News, Culture & Society

LIV GOLF INVITATIONAL SERIES Q&A: Why is the divisive Saudi tour controversial with its £180m pot

After all the controversy surrounding it, the inaugural event of the LIV Golf Invitational Series will finally take place on Thursday.

The Centurion Club in St Albans is the setting for golf’s divisive talking point, where the likes of former world No 1 Dustin Johnson and European Ryder Cup heroes like Sergio Garcia and Lee Westwood will be taking part.

Sportsmail provides a lowdown on the golf’s new rebel tour and the how and why it’s caused such a friction within the sport.

The controversial LIV Golf Invitational Series begins on Thursday at the Centurion Club

What’s the background to the tour?

You can go back to 1994 from when discussions about a new breakaway golf tour were first declared. That was by Greg Norman (more on him to come) with the former world No 1 proposing his own World Golf Tour – a lucrative, eight-field event that would showcase the game’s best players.

However, that idea never came to fruition. Fast-forward 25 years and the current framework for the now LIV Golf Invitational Series began.

In January 2020, PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan warned that any player who joined a rival league would face a suspension and possibly a lifetime one.

‘If the Team Golf Concept [one of the other names used by the PGL] or another iteration of this structure becomes a reality in 2022 or at any time before or after, our members will have to decide whether they want to continue to be a member of the PGA Tour or play on a new series,’ he wrote in a statement.

Monahan’s foresight was correct as June 9, 2022 sees the start of LIV Golf Invitational Series.

The PGA and DP World Tours have rejected requests from players to compete at Centurion Club in St Albans on Thursday and golfers who do feature could face bans. 

Greg Norman has finally got his wish of a breakaway league - 28 years after first planning one

Greg Norman has finally got his wish of a breakaway league – 28 years after first planning one

The controversies?

Let’s address the elephant in the room. The reason why so many are against it is because of who is backing the £1.6billion rebel league. Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, the majority owners of Newcastle United, have links to their government and have been accused of sportswashing. On March 12, 81 men were executed in Saudi Arabia – with Amnesty International declaring it signalled an ‘appalling escalation in Saudi Arabia’s use of the death penalty’.

Norman, who is now the CEO of LIV Golf Invitational Series, has defended those accusations insisting that Saudi Arabia is ‘changing their culture within their country’ in May. He also declared: ‘I do not answer to Saudi Arabia. I do not answer to their government or MBS’.

Phil Mickelson (another who we will profile in a bit more detail lower down) had to apologise for comments he made about the breakaway series in February. The 51-year-old American described the Saudis as ‘scary m************’ and said he was well aware of Saudi Arabia’s ‘horrible record on human rights’ – including the murder of Washington Post reporter Jamal Khashoggi – in an interview with the author of a forthcoming biography.

Yet he added that working with the Saudis was a ‘once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reshape how the PGA Tour operates’ by creating a new series of tournaments with a different format. 

Phil Mickelson described the Saudis as 'scary m************' but has since signed up to the tour

Phil Mickelson described the Saudis as ‘scary m************’ but has since signed up to the tour

So, who has signed up?

Johnson is the biggest and most surprising name to have signed up so far. The former world No 1 had pledged his loyalty to the PGA Tour in February but clearly enough money was thrown his way to make switching allegiance worthwhile.

Johnson, who announced that he has resigned from the PGA Tour on Tuesday, is expected to have been offered around £100million to sign up – a figure Bryson DeChambeau rejected, as revealed by Sportsmail.

On Monday it was announced that Mickelson would be joining Johnson as part of the rebel league. The American hasn’t been seen on the PGA Tour since late January. His comments in February (see the above section) provoked a huge backlash and Mickelson apologised amid considerable criticism. He disappeared from public view and missed both the Masters in April and the defensive of his title at the US PGA Championship last month.

However, Mickelson will join a 48-man field that also includes two-time major winner Johnson and European Ryder Cup stars such as Garcia, Westwood, Ian Poulter, Graeme McDowell and Martin Kaymer.

Overall the field includes seven major champions with a combined 14 major titles, as well as three former world No 1 ranked players and 27 of the top 150 golfers in the world.

Graeme McDowell has joined Johnson and Mickelson in joining the LIV Golf Invitational Series

Graeme McDowell has joined Johnson and Mickelson in joining the LIV Golf Invitational Series

ENTRANTS FOR FIRST LIV GOLF INVITATIONAL SERIES EVENT 

Dustin Johnson (USA)

Phil Mickleson (USA)

Kevin Na (USA) 

Talor Gooch (USA)

Sihwan Kim (USA)

Chase Koepka (USA)

Andy Ogletree (USA)

Turk Pettit (USA)

James Piot (USA)

Hudson Swafford (USA)

Peter Uihlein (USA)

Sergio Garcia (ESP)

Pablo Larrazabal (ESP)

Adrian Otaegui (ESP)

David Puig (ESP)

Martin Kaymer (GER)

Graeme McDowell (NIR)

Ian Poulter (ENG)

Lee Westwood (ENG)

Richard Bland (ENG)

Laurie Canter (ENG)

Oliver Fisher (ENG)

Sam Horsfield (ENG)

Louis Oosthuizen (RSA)

Oliver Bekker (RSA)

Hennie Du Plessis (RSA)

Branden Grace (RSA)

Justin Harding (RSA)

Shaun Norris (RSA)

JC Ritchie (RSA)

Charl Scwartzel (RSA)

Ian Snyman (RSA)

Matt Jones (AUS)

Jediah Morgan (AUS)

Wade Ormsby (AUS)

Travis Smyth (AUS)

Blake Windred (AUS)

Kevin Yuan (AUS) 

Hideto Tanihara (JPN)

Ryosuke Kinoshita (JPN) 

Jinichiro Kozuma (JPN)

Itthipat Buranatanyarat (THA) 

Ratchanon Chantananuwat (THA)

Sadom Kaewkanjana (THA)

Phachara Khongwatmai (THA) 

Viraj Madappa (IND) 

Scott Vincent (ZIM) 

Bernd Wiesberger (AUT)

Who has rejected it?

Take your pick of star names by looking at who is remains on the PGA and DP World Tours. As mentioned above, DeChambeau has rejected the advances of the Saudi-backed money to remain on the PGA Tour.

Rory McIlroy has been a vocal critic and speaking about the field for Thursday’s event he didn’t pull no punches.

‘I certainly don’t think the field is anything to jump up and down about,’ the four-time major winner said last week.

‘Look at the field this week [at the Memorial Tournament]. Look at the field next week in Canada. They are proper golf tournaments.

‘I have some very close friends that are playing in this event and I certainly wouldn’t want to stand in their way for them to do what they feel is right for themselves.

‘It’s certainly not something I would do personally. But I certainly understand why some of the guys have gone.’

Rory McIlroy has been a big critic and feels the field is nothing to 'jump up and down about'

Rory McIlroy has been a big critic and feels the field is nothing to ‘jump up and down about’

What about Tiger Woods?

On Monday, Norman revealed that 15-time major winner Tiger Woods had turned down a figure approaching $1billion (£800m) to join the Saudi golf revolution.

Underlining the seemingly limitless wealth the Saudis are prepared to pour into golf, Norman revealed negotiations with Tiger’s representatives. 

‘Woods turned down a deal that was mind-blowingly enormous; we’re talking about high nine digits,’ he claimed.

Tiger Woods rejected a reported £800m offer to join the lucrative but rebel Saudi-backed tour

Tiger Woods rejected a reported £800m offer to join the lucrative but rebel Saudi-backed tour

OK, so now to the golf. What’s the format?

There will be eight LIV Golf events this year – with the first seven a regular season where players will compete as individuals and teams for both points and prize money. At the end of those seven events, an Individual Champion will be crowned based on points accumulated throughout the season. The eighth and final event will be the season-ending Team Championship match play event.

The competitions are to be played over 54 holes rather than the standard 72 with groups teeing off simultaneously on different holes in a ‘shotgun’ start. The name LIV is Roman numerals for 54 – hence the format too.

The tournaments will all be traditional stroke play, with whoever shoots the lowest score winning the tournament. There will be no cut from the event either – ensuring that no golfer goes home early too.

The player with the most ranking points after the seven events will be named the Individual Champion.

For the team events, it’s a bit more nuanced. Over the first two rounds, the best two stroke play scores will count for each team. For the third and final round, the best three scores will count, with the lowest overall team score after 54 holes being named the team winner.

The Team Championship will be the eighth and final event of the season. This will be a seeded four-day, four-round, match play knock-out.

You’ve explained the Team Championship format, but who decides that?

The LIV Golf Invitational Series will feature 12 teams of four players each. Since each event will be made up of a different field, teams will be decided via a draft the week of each event. Each team will have a LIV appointed team captain who will select their three open team positions via a snake draft format.

To differentiate it further, each team will have unique logos, colors, and names.

As well as deciding individual winners at each event, the Saudi tour will also have team events

As well as deciding individual winners at each event, the Saudi tour will also have team events

Let’s talk figures, how much money will players earn?

The first seven events all have a prize purse of £20.2m, with £16m of that being spread across the 48-man field.

The remaining £4.2m difference will be shared between the between the top three teams at the end of each week – with £2.4m to the winners, £1.2m to second and £600,000 to third.

Every player is guaranteed at least £96,000 just for completing 54 holes. That figure is for whoever comes last (or 48th) in the field.

The individual winner will make £3.2m – £1m more than Scottie Scheffler for his victory at The Masters and Justin Thomas secured for his PGA Championship earlier this year.

An Individual Champion will be crowned at the end of those events, with a £24m fund given to the the top three players of the season, on the basis they compete in at least four of the tournaments.

For the season finale in Miami, the prize pot doubles with £40.4m allocated between each of the 12 four-man teams. Each player receives a 25 per cent cut of team earnings, with £12.8m awarded to the winning team and £800,000 for the team finishing 12th (or last).

Talk to me about the Centurion Club then?

Opened in 2013, the Centurion Club golf course is 7,100 yards in total. Johnson, Mickelson and Co will be tested by the 80 bunkers and will also have to contend with four major water features.

The Centurion Club in St Albans is 7,100 yards, has 80 bunkers and four major water features

The Centurion Club in St Albans is 7,100 yards, has 80 bunkers and four major water features

Where are future events taking place this year?

After St Albans, the league heads to Pumpkin Ridge GC – Portland, USA (June 30-July 2), Trump National Golf Club – Bedminster, USA (July 29-31), The Oaks – Boston, USA (September 2-4), Rich Harvest Farms – Chicago, USA (September 16-18), Stonehill Golf Club – Bangkok, Thailand (October 7-9), Royal Greens Golf Club – Jeddah, Saudi Arabia (October 14-16) and then Trump National Doral – Miami, USA (October 27-30). 

How does the calendar for 2023 and beyond look?

Next year, the tour plans to expand to 10 events and then becoming a 14-event league from 2024. However, dates and locations for either haven’t been confirmed as of yet. 

Anything else to note?

As ever is the increasing case with sporting events (see the Champions League final) there will be live music performed around the Centurion Club.

It was announced on Monday that LIV Golf will stage a three-night concert at the Centurion Club including stars James Bay, Melanie C (DJ Set), Jessie J, Craig David, James Morrison and John Newman.

Describing it as ‘Apres Golf’ it will be a nightly free concert.

Jessie J’s inclusion hasn’t been lost by some fans on social media – due to her 2011 hit single ‘Price Tag’.

Her first verse includes the lyrics ‘Seems like everybody’s got a price, I wonder how they sleep at night, When the sale comes first and the truth comes second, Just stop for a minute and smile’ – raising ironic smiles from those against this rebel tour and it’s concept.

Jessie J will be performing as part of free night-time concerts and has a song called Price Tag

The lyrics to Price Tag

Jessie J will be performing as part of free night-time concerts and has a song called Price Tag

‘He sold his soul to the devil’: Dustin Johnson and Graeme McDowell are branded ‘absolutely despicable’ and ‘lowlifes’ by furious golf fans after they shamelessly tried to justify taking Saudi Arabia’s ‘blood money’ to join rebel series

By Will Griffee

Furious golf fans have taken to social media in their droves to slam the ‘absolutely despicable’ Dustin Johnson and other ‘lowlife’ golfers for their participation in the Saudia Arabia-backed LIV Golf Invitational Series.

A number of the world’s top players have chosen to jump ship from the PGA Tour in favour of the massively lucrative and controversial new competition. 

Many view the it as the latest transparent attempt from Saudi Arabia to improve their global image and mask numerous human rights issues by using sport.

American golfer Johnson announced he has resigned from the PGA Tour and sparked an angry response online for his reasoning at joining the Saudi Arabia-backed competition

American golfer Johnson announced he has resigned from the PGA Tour and sparked an angry response online for his reasoning at joining the Saudi Arabia-backed competition

The two-time major champion is part of the new breakaway Saudi-led series, the LIV Golf Invitational Series, which starts this week in St Albans

The two-time major champion is part of the new breakaway Saudi-led series, the LIV Golf Invitational Series, which starts this week in St Albans 

As a former World No 1, Johnson is the jewel in the crown of the breakaway group and spoke at a press conference on Tuesday, explaining his decision while officially confirming his resignation from the PGA Tour.

‘I don’t want to play for the rest of my life, this gives me an opportunity to do what I want to do,’ he explained. 

His participation means he will be unable to play in the Ryder Cup and he added: ‘The Ryder Cup is unbelievable and has meant a lot to me, but ultimately I decided this was best for me and my family.

‘All things are subject to change and hopefully at some point it will change and I will get a chance to do that again.’ 

Golf fans were infuriated by what they saw as a clear cash grab from Johnson and the other players taking part, including Phil Mickelson. 

Johnson said back in February that he was committed to the PGA Tour, but has done a U-turn

Johnson said back in February that he was committed to the PGA Tour, but has done a U-turn

One wrote: ‘Dustin Johnson you are now an official sports washer. Congratulations. Don’t care where the money comes from.’

Another added: ‘I don’t want to have to play golf all my life’ – Dustin Johnson. F***ing Hell Dustin, you’re not going down the pit! I’d ban the 3 of them from every major for 10 years.’

‘Shame on you for taking blood oil money over giving the chance for real young golfers the opportunity to watch and play with you……really are an example of an American buffoon you are,’ wrote a third. 

Johnson is the second golfer to resign from the PGA Tour to join the contentious new event which is bankrolled by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF).

Fellow American Kevin Na said he had also chosen that option last week.

Another irate fan referred to the murdered Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who was a royal family insider turned critic, killed and dismembered at the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul in October 2018, in a case that tarnished the reputation of de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

McDowell came in for plenty of flak for his responses during the press conference

McDowell came in for plenty of flak for his responses during the press conference

He wrote: ‘You think being involved with The Saudi’s is what is best for your family? You know they murdered a reporter and dismembered him right?? Good luck with that and enjoy there blood money!

Graeme McDowell is another player who has committed to play and was also targeted for criticism. 

‘At one time thought McDowell was someone I would admire bit no longer after he sold his soul to the devil. Not surprised at Phil or DJ though,’ posted a supporter.

‘Aw man, McDowell is playing for the Saudi Arabian dictatorship sportswashing mission! Imagine, I had respect for him’, offered another.

Phil Mickelson will play the opening event of the Saudi-backed LIV Golf Invitational Series

Phil Mickelson will play the opening event of the Saudi-backed LIV Golf Invitational Series

The 42-year-old Northern Irishman bizarrely compared the competition to Twenty20 cricket at Tuesday’s press conference.

He said: ‘There’s space in the game for something fresh and new. Shorter playing windows kind of like Twenty20 cricket if you like. We look at the cricket model and we look at the success they’ve had with the IPL and the Twenty20 and there’s a lot of what we’re trying to do here that we feel like it’s better for the fan, it’s better for the players. 

‘It is something fresh and fun and it has been energising to have this opportunity in front of us, it has been incredibly polarising but no we’re here and I’m looking forward to getting balls in the air.’ 

While the following players were namechecked by another disappointed onlooker.

‘The willingness of wealthy pro golfers to help the Saudis sportswash their abysmal human rights record is rooted firmly in greed. I am saddened by you all: Greg Norman Phil Mickelson Dustin Johnson Lee Westwood Ian Poulter Sergio García Graeme McDowell.’

Tiger Woods turned down the chance to join the rebel group in a blow to the competitio

Woods turned down the chance to join the rebel group in a blow to the competition

The term ‘lowlifes’ was used in one message: ‘Graeme McDowell justifies taking money from murderers by them by saying theyre just golfers but hopefully #SaudiArabia will use #LIVGolf to better themselves even mentioning the murder of #Khashoggi. Soon after all are laughing & just saying they cant add anything else. Lowlifes.’

The first tournament takes place on the outskirts of London on Thursday at Centurion Club. 

Players such as Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods have taken a firm stance against the breakaway group, which has proved to be incredible controversial. 

The first seven events all have a prize purse of £20million, with £16m being distributed between the 48-man field and the remaining £4m being shared between the top three teams at the end of each week.

***
Read more at DailyMail.co.uk