Monday, July 15, 2024

The new Saudi league shakes the golf world

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Virginia Whitehead
Virginia Whitehead
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Bearing Saudi Arabia and former champion Greg Norman, LIV golf, on an exceptional budget, is breaking the silent world of golf by drawing into its nets several stars who will compete on Thursday in the inaugural tournament in London.

An earthquake, nothing more, nothing less. And there’s no doubting a new era… For months now, the behind-the-scenes of world golf has been teeming with nothing but this new league funded by the Saudi Investment Fund, a project finally emerging from the ground, which risks reshaping the outlines of the sport.

Threats of sanctions or exclusion from the PGA didn’t work, at least for the two sacred beasts of the American circuit, Dustin Johnson and Phil Mickelson.

The former world number one, two-major slam winner, and brilliant left-footer, arguably the second-greatest player of the past 20 years after Tiger Woods, succumbed to Saudi Arabia’s golden siren, surpassing the Rubicon that many thought was uncrossable.

They are not the only ones. Other famous names in the European circle, such as Lee Westwood or Sergio Garcia, have also surrendered.

This is undoubtedly the first success of this controversial department from its embryonic phase: it has succeeded, despite fierce opposition from the American and European circuits – whose dissidents refused to sign their exit voucher – to attract 16 of its top 100 players. the scientist.

In the end, this league brings together a total of 48 opposing players, no doubt seducing them with a powerful argument: a donation some consider “indecent” to some 200 million euros for this series of eight tournaments around the world in a format that has not been released more than three days without a cut.

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The first, which will take place at the Centurion Club in St Albans, north London, as for the other stages, €23 million will be distributed, more than double each of the Big Four. There isn’t a single event on the American circuit that makes a lot of money.

“It’s the start of a bigger battle than all those stars,” says Pascal Grizot, president of the French Federation of Golf (FFG).

Because this new league is divided, at least by the huge amount of money promised to the identity of its founders, and especially by the issue of human rights, which is a sensitive topic in Saudi Arabia.

“I even like to play for a lot of money (…), but there will come a time when you have to be straight and act like a human being. I know there are players who are uncomfortable with this, but I have the impression that they remain silent, just in case a piece of the cake comes to them. Someday (…). Don’t go there!” urged, for example, Frenchman Mike Lorenzo Vera at the beginning of May on the Irish Independent website.

Phil Mickelson forced himself into a long silence for several months after, in February, he took over a position in the Saudi League. Pointing out the “hateful greed” of the US circle, Lefty said he was ready to join LIV despite the “lack of respect for human rights especially towards homosexuals” in Saudi Arabia. His comments angered many players.

Evidence of the Saudis’ fierce desire to break age-old golf traditions: golf icon Jack Nicklaus, 82, recently revealed he had turned down a bid of more than $100 million to be one of the faces of the new ring.

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The question now arises as to the consequences of this choice for the opponents. The PGA has warned that players who choose to participate in the LIV will be subject to penalties, up to and including disqualification. Some predicted such an outcome as Kevin Na or Dustin Johnson, who quit the PGA.

What about having them and those, for example, Mickelson or South African Louis Oosthuizen – another defector – at the US Open, one of the top four teams of the season, in a few days (June 16)?

Pascal Grizot predicts “Without a doubt there will be lawsuits for years, and I don’t blame the professionals. They go where there is the most interest.”

“I find it inappropriate, this escalation will damage the image of golf in the world. It sounds like a big mess, because when we talk about golf and we only talk about money, it is not what the image of golf needs.”

However, organizers of the US Open, which kicks off June 16 in Brooklyn (Massachusetts), announced on Tuesday that golfers participating in the maverick league could play this major tournament, deeming the exclusion “unfair and inappropriate.”

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