LIV Golf’s first US event is set to begin on Thursday, with a group of survivors and families who lost loved ones in the 9/11 terrorist attacks planning to gather at a nearby park to speak out against the Saudi-funded tour .
Brett Eagleson was 15 when he lost his father in the World Trade Center collapse. Nearly 3,000 people were killed on this day in 2001.
“We want golfers to know who they’re sleeping with, who they’re doing business with,” Eagleson said.
“Any golfer who chooses to go and play for the LIV tournament should listen to family members and look us in the eye, and tell us why they are taking Saudi money and why they are playing in this tournament. And we want to be able to educate golfers on what we know about the Saudi role in 9/11.”
The LIV Golf Invitational begins Thursday at Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club, about 20 miles west of downtown Portland.
Eagleson is particularly discouraged by Phil Mickelson, one of those childhood heroes, and his decision to join LIV Golf. The tour, led by Greg Norman and funded by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, offered signing bonuses – some reportedly exceeding US$100 million – that some players found irresistible.
“Now to see him kowtow to the Saudis and say he doesn’t care, he doesn’t care about the struggles, the pain and the misery. Three thousand Americans dead. He doesn’t care because we offered him a paycheck? That’s just the worst form of greed,” Eagleson said.
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In addition to Mickelson, fellow Majors winners Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka and Bryson DeChambeau have also joined LIV Golf. Mickelson did not speak to reporters before the Oregon tournament.
As much as the upstart tour no doubt wants to escape criticism, it can’t avoid it. In pre-tournament press conferences, golfers were asked about the connection to Saudi Arabia and gave similar responses to questions on the subject, repeating variations of the message that golf can be a “force of good”.
But long before LIV Golf arrived on the tiny northern plains, the city’s mayor and those from surrounding towns wrote to the Texas-based club owner protesting the event, saying it didn’t fit the bill. community values. US Senator Ron Wyden called the event “sportswashing” to distract from human rights abuses.
Koepka, who recently joined LIV Golf after initially speaking out, played down concerns about Saudi funding.
“They’re entitled to their opinions. You know, we’ve heard it. I think everyone has. It’s been brought up,” said Koepka, a former world No. majors. “But look, like we said, our only job is to go play golf, and that’s what we’re trying to do. We’re trying to grow the game.”
Part of the appeal of LIV Golf is the money. In addition to signing bonuses, the group of 48 players will compete for a $20 million purse, with an additional $5 million fund for a team competition. Charl Schwartzel won the London event (and the tag team game) and won $4.75 million.
The PGA Tour responded to LIV Golf’s challenge by suspending all active members who participated in the first LIV event. Those playing in Oregon will also be suspended unless they resign from their tour membership.
The John Deere Classic of the PGA Tour takes place this week in Illinois.
Former Masters champion Fred Couples leads an American team of athletes competing in an exhibition at Liberty National in New Jersey starting Thursday. Hall of Famer Couples was candid against LIV Golf and said he hoped his event would attract more spectators.
“I find it so weird that the only way for them to get these guys off the tour is to throw money at them. There’s no other reason. All the other stuff is BS,” Couples said. “It doesn’t improve the game. They play between eight and ten tournaments here. How does it improve the game?”