HomeInvestmentLIV From the U.S. Open

LIV From the U.S. Open

Greed, dishonor, scandal and murder aren’t normally associated with the sport of golf. But golf, invented 500 years ago in Scotland, finds itself this week engulfed in a battle between its reputation for scandal-free fair play and Saudi Arabia’s oil money. The controversy is a parable for our tense, troubled times.

As part of Saudi Crown Prince

Mohammed bin Salman’s

plan to modernize the oil kingdom, the Saudi Arabia Investment Fund, valued at some $600 billion, has underwritten the new LIV Golf Invitational Series. Golf, a lucrative sport for nearly all players who make the PGA Tour—which was formed by the pro players themselves in the late 1960s—has never seen anything like the Saudis’ money. In fact, money is the only point.

Some 20 pro golfers—including

Phil Mickelson,

reportedly for a $200 million contract (he’s won $95 million on the PGA Tour alone)—have joined the Saudi league. Months ago, when it was rumored that Mr. Mickelson would jump to the Saudi enterprise, he accused the PGA of “greed” that was “beyond obnoxious.”

Former No. 1

Dustin Johnson

joined the Saudi LIV series for a reported upfront payment of $125 million. As a professional golfer, he has earned more than $74 million. In a statement, the 37-year-old Mr. Johnson said he is doing it “for my family.”

The moment the LIV tour teed up its first event in England last week, the PGA Tour suspended all the participating players for violating its competition regulations, including the eventual winner,

Charl Schwartzel,

who earned $4.75 million for winning the 54-hole event. LIV is the Roman numeral for 54. I guess the 54 Tour didn’t sound right.

Interpretations of greed aside, pro golfers are also ruminating on dishonor and murder primarily because of the crown prince’s alleged involvement in the killing of journalist

Jamal Khashoggi.

A group of 9/11 families also say the LIV golfers are complicit in a Saudi effort at “sportswashing,” such as China or Russia hosting the Olympics for reputational reasons.

Golf fan Midge Decter, the great conservative commentator, died last month at 94. Midge, who never avoided controversy, once told me that she and her husband, former Commentary editor

Norman Podhoretz,

often spent weekends watching golf, a Decter-Podhoretz avocation one might never have guessed. Midge said golf—with its physical beauty, pace and purity of competition—was a welcome respite.

Today, being over the top and going to extremes has become standard operating procedure in pretty much everything—politics, protests, meme stocks, self-identity, Netflix plots. Throughout, golf has been a reliable, understated constant. With the Saudi LIV league, it has joined the circus.

Saudi Arabia’s crown prince has been attempting to bring his country into the 20th century, notably easing restrictions on women participating in its economic and social life, including sports. Treatment of internal dissent can still be brutal.

But in the real world, life is complicated. Though

Joe Biden

called Saudi Arabia a “pariah,” the American president will travel there next month to ask the prince to pump more oil into a world of ruinous $5-a-gallon gasoline. And by the way, South Korea, today a paragon of golf, endured military dictatorships for years before stabilizing as a democracy.

If some pro golfers want to be the face of the Saudi LIV league, measuring their lives in nothing but money rather than testing their skills at a hard sport’s highest level—and for more than pocket change—that’s their business. As summed up exquisitely by

Justin Thomas,

a golfer who has been to his sport’s summit: “If you want to go, go.” He’s staying.

For the rest of us—participants or spectators, with or without LIV—golf will endure as it has for centuries. As it will when the U.S. Open begins Thursday at the Brookline, Mass., Country Club course, which hasn’t moved since 1882. As it did last week when the U.S.’s best amateur women golfers defeated Great Britain and Ireland in the Curtis Cup at suburban Philadelphia’s Merion Club (1912). And as it will with the British Open next month on Scotland’s Old Course at St. Andrews (1754).

Professional tennis is gradually replacing people with electronics to call balls in or out. Golf still has on-course officials interpreting arcane ball-location rules. Unlike in most sports, golfers quietly accept the rulings. At every level of the game, cheating remains the sport’s unforgivable sin.

Golf’s central act, the swing, permits no shortcuts to success, for novices or the Masters champion. Every strike of the ball is freighted with the possibility of failure. Let the club-face drift half an inch from perfect, and your ball may be in the woods.

So why has the difficult sport of golf survived and flourished—whether threatened by its frustrating physical challenges or Saudi oil money?

We know the answer because we learned it from Tevye in “Fiddler on the Roof”: Tradition! “Because of our traditions,” Tevye says, “we’ve kept our balance for many, many years.” Tradition’s balance ensures survival.

Almost anywhere you look, balance through tradition has fallen from fashion. Embattled golf may be tradition’s final bastion.

Write henninger@wsj.com.

Copyright ©2022 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved. 87990cbe856818d5eddac44c7b1cdeb8

Source link



Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

- Advertisment -

Most Popular

Recent Comments