Wiedmer: PGA Blinks First

  • Wednesday, June 7, 2023
  • Mark Wiedmer

Remember when Made in America was pretty much the gold standard for everything from cars to appliances to professional golf tours? Remember when your word was good for more than a week, a month, a year?

Well, when it comes to the PGA Tour, and especially its spineless, feckless commissioner Jay Monahan, so much for principles. And ethics. And honesty.

By now you’ve no doubt heard the stunning, shocking, numbing news that the PGA Tour, the DP World Tour and the highly controversial LIV Golf League are unifying .

Huh?

Wasn’t it this time a year ago at the 2022 Canadian Open that Monahan said of those golfers leaving the PGA Tour to join the Saudi Arabian-backed LIV Golf: “I think you’d have to be living under a rock not to know there are significant implications (regarding Saudi Arabia’s involvement in the 9/11 attacks). I would ask any player who has left (the PGA Tour) or any player who would consider leaving, ‘Have you ever had to apologize for being a member of the PGA Tour?”

While that was not always the first argument mentioned by Tour players for rejecting the outrageous LIV Tour money _ after all, a good number of them, including Tiger Woods, have taken appearance fee money in the millions of dollars to play in Saudi in tournaments and exhibitions _ such a stance did understandably resonate with many Americans.

It also earned much gratitude and support from the 9/11 Families United organization, a group of nearly 2,500 survivors of family members killed or injured in the terrorist attack of Sept. 11, 2001. A year ago, 9/11 Families United praised Monahan and PGA Tour members for, in their words, “standing up for decency.”

After Tuesday’s news that such a stance was apparently no longer applicable, 9/11 Families United’s Terry Strada released the following statement, which is sure to be echoed by many:

“PGA Commissioner Jay Monahan co-opted the 9/11 community last year in the PGA's unequivocal agreement that the Saudi LIV project was nothing more than sportswashing of Saudi Arabia's reputation. But now the PGA and Monahan appear to have become just more paid Saudi shills, taking billions of dollars to cleanse the Saudi reputation."

Apparently, when it comes to the Saudis and their money, at least where Monahan is concerned, what a difference a year makes. What’s the value of standing up for decency when you can broker a deal with Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) and Yasir Al-Rumayyan, the governor of the sovereign wealth fund?

Especially when the PIF is reportedly worth at least $607 billion.

But why? Especially now? LIV Golf member Brooks Koepka winning last month’s PGA Championship couldn’t have swayed Monahan’s previously honorable stance that much, could it?

"It's insanity," one anonymous PGA Tour player told ESPN. "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 just always take the money?"

Callum Tarren, the world’s 159th ranked player, told the Golf Channel: "It's disappointing being a PGA Tour member. The guys who've stayed loyal to the PGA Tour, it's kind of a kick in the teeth for them. Obviously, Rory McIlroy was a huge advocate of the PGA Tour, and now it looks like all of this hard work and sticking up for the PGA Tour was just left by the wayside."

All those assessments seem valid. And yet the PGA Tour still blinked first. It buckled. It caved in to an upstart tour that truly seemed to be dead in the water. Maybe the moral of the story really is to just always take the money.

You would like to think we were once better than that. At least when the National Football League and the American Football League merged, the AFL had proved it could beat the NFL on the field, winning the third and fourth Super Bowls after losing the first two.

Yes, Koepka won the PGA, but the LIV Tour wasn’t winning anywhere in the television ratings. It was a non-starter for everyone save the players swelling their bank accounts with Saudi money.

Yet now you have Al-Rumayyan not only joining the policy board of the PGA Tour, but also becoming chairman of the new commercial group created with this merger, with Monahan its CEO. Where Al-Rumayyan is concerned, is this not Exhibit A of allowing a fox into the hen house?

But now it’s presumably done, another victory for greed over creed.

It’s not that simple, of course. When the game’s all-time leader in major championships (18) says of this news, as Jack Nicklaus did on Tuesday in noting, “The last three years have been difficult for the game and the players. ... I agree that this is good for the game of golf,” perhaps we should all listen to the Golden Bear..

That doesn’t mean we have to agree with it. Only the naïve believe most of us don’t do business with the Saudis every day of our lives. If you buy gasoline, you’re helping fund the Saudis. You’re helping enable their deplorable human rights abuses. And just to be clear, when all this first came into question a year ago, numerous PGA sponsors were doing billions of dollars worth of business with Saudi companies yearly.

No, the problem here is that when he wanted to flatten LIV Golf and punish those such as Koepka, Dustin Johnson, Bryson DeChambeau and Phil Mickleson for defecting, Monahan was more than happy to bring up 9/11.

When he wanted everyone to applaud his 180-degree pivot from high standards to high finance, Monahan said on Tuesday: “I recognize that people are going to call me a hypocrite. I accept those criticisms, but circumstances do change.”

Circumstances aren’t what changed here. Monahan’s integrity and character, if he ever had any, are what has changed. To return to the 9/11 Families United argument, joining forces with LIV isn’t likely to cleanse the Saudi reputation, but it is all but certain to permanently soil whatever is left of Monahan’s.


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