Somewhere deep in the bowels of the budget for LIV Golf, well below the lucrative prize funds and exorbitant gratuities to overlook the gratuitous, closer to the paltry media buys to induce velvety coverage, there should be a line item for diaper-changing facilities to be used by the increasingly infirm or dependably infantile who will occupy its locker rooms.
Take Sergio Garcia (“please,” quoth Henny Youngman). Garcia is not entirely a one-dimensional dipstick. He can on occasion be amiable and funny, but even at 42 he is proof that age and maturity are mutually exclusive. In Thursday’s first round of the Wells Fargo Championship, he demonstrated anew his tendency to process every inconvenience as an injustice.
After being informed—incorrectly, it later emerged—by a PGA Tour rules official that he had exhausted the time allotted to find his ball in a hazard, Garcia snapped. “I can’t wait to leave this tour,” he announced. “I can’t wait to get out of here.” He stomped around a while longer, then added: “A couple of more weeks, I don’t have to deal with you anymore.”
The luckless official must have felt like a bartender who denies service to a belligerent drunk only to hear that he’s taking his custom elsewhere.
The departure from the PGA Tour to which Garcia referred is assumed to mean his playing LIV Golf’s series of sportswashing tournaments financed by Saudi Arabia, which launches next month in the U.K. He didn’t confirm this himself—Garcia avoided media after his first and second rounds—but his agent acknowledged that he requested the required release from the PGA Tour to play the inaugural Saudi event near London.
Competing there doesn’t necessarily signal a break from the PGA Tour. Several members will go since the Tour long ago established a precedent allowing overseas money grabs. Playing the second Saudi event July 1-3 in Portland, Oregon, would be a different matter. Tour policy does not permit waivers for events held in the U.S. Members who defy that rule to play in Portland are explicitly choosing sides. Disciplinary action and protracted litigation would likely follow.
Garcia checks all of the traits common among players associated with the Saudi bid to hijack professional golf: best days are in the rearview, has accomplished all that seems likely in major championships, not playing well enough consistently to benefit from increased purses on the PGA Tour, not sufficiently well-liked to reap fan engagement bonuses, endowed with a stout sense of entitlement, and consumed with petty grievances (mostly imaginary).
Since he scissor-kicked his way to fame in 1999, Garcia has earned $54 million on the PGA Tour, but his career has been defined by petulance. To cite but a few instances: flinging his shoe into a gallery; spitting into a cup, leaving the loogey for those unfortunate groups behind him; flipping off fans (I’d forgive him that—Bethpage galleries were obnoxious); blaming bunker-rakers and unseen forces for his loss in the ’07 Open at Carnoustie; listlessly apologizing for a racially-charged crack about Tiger Woods; being DQ’d from the Saudi International in ’19 for intentionally damaging five greens by tomahawking his club.
Linger a moment on that last one: his conduct was once considered beyond the pale by the Saudis.
Garcia shares another attribute with his peers who are also heavy petting with the bonesaw enthusiasts: their absence from the PGA or DP World tours would scarcely be noticed. That’s the disconnect at the heart of the Saudi seduction. The sums offered by LIV Golf convince players they’re elite, but just entertaining the overture is acknowledgment that they’re not, that their ability to compete against the world’s best is greatly diminished, that they’ll trade a potential hall of fame berth for an assured spot in the hall of shame.
There might be a modicum more respect for honest players who admit to being motivated by money and untroubled by morality. Some, but not much. It’s still pertinent what players are willing to do for that cash, which is be stooges for the public relations agenda of a reprehensible regime. But in lieu of transparency we get execrable equivocations as they attempt to present greed as an act of public service.
In an interview with Jamie Weir of Sky Sports, Lee Westwood admitted the Saudis have issues—he almost said “problems” before catching himself—but insisted they are trying to improve. He didn’t itemize what he believes those issues are or offer evidence of the government’s progress, which would come as news to the human rights groups monitoring its abuses. Westwood went on to suggest that criticism directed toward the Kingdom stems in part from discomfort that the pace of change is too fast.
Whatever compensation scheme Westwood has negotiated, one hopes there’s a bonus for his willingness to debase himself in public by shoveling from that crock.
It’s preposterous to think the futures of the PGA or DP World tours would be impoverished by the loss to LIV Golf of Garcia and Westwood, or any of the others considering abetting Saudi sportswashing. It might even be considered a positive clearing of detritus. Whoever bolts in the coming weeks, it’s worth noting that both tours created the environment that spawned this situation—the DP World Tour by brazenly welcoming tin pot dictatorships to its schedule, and the PGA Tour by operating a nanny state that protects players’ public images from the consequences of their conduct, all in service of an Orwellian ‘These Guys Are Good’ mantra.
It took the Crown Prince to finally expose professional golf’s least admirable characters. Cynical fans might wish to applaud his willingness to take them off our hands.
Published at Golfweek.com, May 7, 2022.