Triple-Double-Bogey: PGA is now a Saudi Apologist

[NOTE: Probably the only post on golf here . . . Unless the merger is squashed.]

Jessica Karl — Bloomberg Opinion

Saudi Sweat Equity

I am going to be honest with you: I am not a golf girlie. I wish I was! The outfits? So chic. The greens? Impeccable. The clubhouse quesadillas? Divine. But the one time I played nine holes, I got yelled at by some lady who was late for her poetry reading because I was going too slowly.

Source: Trung Phan, Twitter

Clearly, it’s not the sport for me. That said, just because I don’t know the difference between a birdie and a bogey doesn’t mean I haven’t been living for the way in which this LIV-PGA drama has unfolded. It honestly has me more hooked than #Scandoval.

In order to understand this saga, we need to go back to 2016, when Saudi Arabia did some self-reflection and realized it was in a rather toxic relationship with oil. Then-Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, ever the dreamer, concocted this thing called the “Saudi Vision 2030,” and in it, he basically wrote: LET’S DO SPORTS in all caps. OK, well, no, it was: “We aspire to excel in sport.”

Same difference. The plan from this point forward was simple: Invest less in oil and more in sports — and entertainment, culture, yada, yada, yada. After all, “ownership of a professional sports franchise is a key means for wealth to project status and soft power in the 21st century,” Adam Minter writes.

Saudi Arabia has been gobbling up players and teams in a number of sports, from football to tennisto golf. But not all attempts to dabble within athletic arenas have been successful, given the country’s abysmal track record, which includes 9/11, the murder of Jamal Khashoggi and a bunch of other egregious human-rights infractions. The country’s wealth fund, for example, casually attempted to buy Formula 1 for a cool $20 billion in January to add racing to its portfolio, but Liberty Media refused to sell to the Saudis.

LIV — Saudi Arabia’s challenger to the PGA — was founded in 2021. It’s essentially the golf equivalent of the highly controversial European Super League— exactly the type of thing that Ted Lasso’s Rebecca Welton squashed. From its inception, the PGA has been morally opposed to LIV for the aforementioned reasons. But that hasn’t stopped the Saudis from persuading PGA golfers to come to the “dark side,” luring them over with handsome payouts and giant party planes. Tiger Woodsreportedly turned down between $700 and $800 million, but other players weren’t ashamed to take the bait:

Now, LIV and the PGA are merging to “unify the game of golf.” The reconciliation between the two sworn enemies comes as a shock to many, including pro golfers like Collin Morikawa and Mackenzie Hughes, who found out about the deal on Twitter, just like you and me:

Stephen Carter asks the question that’s on everyone’s mind: What happens to the players who chose the moral high ground, rejecting the Saudi-backed tour by staying loyal to the PGA? In the end, money — not morals — won. Capitalism at work, baby! “The new entity might face lawsuits by golfers who believe they were hoodwinked by the PGA and left millions of dollars on the table,” he writes. But that won’t be the only legal issue afoot: The merger also rings a bajillion antitrust alarms in US and the UK.

Even if Saudi Arabia successfully navigates those lawsuits and gets the entire sport of golf within its grip, that won’t be the end. The Saudis will continue to try and buy out other sports franchises using the bottomless brunch money of its sovereign wealth fund. Whether they’ll be successful is another story. Money can’t buy them everything — including Lionel Messi. Just today, the football superstar declined to sign on with Saudi Arabia’s league, which offered him $400 million for a single season. Instead, Messi is opting to move to David Beckham’s Florida football club, Inter Miami. “It takes some nerve to say no to the reported $1 billion that the Saudis offered,” Juan Pablo Spinetto writes. But Messi’s decision to join the MLS could change the trajectory of American soccer as we know it. For authoritarian regimes, playing the game — and winning it — is clearly easier said than done.

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