How Is This Good for the Game We Love? The PGA & the Saudi Boogeyman

Have you heard? Phil Mickelson has sold his soul. That’s the news coming out of the usually relatively restrained sports section of the IndyStar, in the aftermath of the top PGA star and 16 of his colleagues choosing to participate in a non-PGA tournament. 

Never heard of the LIV? Let me bring you up to speed. Sports are huge in the Middle East, with Saudi Arabia, Dubai, and Qatar hosting numerous top-tier events in track and field, tennis, horse racing, rugby, cricket, Formula 1 racing, motocross, football, and even basketball – the NBA will have two exhibition games in Abu Dhabi this year for the first time ever.  

LIV is one of many golf tournaments to take place in the region. The name is 54 in Roman numerals, indicating the score a golfer would have if they birdied on every hole. With exceptionally attractive prize money available, many professional golfers have chosen to take part. And the PGA, the league in which most of these golfers have built their careers, is furious.

You Need Us: How Does the PGA Feel About The Golfers?

Of course, I’m interested in the decisions the PGA is making as a brand as seen through the dual lens of love and trust. Barring 17 top players from PGA competition because they played golf somewhere else certainly doesn’t seem like a loving act. There’s definitely possessive language floating around, with the PGA Tour Commissioner calling LIV players freeloaders who only achieved this position because they came to prominence in the PGA. 

The hostility level is incredibly high, with lots of very thinly veiled racism masquerading as concern for the sport. While it is inarguably true that the money of the Saudi government has been used for evil things in addition to funding sports events, it is also inarguably true that the evil actions of other governments have not stopped the PGA from happily hosting events where they felt conditions were favorable for them. Most notably, of course, was the choice to play Sun City during the nearly global boycott of South Africa’s apartheid regime. 

You’ve been in relationships before. When you have someone who acts like they own you, who tells you you’re nothing without them, and that none of the people you’re currently talking to can be trusted, how do you feel? Probably not great. These are the characteristics of an abusive relationship, where one party does not have the freedom to act in what they feel are their own best interests. 

Why Does the PGA Want to Be Seen This Way?

There’s no doubt that the PGA feels threatened by the LIV tournament. They’re acting out in ways that demonstrate a lot of hurt and anger. But in situations where you want to build love and trust with your stakeholders, making them the target of your least-pleasant feelings isn’t necessarily wise. It’s also a questionable decision to put these emotions in front of your fan base: while some will certainly toe the PGA line that the players have done wrong by participating in the tournament, others will feel that the players, like all athletes, have the right to compete when and where they want to. 

Is there a last-minute hole-in-one that could change the entire game for the PGA? I hope so. International competition is not going away. If accommodations are to be reached between the parties, it’s going to need to begin from a position of greater love than what’s currently on display. What do you think? Can leadership play it where it lays? Is it possible to force loyalty through sanctions and bans? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.

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