How golf’s civil war has erupted as Saudi tour gains momentum ahead of The 150th Open

The biggest controversy of the modern era of golf is reopened this week as St. Andrews hosts the 150th edition of The Open.

Scotland will host the fourth and final major of 2022 at the Home of Golf, a fitting location to ‘conclude’ this year’s calendar considering many feel the sport’s heritage is under serious threat. The Claret Jug may be seen as a meagre reward compared to the riches on offer in the breakaway LIV Golf Invitational Series, which finally got underway in mid-June.

But the prospective PGA Tour rival—which is financed by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF)—was causing a stir long before that date. Advertised as an eight-event series featuring at least $25million (£21m) in prize money at every stop, LIV Golf insisted its schedule would not interfere with its PGA counterpart before it emerged the league will expand to 14 events next year.

‘Sportswashing’ is a term that’s been closely associated with the new competition since its inception. Saudi Arabia has poor records regarding human rights, the LGBTQ+ community and women’s rights, with many viewing the nation’s efforts to advance its sporting presence as a means of glossing over those areas.

LIV recruited Greg Norman—who has been banned from events at The Open this weekend—to be its face. It’s not only past greats who were head-hunted to jump ship, either, as it’s understood Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson were each paid in excess of £100m to join the cause.

‘Lefty’—a six-time major champion—was among the first to be linked with the exodus and hit headlines in February when he called Saudi Arabians “scary m***** f*****s to get involved with.” He even acknowledged the 2018 assassination of journalist Jamal Khashoggi—carried out by men ‘closely connected’ to the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman—but suggested working with the Kingdom was a rare chance “to reshape how the PGA Tour operates.”






Phil Mickelson has become the de facto face of the LIV Golf Series rebellion


Phil Mickelson has become the de facto face of the LIV Golf Series rebellion
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Getty Images)

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Norman made his own effort to address the inherent issues caused by working with Saudi Arabia. However, the Australian only made matters worse when he attempted to excuse the killing of Khashoggi by suggesting “we’ve all made mistakes.”

Following the inevitable backlash that stemmed from those comments, Mickelson disappeared from the spotlight and took some time away from the sport. All of this is to highlight the struggle players face in explaining their transition to LIV Golf as anything but a move motivated by money.

Tiger Woods highlighted as much when he questioned the value in a competition where even last place is guaranteed a considerable pay day. “I just don’t understand it,” said the three-time Open-winner ahead of this weekend’s test at St. Andrews. “What is the incentive to go out there and earn it in the dirt?”

Rory McIlroy has been similarly gung-ho in his criticism of those who have been eager to turn their back on golf’s established framework. The Northern Irishman previously slammed Mickelson as ‘egotistical and selfish’, also suggesting those defectors were only doing so for the chance to earn “boatloads of cash.”

Both PGA and DP World Tours confirmed in June—just before the inaugural LIV event in Hertfordshire—that any players who participated in the breakaway league would be suspended from their contests. It’s since emerged the former is being investigated by the United States’ Department of Justice for anti-competitive behaviour.

The majors are their own authorities, however, and the LIV Golf dissidents will be permitted to take part on the Old Course this weekend. That could be largely because many players had already qualified, however, meaning the same privilege may not be granted from next year onwards.

Brooks Koepka, Sergio Garcia, Bryson DeChambeau and Patrick Reed are among the major champions set to exploit that allowance by playing The Open this weekend. The list of major talent heading for LIV pastures looks likely to grow more in the coming months, however, as a new, cash-rich rival threatens to deepen the divisions among golf’s elite.

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