“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.
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.”
In the run-up to the 2016 Ryder Cup, a friend of mine sat in a meeting during which a senior official on the American side wondered aloud about the possibility a U.S. team member might take a knee during the ceremonies. It was a laughable notion, as though the official believed Colin Kaepernick were protesting slow play or high taxes — those being the only issues on which PGA Tour players are apt to take a public stand.
That reality was reinforced last week as some of the world’s best golfers competed in the Saudi International, a tournament created solely to cast Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman’s regime in a positive light. The players received stout appearance fees, which was only fair since they had to navigate awkward questions about war crimes in Yemen and that bone saw murder in Istanbul. The payment was more for performing in the media than on the golf course, and the well-compensated chorus remained steady of voice all week.