“Obvious lies serve a purpose for an administration,” wrote Garry Kasparov, the chess great and courageous critic of Vladimir Putin. “They watch who challenges them and who loyally repeats them. The people must watch, too.”
We are entering a week in which golf fans will be inundated with obvious lies from the Saudi International, peddled by players exhibiting all the sincerity of $20 hustlers trying to say it like they mean it.
“I’m trying to grow the game.”
“They are trying to change here.”
“I’m just here to play golf.”
“I want to compete against the best.”
“I’m not a politician.”
The ashamed might at least look uneasy in their prevarications. The shameless will be all thumbs-up and duplicitous grins. And everyone will depart the Kingdom richer, but only in cash terms. This effort to launder the Saudi regime’s grotesque reputation will soil that of many others.
Golf has long been burdened with clichés that are more heavily trafficked than the 405 at rush hour, and yet the sport’s lingua franca manages to grow still more insipid and hollow by the day.
To our catalog of greatest hits—‘One shot at a time,’ ‘Take dead aim,’ and ‘Growing the game’—we can now add ‘Not a politician,’ the deflection of choice among professional golfers competing at next month’s Saudi International.
There is much to welcome in the announcement that the purse for this year’s U.S. Women’s Open will increase to $10 million, not least that it’s a rare example of riches being promised professional golfers from sources other than a murderous regime. After years of golf’s great and good proving themselves content to sign expressions of noble sentiment about investing in the women’s game, they are finally signing checks.
The U.S. Women’s Open prize fund is almost doubling from $5.5 million, with a commitment to further raise it to $12 million within five years. The R&A has said the purse for the 2022 AIG Women’s Open will be at least $6.8 million, more than twice what it was just four years ago. And Chevron will boost prize money by 60 percent when it debuts in April as title sponsor of the LPGA’s first major, still fondly known as the Dinah Shore, though it’s had more name changes than Zsa Zsa Gabor (Google her, kids).
But Friday’s blockbuster reveal by the USGA’s CEO, Mike Whan, has implications beyond the bank account of the last-standing lady who leaves Pine Needles with $1.8 million in June. Not least for Whan’s organization itself.
As we balance the ledger for 2021, it seems assured that a handful of the year’s most memorable moments will have impact that extends far beyond the confines of the calendar.
Like Hideki Matsuyama’s Masters win, and its promise of inspiring a generation of Asian talent. Or Phil Mickelson’s improbable major championship victory at age 50, setting a new benchmark for elderly excellence. Or Tiger Woods’ car wreck, which cast in stark relief the impermanence of lives and careers, and which summoned a raw appreciation both for what he has gifted us and for whatever his battered body will permit henceforth.
But 2021 was also a year in which even the most stubborn of ostriches had to lift their heads and concede that golf doesn’t exist in a vacuum, that like every sport it is inextricably entwined with the wider world, and that reminders of this fact are often jarring. The painful lessons we learned in ’21 will not conclude with the demise of December.
As a working rule, press conferences by PGA Tour players are seldom fertile ground for philosophical treatises, but even against that beggarly standard Bubba Watson managed to produce a veritable bingo card of bullshit in which no box went unchecked.
Watson was speaking at the QBE Shootout, the title of which is now off-brand since its host, Greg Norman, went to work for a regime that prefers bonesaws to bullets (the “QBE Dismemberment” would be a tough hospitality sell). The two-time Masters champion—Watson, obviously, not Norman—was addressing his intent to compete at February’s Saudi International. More out of credulousness than chicanery, I suspect, Bubba delivered as upbeat and varied an explanation as seems possible from a man abetting the normalization of a merciless regime.
He cited his love of travel (a revelation to those who recall his previously voiced disinterest in France and the British Isles), the Saudi financing for women’s golf, helping tourism in the region, the beautiful beaches, a desire to see God’s (his, not theirs) creation and charity.
“They’re trying to change,” he said earnestly of his hosts. It was, he added, all about “trying to grow the game.”
Las Vegas exists to distort reality, whether briefly enough to separate cocksure gamblers from their chip stacks or long enough to market a bejeweled Liberace as every housewife’s dream. So it was with The Match, in which two men who share a genuine antipathy circled each other like a pair of chummy middle managers at a company holiday party, exchanging compliments that made up in diplomacy what they lacked in sincerity, and betraying nothing more belligerent than an eye-roll.
Bryson DeChambeau and Brooks Koepka conducted themselves as any two strangers randomly paired for a Friday game might, piloting separate carts and saying little beyond “Nice putt” and “That’s good.” The last time Vegas witnessed two high-profile men be so taciturn about their common business, Bugsy Siegel and Meyer Lansky were running the Strip.
A homily popular among PGA Tour members is that they eat only what they kill, and that unlike other athletes they must perform to get paid. It’s never actually been true, at least for the top players—sponsors incentivize excellence, but they don’t withhold payment for missed cuts—and certainly not in this era of the Player Impact Program and the coming guaranteed money events, both of which will compensate regardless of on-course results.
Professional golf is a club whose members can feast on past glories long after they’ve started cashing social security checks. That’s why the PGA Tour Champions exists. It’s an honorarium masquerading as competition. Only the middle and lower ranks of PGA Tour players subsist on what they butcher with birdies. And yet there are some who would see those guys go hungrier still.
The silence that greeted the Ladies European Tour playing in Saudi Arabia this week—at least relative to the censure faced by men who do the same—reflects two realities: the inattention given women’s golf in general and the LET in particular, and the principle that everyone bails water on a sinking ship.
Since it took the Saudis almost 10 years to sign a player to their global golf ambitions, we might have expected someone more compelling than a 66-year-old retiree a quarter-century beyond his prime, whose unquenchable thirst for relevance has been laid (literally) bare-arsed on social media with an undignified frequency.
For someone who just a few years ago was perilously proximate to a federal insider trading prosecution, Phil Mickelson has developed a commendable interest in regulatory processes.
This week he’s been in a Twitter snit about a new rule announced by the game’s governing bodies that would reduce the maximum length of a club from 48 inches to 46. That’s about 1.5 inches shorter than Mickelson’s typical gamer driver and shorter still than one he used to win a sixth major championship in May.
“Stupid is as stupid does,” he acerbically tweeted, echoing a well-worn adage from Forrest Gump’s momma. “Really though, are the amateurs trying their best to govern the professional game the stupid ones? Or the professionals for letting them?”
Who among us can’t empathize with an aging stag shorn of shaft length as he tries to keep up with the young bucks? But note how Mickelson repeatedly disparages the governing body’s staff as stupid people doing stupid things. You’d be forgiven for assuming it must have been the USGA’s CEO, Mike Whan, who was taken for $500,000 by a mobbed-up Michigan bookie, or that it was his secretary who hit a moving ball in a U.S. Open then tried to brazen it out as clever strategy.
As job security goes, PGA Tour caddies enjoy about as much of it as Kim Jong Un’s inner circle, and often alongside an equally capricious man with absolute authority. Only in the manner of their dismissal do caddies have an edge on the Pyongyang cognoscenti.
The attributes Tour players seek in a wingman are as personal as fingerprints. Some require only punctuality and an accurate yardage. Others need more — help reading putts or pulling clubs or being talked off a ledge. There are players who want a friend on the bag, or a proxy psychologist or simply someone to blame. Good caddies know what the boss wants and mold accordingly. And if they’re successful, they’ll gain a solid enough reputation to get another bag when he fires them.
A consequence of runaway victories in the Ryder Cup is that the post-mortem commences before the deceased has officially even hit the slab, and so it is with the European team that seems likely destined for defeat Sunday at Whistling Straits.
For all of the uncertainties surrounding the 43rd Ryder Cup — Will Brooks and Bryson bond amid a bruising battle, à la Rocky and Apollo Creed? Will an aggrieved Mrs. Reed use her J-Anon Twitter account to strafe those who forsook her man? — there is one guarantee: regardless of the outcome, Steve Stricker and Padraig Harrington are both out of a job when the closing ceremony concludes.
For one of them, it will be the price of failure. For the other, a bum’s rush despite a job well done.
Two men who will be out of a job after the Ryder Cup.
Jay Monahan earns around $4 million a year, which easily qualifies him as America’s most well-compensated babysitter. Yet it might barely exceed the hourly minimum wage given all of the extra work the PGA Tour commissioner just created for himself.