“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.
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.
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.
The Crown Prince is nothing if not opportunistic, whether waiting until a dissident journalist enters the Istanbul consulate to have him dismembered or choosing an event with 20 club pros in the field to make his final pitch promising top players that they don’t have to share riches with also-rans.
On the eve of the 103rd PGA Championship, the chatter at Kiawah Island is less about potential winners of the year’s second major than a possible splintering of the (men’s) game if a sufficient number of elite players sign-on with the Saudi-financed Super League Golf for fees reported at $30 million or more. It’s a controversial concept that rumbled along for years in near-secrecy without gaining traction, but which seems now to be hurtling toward the decisive moment like an executioner’s sulthan.
A friend who knows him once told me that there are two Jay Monahans. “There’s Golf Jay and Hockey Jay,” he said of the mulish Boston native, “and you don’t want to meet Hockey Jay.”
It sounds as though it was Hockey Jay who addressed a meeting of PGA Tour players this week in Charlotte, at which the commissioner laid out in unambiguous terms the sanctions awaiting anyone who joins either of the splinter circuits promising gaudy sums in a bid to upend professional golf’s established order.