PGA’s shameful merger with Saudi Arabia’s LIV Golf proves nothing matters except money

In his latest monologue, Edge of Sports host Dave Zirin takes PGA to task for its planned merger with LIV Golf, a former competitor funded by the Saudi Arabian monarchy.

The following is a rushed transcript and may contain errors. A proofread version will be made available as soon as possible.

Dave Zirin: And now I’ve got some choice words about Saudi Arabia chowing down and digesting the willing meal that is the Professional Golfers Association Tour.

Okay, look, there was a time in the way distant past; let’s call it May; when the official position of the PGA Tour was that its competitor, the Saudi-backed golf tour known as LIV, was a scandalous, even-odious operation.

Referring to Saudi Arabia’s horrific human rights record, PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan said just last year, “You’d have to be living under a rock to not understand the implications of involving yourself with the Saudis.” But Monahan’s strong comment is now just a reminder that pencils have erasers.

In news that was initially shocking; but upon reflection, really isn’t show shocking at all; the PGA Tour announced that it will permanently merge with the LIV Tour. As Monahan said, “The game of golf is better for what we’ve done today.”

Gee, does this mean that Monahan is now living under a rock? If anything, he has come out into the sunlight from beneath his rock, to say that he does understand the implications of involving himself with the Saudis. And those implications are wealth beyond his wildest dreams.

The Saudi Crown Prince, known as MBS, is promising to invest billions of petro dollars in this merger. In return, the PGA Tour is dropping all litigation against LIV for raiding its talent. And the PGA Tour will get a new name that is at least jointly approved by the Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who has spearheaded a massive crackdown on dissent in the kingdom, and pursued a war in Yemen that has resulted in one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world.

Now way, way back, when the PGA Tour was still protesting LIV’s existence, its leaders claimed to be standing beside 9/11 Families United, which continues to demand, among other things, information about all the nations, especially Saudi Arabia, that helped the hijackers who flew the planes into the towers and Pentagon.

9/11 Families United’s response to the news of the PGA Tour-LIV merger is scathing. It reads in part: “Our entire 9/11 community has been betrayed by Commissioner Monahan and the PGA, as it appears their concern for our loved ones was merely window dressing in their quest for money.”

ESPN quoted an anonymous PGA Tour player who said of the day’s news, “It’s insanity. The LIV Tour was dead in the water. It wasn’t working. Now you’re throwing them a life jacket? Is the moral of the story to always take the money?”

Well, yeah. The moral reminds what Danny DeVito said in the movie Heist: “Everybody needs money. That’s why they call it money.”

This announcement, I would argue, is best understood as the latest win in the Saudi kingdom’s game of sports-washing, that is using sports as a shiny bauble to legitimize authoritarian regimes, and distract from the regime’s human rights abuses.

And we got to say, it isn’t surprising that Saudi Arabia would find a willing participant in the PGA Tour: a right-wing, good-old-boy organization, steeped in a good-old-boy brand of racism, sexism, and plantation nostalgia.

Now it will happily re-embrace golfers it branded as traitors, literally, for leaving for LIV, such as Phil Mickelson, who took $200 million of Saudi money to leave the PGA Tour. At the time he took that nine-figure check, Mickelson said, and I quote, “The Saudis are scary mother bleepers to get involved with.”

Referring to Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi citizen; who wasn’t just killed, but beheaded and dismembered with a bone saw; Mickelson said, “We know they killed Khashoggi, and have a horrible record on human rights. They execute people over there for being gay. Knowing all of this, why would I even consider it? Because this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reshape how the PGA Tour operates.”

Now, Mickelson later apologized for these comments: not to the Khashoggi family, and not to LGBTQ people. He apologized to the Saud Royal Family.

The PGA Tour’s lack of human rights principles should surprise only the most naive among us. This is an organization that of course had a soft spot for Donald Trump. But then, of course, Trump also threw his lot in with the LIV Tour as part of his greasy charm offensive towards the Saudi Royal Family.

Part of the price for getting close to the family was ignoring the murder of Khashoggi. And in return, LIV sent several tournaments to Trump-owned clubs. And a Saudi sovereign wealth fund, led by the crown prince, invested 2 billion in Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner’s new private equity firm just six months after Trump left office. Disgusting.

What’s particularly depressing about this episode is that last year Trump presciently, it must be said, mocked to the golfers who stayed with the PGA Tour and got on their high horses about Saudi human rights abuses. I want to read Trump’s words, painful though it may be.

He wrote on Truth Social, his idiotic social media page, “All those golfers who remain loyal to the very disloyal PGA in all its different forms will pay a big price when the inevitable merger with LIV comes, and you get nothing but a big thank you from PGA officials who are making millions of dollars a year. If you don’t take the money now, you’ll get nothing after the merger takes place, and only say how smart the original signees were.”

Now, that unnamed PGA Tour player we quoted earlier … who asked whether the moral of this story is to always just take the money … In Trump’s view, clearly that answer is “Yes.” Only suckers look past the money to focus on the blood on the floor.

That thinking has now won the day among the PGA Tour brass. These are the politics of golf, writ clear and writ large. Authoritarian, angered at the thought of social responsibility, hostile to progress, and always looking for some big whale to suck up to, with no regard to nationality or body count.

Shame on any of us who thought this could have ended up in any way other than the Saudi Arabian Royal Family gobbling up professional men’s golf, while the ham-faced PGA Tour fat cats look away from Saudi atrocities, and count the cash. Unreal, except all too real.


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