With all that money they’ve been throwing around, you’d think that LIV Golf could hire a better PR team for all their new players.
I don’t know — maybe they don’t feel like they need it. Maybe the newest additions of Bryson DeChambeau and Patrick Reed demonstrate that the Saudis don’t feel the need to have their golfers defend them and want the names to do the talking. But really, it seems like not one of these guys was the least bit prepared to answer some tough questions that we all knew were coming. (Also, Phil Mickelson wore an Augusta National shirt with the logo drawn over in black marker to the first tournament, which is also just odd. Are they not giving these guys new gear?)
Yesterday, Ian Poulter and Lee Westwood refused to answer a reporter who asked whether they’d play in a tournament hosted by Vladimir Putin and the Russian government, for instance, or in apartheid South Africa. Poulter responded, “I don’t need to answer that question.” But to be fair, LIV is far from speculation, as the government-backed league’s first tournament tee’d off yesterday. It’s a question they should have been prepared for, but seemed taken aback by it, just as Taylor Gooch and Graeme McDowell did earlier this week. Simply asked where they draw a moral line, no one could give a prepared answer, because no one seems to have one.
Sure, they’re sticking to the talking points that LIV gave them — improving the product, growing the game, an exciting new format, the hope that the PGA will just let them play both (a hope that was utterly and decisively dashed yesterday after a statement from the PGA commissioner suspended all present and future golfers who play in LIV tournaments). But they’ve apparently received enough money that they haven’t thought about the questions they’re going to have to answer, and have been so blindsided by these reporters that Gooch literally told them he was too stupid to have a justification for his defection.
LIV is pushing this effort in sportswashing through by sheer force. No nuance, no light touch, no work-around excuses or even bullshit justifications. I mean, for god’s sake, Phil Mickelson straight up listed all of the horrible murderous things that the Saudi government has done, such as assassinating Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
But whether the product succeeds commercially isn’t really the question here. No one needs to like the golfers or think that they’re doing the right thing for the government to consider LIV a success. They just need to accept and normalize the product to a point where the golfers who join are no longer questioned.
We’re not even close to that point right now, as demonstrated by the unrelenting questions, but it poses an interesting hypothetical. What does a successful return on those hundreds of millions — in the end, billions — of dollars look like for the Saudi government? Surely, normalization and an exit out of their singular reputation for human rights abuses and into the sports world would help grow their nation’s economy in many ways outside of TV deals and tournament profits, especially as dependence on oil decreases across the world.
The golf is a means to an end, rather than a profitable venture in and of itself, which is why they don’t need to hire a better PR team to train the defecting golfers. It’s much bigger than Phil Mickelson or Bryson DeChambeau — they’re in it for the long haul. Golf tournaments with beloved Americans serving as the face of their efforts are a foot shoved into a doorway that has been propped open by oil sales for this long. The Saudis needed that foot. They won’t break down the door, but if the plan comes to fruition, they’ll wear people down into opening it.