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A speaker addressed protestors at an Earth Day rally in Schenley Plaza on Monday.
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A speaker addressed protestors at an Earth Day rally in Schenley Plaza on Monday.
‘Reclaim Earth Day’ protest calls for Pitt to divest from fossil fuels
By Kyra McCague, Staff Writer • April 24, 2024
Stephany Andrade: The Steve Jobs of education
By Thomas Riley, Opinions Editor • April 24, 2024
The best cafés to caffeinate and cram for finals
By Irene Castillo, Senior Staff Writer • April 22, 2024

Opinion | Golf is in for an upheaval

K.H.+Lee%2C+of+South+Korea%2C+follows+his+drive+from+the+first+tee+of+the+Silverado+Resort+North+Course+during+the+first+round+of+the+Fortinet+Championship+PGA+golf+tournament+in+Napa%2C+Calif.+on+Thursday%2C+Sept.+14%2C+2023.
AP Photo/Eric Risberg
K.H. Lee, of South Korea, follows his drive from the first tee of the Silverado Resort North Course during the first round of the Fortinet Championship PGA golf tournament in Napa, Calif. on Thursday, Sept. 14, 2023.

Not long ago I thought golf was very boring. It is mostly people walking, and once they hit the ball you can hardly see where it is going. But over the summer I worked at a golf course where professional golf was played at all times. I was constantly surrounded by people who love the sport. After learning about the controversy in golf right now, I think everyone should become invested in the current state of golf. 

In many ways, the Professional Golfers’ Association of America represented tradition in golf, or at least that is the narrative it tried to push. For those of you that are not familiar with golf, the PGA is probably what you think of when you think about televised golf. It held many events and had relationships with the Opens, which are the biggest competitions in golf. 

The issue starts with the creation of LIV Golf. LIV Golf was created in 2021 and commissioned by a former golfer on the PGA tour, Greg Norman. It was funded by the Public Investment Fund, a Saudi sovereign wealth fund used primarily for sportswashing. LIV Golf was immediately advertised as a break from the traditional form of golf, pushed heavily by the PGA. 

For some, LIV was innovating golf, and for others LIV was destroying the traditions the sport was built on. Regardless, it was shattering the norms of golf in ways that may not seem huge to those who do not understand the sport. But it shocked many. 

Modern elements in the LIV league quickly attracted a lot of young golfers and viewers. It did this through marketing itself as the “player first” golf tour. A challenge for golfers was that at every PGA event there is a cut. This means that after about two rounds, the players with the worst scores are cut from the competition. Those golfers leave without getting any prize money from the tournament. 

Not only did LIV not have a cut, but it also paid huge signing bonuses. Some of the golfers who accepted these bonuses include Dustin Johnson and Brooks Koepka. Koepka was paid a contract signing bonus of $150 million dollars when joining LIV. LIV could do this because it was the richest golf tournament when it launched. It also awarded much larger prizes in general, which was possible with its funding from the PIF. There was even a prize fund, which guaranteed that even the worst player for the weekend walked away with something.

This money was helpful in getting players like Koepka to leave the PGA after citing burnout from being on the road. Once LIV got famous golfers like Koepka, it solidified its presence as a threat to the PGA.

Other than the higher pay for golfers, LIV was also different from PGA in its less traditional game style. LIV Golf was played in three rounds, compared to PGA’s four rounds. They also let golfers wear shorts, something that was not allowed at PGA events. 

PGA banned LIV golfers and called out LIV for covering up Saudi Arabia’s human rights abuses. The PGA was right for calling out human rights abuses, as LIV Golf was a clear example of sportswashing — where sports are used as a distraction from a government or other major group’s troubling behavior. Other than speaking against LIV and banning golfers that compete with it, the PGA didn’t make the changes that players and viewers wanted. PGA didn’t take the opportunity for change and instead furthered the already nasty split in the golf ecosystem, damaging the sport in its entirety. 

In June the PGA and LIV combined, surprising many. Now the Public Investment Fund will be a leading investor and corporate sponsor of the PGA tour. This conclusion happened after months in court over LIV suing PGA for suspending LIV golfers from its events. The deal came together likely after the costs of the lawsuits and countersuits, with both sides looking to end the battle. 

There are many conflicts with no determined solution, like if LIV Golf can continue in any manner or if the original LIV golfers must give up the money previously promised. We know that the PGA Tour, the PIF, and Europe’s DP World Tour will create a for profit subsidiary. The PGA will control the competitions and this subsidiary will manage commercial assets.

Golf is dependent on tradition as its history is the biggest draw of the sport. Golf in its very nature is exclusionary and could use advancements that open the game for a larger audience. Instead, this chance to reinvigorate the game created a massive divide that leaves the future of golf unknown. 

My main take away from this entire situation is how intertwined politics and sports are. People can say that athletes don’t need to be political figures, and I agree with that to an extent, but that doesn’t mean that they are above explaining their actions. Koepka was not the first or the last athlete to take a large deal whose source has suspicious ties. I think criticism is fair, especially if you are a big fan of golf. Though I don’t think you should shun every player that joins LIV because that would make enjoying the sport nearly impossible. I do think we need to be aware that sports aren’t just games.

What this combination means at this point is unclear. It is still unknown if suspended golfers will be getting their PGA cards back or if they will even want to return to the PGA tour. What we do know is that players were largely left in the dark about the merger. They didn’t know about the deal until the news broke online.

The PGA has announced a 2024 schedule but the negotiations continue. A notable change is that more events will have no cuts. PGA and LIV have a set deadline of Dec. 31 for working out their agreement. 

We see this situation all the time, like with the athletes who have sponsorships with Nike, despite its inhumane working conditions. Another example is the complications with PIF purchasing Newcastle United. This is a similar situation where PIF invested 300 million euros in soccer as a distraction from human rights abuses. 

Being an athlete has changed in the same way that being a celebrity has changed. It may seem like we expect more from them now, but really this is just us knowing more. With social media we see more about athletes’ lives than we did before. International sports will always relate with our political climate. The miracle on ice wasn’t just about beating Russia during a hockey game, but contributed to the larger context of the Cold War. Athletes understanding the political implications of their actions is not a new expectation. 

Although I stand by the healthy criticism, I also think about how important these athletes are for the future of their sport. PGA left the golfers that always supported it in the dark. This is the kind of behavior that made golfers so quick to leave PGA when LIV was formed. Golf and many other sports should be valuing their athletes and viewers over money. 

Golf isn’t the only sport that is reaching a turning point. The landscape of sports is changing. That ranges from the changes in viewership with streaming to what we expect from our athletes as public figures. Sportswashing is not only occurring in golf. 

Jameson Keebler writes primarily about pop culture and current events. Write to her at [email protected].

About the Contributor
Jameson Keebler
Jameson Keebler, Senior Staff Columnist
Jameson Keebler is a junior Political Science major. She is from New Jersey and loves to read. She is interested in writing about literature and pop culture.