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MARTIN SAMUEL: LIV Golf is reasonable and ugly – Rory is correct to rail against Saudi money


In 2015, Rory McIlroy had tickets for the Floyd Mayweather-Manny Pacquiao fight in Las Vegas. One problem: he also had 18 holes to play against Paul Casey within the WGC Cadillac Match Play tournament, at TPC Harding Park.

No problem. McIlroy was a 24-year-old high roller back then. He had a non-public plane on standby to fly him from San Francisco to the Nevada desert, and back in time for Sunday’s final if mandatory. Problem. The Casey duel overran. 

Not only could McIlroy not make it to Vegas in time – Lee Westwood got his tickets – he was also at risk of missing the bell, if he dashed back to his hotel. So McIlroy pulled up a chair within the media tent, pulled out his wallet for pizza and beers for the assembled company, and watched the fight from there. He’s an enormous boxing fan. Yet he doesn’t have an opinion concerning the sport selling out to Saudi Arabia.

He’s also a football man. In 2014, he paraded the Claret Jug for his Open win at Old Trafford, home of Manchester United, his favorite club. He admitted that just being on the market in a ceremonial role made him feel nervous. 

At Ryder Cup events he’s invariably seen laughing and joking with former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson. Yet, equally, no negativity concerning the threat posed to the established elite by Saudi Arabian investment in Newcastle United.

So it’s just Saudi golf that irks McIlroy. Just the threat posed to his sport by the Saudi-bankrolled LIV Golf breakaway. Next week, he’ll return to Europe in a field that features 18 of the brand new rebel group. ‘In case you imagine in something, I feel you’ve to talk up, and I think very strongly about this,’ he said, prior to the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth. 

Rory McIlroy has been a fierce critic on the impact of money from Saudi Arabia on his sport

McIlroy said he 'hates' what it is doing to golf and has continuously criticized the LIV golf setup

McIlroy said he ‘hates’ what it’s doing to golf and has constantly criticized the LIV golf setup

‘I hate what it’s doing to the sport of golf. I hate it. I actually do. It is going to be hard for me to stomach seeing 18 of them there at Wentworth. That just doesn’t sit right with me.’

And a few see this as hypocrisy. Why do the golfers get held to higher standards. If Saudi money is tainted – and it is tough to argue it just isn’t, given what is thought about human rights and punishment for dissent within the region – then why is it different for golf? 

Here’s why. Stand apart from the moral debate for one moment and consider Saudi Arabia’s relationship to sport. 

When Anthony Joshua fought Oleksandr Usyk in Jeddah, boxing was enhanced by such a decider. It helped arrange an excellent greater match between the victor, Usyk, and Tyson Fury. Which will happen within the Gulf, too, and while that is tough on British boxing fans, the game itself just isn’t harmed. The purses are greater, the investment is superior. 

McIlroy, the boxing man, is not going to think the game is broken by Saudi Arabia’s presence. He may not just like the regime, but he plays golf in loads of locations which have a reprehensible attitude to freedom. The argument is at all times that change takes time, but will occur more quickly as east meets west.

Football the identical. The elite have reason to fear Newcastle, as they did Manchester City, nevertheless it would hardly be ruinous for the Premier League to have one other club pull up its chair at the highest table. Actually Newcastle, a passionate football city, has suffered for too long. 

In boxing, Saudi cash has brought major fights such as Oleksandr Usyk vs Anthony Joshua

In boxing, Saudi money has brought major fights resembling Oleksandr Usyk vs Anthony Joshua

And in the Premier League, Newcastle becoming a major force can be a positive for soccer

And within the Premier League, Newcastle becoming a significant force could be a positive for soccer 

LIV Golf is different - it is has even served to support disgraced former president Donald Trump

LIV Golf is different – it’s has even served to support disgraced former president Donald Trump

The club last won the league in 1927, a domestic cup in 1955 and their European prize, the 1968-69 Inter-Cities Fairs Cup, is not any longer recognized by UEFA. In simply sporting terms, it is tough to begrudge the club or its fans, the prospect of success; and a powerful Newcastle adds to the sporting spectacle for any football fan, even McIlroy.

Is that true of LIV Golf? Hardly. It has weakened the competition by splitting the fields, it has offered less golf, less jeopardy, even served to rally support for disgraced former president Donald Trump. It’s the epitome of low-cost and ugly in all however the purses, and when McIlroy says he hates what it has done to the game, many will recognize that aversion. 

Not least because a few of LIV Golf’s highest profile driving forces – Greg Norman, Phil Mickelson, Sergio Garcia – seem motivated by a resentment of an institution and a system that has made them insanely wealthy. Would McIlroy throw his Vegas tickets Westwood’s way now? That might truly seem the peak of hypocrisy if he did.

Cameron Smith, the Open champion, diverted to LIV Golf this week, but as one among the world’s biggest players it is just natural that he can be courted. The machinations to take Europe’s Ryder Cup captain Henrik Stenson were more indicative of a vindictive streak. 

Stenson was pushing towards 200 within the Official World Golf Rankings, he wasn’t an enormous industrial draw and last won a PGA Tour tournament in 2017 – there was no reason to pay the fortune to lure him, beyond a desire to disrupt the Ryder Cup preparations, which it duly did when he was made to face down from his role. David Dein, Arsenal’s former vice-chairman, once spoke of Roman Abramovich parking his Chelsea tanks on the Highbury lawn, firing £50 notes. 

That’s in essence what LIV Golf has done. They’ve forced the PGA Tour to repeat their model of closed shop, no risk, guaranteed pay-out, truncated competitions, pale imitations of what the sport needs to be. McIlroy appears to acknowledge that, even when he is an element of the PGA’s latest order. 

Like Tiger Woods, he appears to share a love for the traditions of the sport: not only the majors, however the history, the famous champions, the revered courses that are usually not exercises in self-aggrandizement.

In fact, no one would claim golf’s past is peopled only with good guys. David Deas, a 21-year-old Scotsman from Leith received one among the primary documented shipments of golf equipment within the American colonies in August 1743. In 1769 he may very well be found promoting a cargo of Ninety-4 Prime, Healthy Negroes just arrived from Sierra Leone. 

The identical 12 months, along with his brother John, Deas touted 200 & Sixty Prime Negroes, directly from Angola, a Cargo of 100 and Fourteen Healthy Prime Negroes and Forty Remarkably Wonderful Negro Women: Just Arrived from the Coast of Guiney all within the South Carolina Gazette. Charleston and the encircling area is considered the house of golf in america. 

It’s estimated that throughout the Atlantic slave trade roughly 260,000 African slaves on 882 ships got here through its harbor. When South Carolina became the primary southern state to secede from the Union in December 1860, it was home to 400,000 slaves, around 10 per cent of America’s total slave population. Even Kiawah Island, one among the region’s most famous modern courses, was built on plantation land.

McIlroy and Tiger Woods (left) share a love for the traditions of golf and its rich history

McIlroy and Tiger Woods (left) share a love for the traditions of golf and its wealthy history 

McIlroy will soon be at Wentworth in England, competing against LIV Golf players

McIlroy will soon be at Wentworth in England, competing against LIV Golf players 

So, no, not perfect. Yet golf is an ancient game with an ancient history. LIV Golf is made possible by investment from a rustic that murdered journalist Jamal Khashoggi on the embassy in Istanbul in 2018; that this month imprisoned a student for 34 years for merely endorsing dissident statements on social media. Golf cannot change the trade that made the Deas brothers wealthy; nevertheless it doesn’t must sell out to this.

And if it was an easy matter of investment, there may very well be a debate. In any case, President Joe Biden has visited Saudi Arabia, President Emmanuel Macron has entertained the Crown Prince. Sport can’t be held to higher standards than the leaders of the free world. 

FIFA’s World Cup has gone to Qatar, its Club World Cup to the United Arab Emirates. The headquarters of the International Cricket Council is in Dubai. The region wants its share of influence. 

And possibly if Saudi money gets its way and FIFA makes its World Cup biennial, football will feel the ruinous tide that has washed over golf. Until then, nonetheless, the influence on McIlroy’s sport appears exceptionally poisonous. As one other LIV event tees off in Boston this week, the Ulsterman’s eyes will narrow further as his beloved golf dissolves into sand.

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