The Saudis Aren’t Paying Players To Be Silent. We Must Listen For the Lies.

“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.

Continue reading “The Saudis Aren’t Paying Players To Be Silent. We Must Listen For the Lies.”

Saudi-Bound Golfers Brush Off Politics, But Stain Of Being Stooges Will Be Harder To Shake.

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.

Continue reading “Saudi-Bound Golfers Brush Off Politics, But Stain Of Being Stooges Will Be Harder To Shake.”

Let Golf’s Catch-All Cliché—’Grow The Game’—Die Of Shame In Saudi Arabia.

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.”

Continue reading “Let Golf’s Catch-All Cliché—’Grow The Game’—Die Of Shame In Saudi Arabia.”

Greg Norman’s Saudi Deal Says Nothing About The Future of Golf, But Plenty About Him.

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.

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The Match II: A Shark-Free Affair

It’s been 25 years since Medalist Golf Club last appeared on national television, when Shell’s Wonderful World of Golf pitted then-world No. 1 Nick Price against Greg Norman, the world No. 2 and founder of the newly opened club.

On May 24, the exclusive Florida enclave hosts another made-for-TV affair with Tiger Woods and Peyton Manning taking on Phil Mickelson and Tom Brady to raise funds for COVID-19 relief.

Just don’t expect to see Greg Norman anywhere.

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Quarantined, Revisiting Opens of Yore

In a week when we couldn’t make our way down a padlocked Magnolia Lane, homebound golf fans had to settle instead for memory lane.

Our guides were familiar broadcast voices, many of them — Pat Summerall, Ken Venturi — long stilled. Golf Channel re-aired the 1986 Masters, the Rosetta Stone of major championships that revealed the Sunday strengths of Jack Nicklaus and the comparative frailties even among Hall of Famers in the generation that followed him. Jack was winning too over on CBS, which gave us the epic ’75 Masters, in which he helped Tom Weiskopf and Johnny Miller add to what would ultimately be a combined seven silver salvers. More recent Masters tournaments were also dusted off: ’04, when Phil Mickelson broke his duck and Ernie Els’ heart, and ’19, when an approaching storm moved up tee times and saw Tiger Woods secure his fifth green jacket by Sunday lunchtime (his first jacket was pretty much sealed by Sunday lunchtime too, but that’s another story).

The retro weekend broadcasts — in addition to the Masters YouTube channel, which contains every final round dating back to 1968 — were a welcome fix for quarantined golf junkies who are otherwise denied until November by the COVID-19 crisis. But for me, two streams diverged in a locked down New York City apartment, and I took the one less clicked upon, at least in April. I opted for the only major tournament we know for certain won’t be played this year.

The Open Championship website has every official film since 1970 — Jack won that year too, of course — and it’s a delightful reservoir of the quaint and the quirky. In my quarantine viewing I elected to skip more recent Opens that remain reasonably fresh in the mind, despite the ample wine intake necessary to stomach small town British food those weeks. It’s earlier Opens, those from the ’70s and ’80s, that offer beguiling glimpses of a time when even major golf was less corporate, and pleasant reminders of players long forgotten because they’re either dead or just not brand-building on InstaGrift.

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Greg Norman at Turnberry in 1986.

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Tiger Roars, Others Whimper at Masters

On the second Sunday in April every year, Augusta National feels less like a golf course than an operating table, upon which men are laid bare and probed for frailties not readily apparent to the naked eye. And no facility in the world does a more thorough job of diagnosing a faint heart, a deficit of intestinal fortitude, an absence of daring.

Those aren’t ailments that will appear on an X-ray or a doctor’s chart, but the final round of the Masters routinely exposes each and every one of them.

Of course, the recent vulnerabilities of Tiger Woods have been more obvious: physical injury, swing woes, personal turmoil — each a test more daunting than anything Amen Corner can pose. By comparison, the crucible of the back nine on Sunday afternoon at the Masters must have seemed a welcome relief.

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Zurich Classic Brings Spice Tour Badly Needs

This week’s port of call on the PGA Tour showcases what golf needs more of, as surely as last week’s stop represented what it has too much of.

The Zurich Classic went to a two-man team format in 2017, becoming the first team event on Tour since 1981. The innovations continue this week as each team selects first-tee walk-up music on the weekend. Assuming Kevin Na doesn’t need an entire symphony before actually hitting the ball, this further enhances the cool vibe in New Orleans.

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Rory’s Grand Slam Dream Far From Over

Two things tend to blight sporting careers with a bleak predictability: unforeseen injury and untethered expectations. The psychological toxicity often comes not from the aspirations of the athlete – since those can be managed or adjusted – but from the expectations he cannot control: those of others, the insistent chorus that chirps today about his tremendous potential and tomorrow about his dismal underachieving.

That chorus must now be as familiar a feature of spring as the first birdsong for Rory McIlroy.

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The Agony of Augusta National

Heartbreak at the Masters is like a doomed first love affair, the one whose ache never quite dulls. Sure, players can go on to find love in other places — the Opens, a PGA Championship — but the pain of a loss at Augusta National doesn’t ever fully disappear.

Some of that is owed to familiarity. As the Open returns to Carnoustie this summer, Jean Van De Velde will field a flurry of calls to autopsy his 1999 collapse. But at least the Frenchman only has to relive his fiasco every decade or so when the rota returns to the scene of le horreur.

Fail at Augusta National and the ghosts will start whispering every year on the drive down Magnolia Lane.

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Curtis Strange found the water twice on the closing holes in the 1985 Masters at Augusta National.

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Play It Again, Sam (& Co.)

Yesterday I posted a photo on Twitter that seemed of interest to many people, though admittedly fewer than were drawn to Mrs. Kanye’s latest overexposed selfie.

It was a handwritten fax I had received from the great Sam Snead. That it was a fax dates the document almost as much as the identify of its author. Snead died May 23, 2002, four days shy of his 90th birthday.

The single page—sent at 6:34 P.M. on July 14, 2000—recounts the eight strokes Snead took on the last hole to lose the 1939 United States Open at Philadelphia Country Club. Sixty-one years had passed and the wound was no less fresh.

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