by former US President Donald Trump. The 2022 PGA Championship was originally scheduled to be played in Bedminster. Because of Trump's storming of the Capitol in Washington in January 2021, the PGA tour had moved the major tournament to Tulsa. The fact that the ex-president is now involved in the LIV golf series is seen as a tit-for-tat against the PGA.

Donald Trump is an avid amateur golfer – and golf entrepreneur

The Trump clan has long had close ties to Saudi Arabia, particularly through Jared Kushner, Trump's former presidential adviser and son-in-law. In addition, the CEO of LIV Golf Investments, the former golf world number one Greg Norman, says he is a friend of Trump. “We have a long-term vision and we are here to stay,” said the 67-year-old Australian. Norman announced that LIV Golf will invest a total of $2 billion in golf over the period 2023-2025. The number of tournaments is to be increased from eight to 14 during this period.

“Everyone makes mistakes”

LIV Golf Investments is not short of money. The main shareholder is the Saudi state fund PIF (Public Investment Fund), which manages total assets of around 500 billion dollars. Last year, the fund took over 80 percent of the shares in the traditional English football club Newcastle United. The PIF chairman is the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, who, in his own words, wants to use his “Vision 2030” development plan to modernize the country and make it less dependent on oil revenues. Investments in sport also play a not insignificant role. Human rights organizations accuse Saudi Arabia of “sportswashing”. Those in power in Riyadh wanted to distract attention from the human rights violations in the country with glossy sporting events. Crown Prince Bin Salman is suspected of being behind the Khashoggi murder.

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (left) with Formula 1 boss Stefano Domenicali at the Grand Prix in Jeddah

“Look, each of us makes mistakes, and we all try to learn from these mistakes and correct them in the future,” replied LIV Golf boss Norman succinctly when he spoke about the murder at an event in London at which Saudi journalists were approached. Even the oppression of women in Saudi Arabia, which has been denounced by human rights organizations, does not give the former golf star any stomach ache. “You go into a restaurant and there are women sitting there. They don't wear burqas. They're out there playing golf,” Norman said in an interview with the US magazine “Golf Digest”.

Who risks it Break with the PGA?

Norman and Co. have apparently tried across the board to poach professionals who have previously been on the PGA Tour for the new tournament series – with the promise of high entry fees and prize money. According to Norman, six players in the top 50 want to start in the new series and have therefore applied for an exemption from the PGA. This is necessary if a PGA tournament is being held in North America at the same time. In the case of the planned kick-off event of the LIV golf series in London, this will be the Canadian Open in Toronto from June 6th to 12th. In addition to Phil Mickelson, the professionals who have applied for an exemption include the Spanish golf star Sergio Garcia, the top English golfer Lee Westwood and Germany's most famous golf professional Martin Kaymer.

Will two-time major tournament champion Martin Kaymer be teeing off at the LIV golf series soon?

PGA President Tyler Dennis has refused a release. Anyone who ignores this must reckon with not being allowed to start on the PGA Tour anymore. “Unfortunately, the PGA Tour seems intent on denying professional golfers their right to play golf,” railed Greg Norman. Whether the controversial US star Phil Mickelson will appear at the opening tournament of the controversial new series is anyone's guess. In any case, the defending champion did not compete in the PGA Championship. In an interview with sports broadcaster ESPN, LIV Golf boss Norman admitted that Mickelson's statements in February not only harmed the PGA tour, but also the planned new super series. But, according to Norman: “He will always find an open door.”

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