It must irritate the triad of Messrs in their more introspective moments. Waugh, Whan, and Slumbers believe that the most exciting golf drama will unfold outside the ropes of their respective major tournaments in the coming months. The 58 days between Tuesday at Southern Hills and Thursday at St. Andrews will be contentious and will have a significant impact on the sport’s future landscape, leaving many industry executives yearning for the halcyon days of Shell’s Wonderful World of Golf, when the influence of oil money in the game was far less toxic.
The PGA Championship of Seth Waugh is already in jeopardy. Phil Mickelson registered for the tournament, but his representative noted that neither it nor his simultaneous request for authorization from the PGA Tour to play a Saudi-funded event in the United Kingdom on June 9-11 should be seen as indications of his schedule (grimly meaningful numbers where the Saudis are concerned). Mickelson may defend his PGA Championship title, or he could stay at home, knowing that doing so would just draw more attention to the LIV Golf Invitational near London, which could be the site of his comeback.
The Saudi event in the United Kingdom is merely a diversion. Because there has been precedent for international money grabs, the PGA Tour is likely to give the appropriate releases (perhaps with caveats) for members who desire to compete, as it did for the Saudi International in February. Commissioner Jay Monahan must make his decision by May 10.
One week later, the first shots in the real conflict will be fired.
The deadline for PGA Tour members to file for waivers to compete in the second Saudi event, which will be held July 1-3 at Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club in Portland, Oregon, comes within the week of the PGA Championship. Monahan’s judgment on those requests must be made no later than 30 days before the first round, or by Wednesday, June 1, but it might be made as late as May 17 at 5:01 p.m. It’s going to be a no.
Releases for tournaments hosted in North America against the PGA Tour’s own calendar are not permitted under PGA Tour rules. Players are aware of this because they all agreed to the membership policies, thus those who request permission for Portland will be accused of either idiocy or treason. By May 17, the Tour will know who wants to compete in the United States for Saudi money, a list that will very certainly include the names of individuals who desire to compete despite not having received a release. And that’s where Monahan’s red line will be drawn, according to messages I’ve received from a number of his supporters in recent days.
The Saudis—under the innocuous-sounding moniker of LIV Golf—sue over the Tour’s refusal to grant releases, which would at least be an improvement on how the Crown Prince’s operatives usually handle disputes—then one of two scenarios emerges: a player defies the Tour, triggering disciplinary action and potential litigation; or the Saudis—under the innocuous-sounding moniker of LIV Golf—sue over the Tour’s refusal to grant releases,
As a result, Mike Whan’s US Open will take place one week after the Saudi event in the United Kingdom, and during the fallout from the denial of waivers for Portland. The collapsing dominoes eventually make their way to Martin Slumbers’ office, where the Open Championship will begin 11 days after Portland. It’s possible that Monahan will have issued bans by then. Will members of the PGA Tour who aren’t in good standing be allowed to compete at St. Andrews?
“There is no explicit condition on that,” an R&A spokeswoman stated, using language that was sufficiently ambiguous to leave no one in the dark. The USGA was contacted about the same matter, however suspensions seem doubtful before the US Open. “We take pleasure in being the world’s most open championship,” a USGA spokeswoman said. However, we reserve the ability to examine sanctions from other golf organizations on a case-by-case basis, as we have always done.”
If the R&A follows suit, several well-known players may be refused admittance to the 150th Open, though the names causing the greatest consternation are unlikely to be on the engraver’s mind come Sunday evening.
From May 17 to July 14, a 58-day period will demonstrate the extent to which golf’s governing bodies regard Saudi sportswashing as a shared concern. Alexandra Armas will be absent from the fight. The Ladies European Tour’s CEO is continuing her heinous flattery of the Saudi dictatorship, for which she bartered her circuit in exchange for five events sponsorship. “These events seem like majors to many of our members,” she exclaimed this week.
The LET is a cash-strapped organization—purses in non-Saudi events are often around $300,000—which is why Armas has forced members to choose between abetting Saudi sportswashing or going hungry. It’s simpler to comprehend her reasoning than that of men on lucrative tours who choose to accept Saudi money on their own, but both are deplorable decisions.
If the planned Saudi hijacking of golf is thwarted—an outcome that is far from certain—a serious reckoning on where and with whom professional tours do business should follow. Regardless of how much the tours see it as a question of business and rivalry, there is a moral duty to guarantee that golf does not serve to normalize authoritarian regimes. The LET will have plenty of company in the dock. The Asian Tour sold itself to the Saudis in bulk. Visits to undemocratic provinces have long been a stumbling block for the DP World Tour. With its presence in China, the PGA Tour has done the same.
Those indulgences are unjustifiable and should be discontinued. This could even diminish the Whataboutism water fountain on social media, a phenomena fueled by trolls who believe that discussing one wrong isn’t real unless it’s accompanied by crimes by every organization, people, company, and nation they feel indictable.
Three of golf’s four major championships will be impacted in the coming weeks as a result of years of sloppy deal-making by tours whose business actions contributed to the game’s current geopolitical situation. All four majors could end up being the last line of defense against the sport’s impending abyss.