Defectors open Saudi-funded golf series amid pomp, fractures

Jun 8, 2022, 10:42 PM | Updated: Jun 9, 2022, 3:31 pm

Sergio Garcia of Spain, plays his shot on the 14th tee watched by the gallery during the first roun...

Sergio Garcia of Spain, plays his shot on the 14th tee watched by the gallery during the first round of the inaugural LIV Golf Invitational at the Centurion Club in St Albans, England, Thursday, June 9, 2022. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)

(AP Photo/Alastair Grant)

ST. ALBANS, England (AP) — At a distance it looked like a military flypast and Grenadier Guards trumpeting in a royal-style occasion. Only it wasn’t an extension of Queen Elizabeth II’s Jubilee celebrations but the launch of the Saudi-funded golf breakaway, attempting to bring a sense of faux regal pageantry to the rebellion splitting the sport.

On a course just outside north London, the band dressed as imitation infantrymen were there to proclaim the arrival of Dustin Johnson and Phil Mickelson, two of the stars enticed from the PGA Tour to potentially earn hundreds of millions of dollars on the LIV Golf series.

The nine ageing planes rumbling overhead helped to mask the lack of significant crowd noise beyond the occasional shout of “Let’s go Phil!” as he prepared to tee off.

At the same time, the message Thursday from the PGA Tour was being delivered — go off. To all the players who defected to the renegade series, they now face banishment from future tour events. Johnson had already given up his PGA membership, but Mickelson is not ready to.

The fury of LIV Golf — a product of the Saudi sovereign wealth fund — was clear, calling the PGA Tour “vindictive” with a decision that will only deepen the divides. There were no signs of the Saudi backing across the Centurion Club, nor any sponsor branding.

Mickelson was sporting a black cap adorned by his personal logo featuring a silhouette of himself playing golf, replacing the KPMG-branded one that was worn before the corporate sponsors dropped the deal in February after he disparaged the PGA Tour and Saudi Arabia. He matched Johnson with a 1-under 69, with Charl Schwartzel leading at 65.

Across the course, the only branding was from LIV Golf and a sparse number of spectators in attendance. There was intrigue from those who did turn up, accompanied by a desire to see so many of the world’s leading players, although none from the top 10.

Schwartzel, the 2011 Masters champion, had a one-stroke lead over fellow South African Hennie du Plessis. Scott Vincent of Zimbabwe and Phachara Khongwatmai of Thailand shot 67.

Unlike many spectators, Jim Dawkins, who has been coming to golf events for six decades, did pay 67 pounds ($84) for his pass to the club between Hemel Hempstead and St. Albans.

“I thought as this was the first tournament of the rebel tour it would be interesting to see how it works and who is playing,” said the 91-year-old Dawkins, who railed against the PGA Tour banning players. “I’ve seen an awful lot of changes.”

LIV is running curtailed 54-hole, three-day tournaments, with a shotgun start seeing players all tee off on different holes. What confuses Dawkins is the team element.

The field is split into 12 teams with garish logos and brash names, like Johnson’s 4 Aces and Graeme McDowell’s Niblicks.

“I find this scoreboard difficult to follow,” said Dawkins, who traveled from the south of London. “You have got the players up there. I don’t know how the teams are set up.”

The top three teams share $5 million on top of the $20 million prize fund per event shared between the golfers individually.

To accept the lavish rewards, the players not only had to overcome concerns about being banned from the PGA Tour and events like the Ryder Cup, but also moral doubts.

This is a series viewed as being part of Saudi Arabia’s efforts, branded “sportswashing” by human rights groups, to wipe away the stain of the kingdom’s abuses.

“It’s absolute rubbish, it’s just a sport,” said Colin Chambers, an 80-year-old friend of Dawkins. “When you think about the Chinese, what they do, and we are still happy to go to their Olympics.”


More AP golf: https://apnews.com/hub/golf and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


Associated Press

Ex-Packer Guion gets 1 year for domestic violence assault

GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) — Former Green Bay Packers defensive tackle Letroy Guion was sentenced to one year in jail after pleading no contest in a domestic violence assault at his home last fall. Brown County Circuit Court Judge Thomas Walsh also ordered Guion on Tuesday to serve three years’ probation and complete a domestic […]

1 year ago

Joe Jarzynka...

Associated Press

Durant eager for Suns debut vs. Hornets after knee injury

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Kevin Durant has been through quite a bit during his 15-year NBA career — but joining a new team midway through the season is a new one for the 13-time All-Star. The 34-year-old Durant doesn’t seem all that worried. Durant makes his highly anticipated Phoenix Suns debut on Wednesday night against […]

1 year ago

FILE - Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores stands on the sideline during the second half of an N...

Associated Press

Judge: NFL coach can press discrimination claims in court

NEW YORK (AP) — NFL Coach Brian Flores can pursue some of his discrimination claims against the league and its teams in court rather than through arbitration, a judge ruled Wednesday. The written decision by Judge Valerie Caproni in Manhattan was issued months after lawyers for the league tried to get the lawsuit moved to […]

1 year ago

Chicago Blackhawks goaltender Alex Stalock cools off in the first period during an NHL hockey game ...

Associated Press

Kane trade reinforces hard reality of Blackhawks rebuild

CHICAGO (AP) — After days of speculation, the harsh reality of the Chicago Blackhawks’ situation was reinforced by one move in a flurry of transactions ahead of the NHL trade deadline. Showtime is over, at least in Chicago, and a seemingly bright future is, well, way off in the distance. The reverberations of Chicago’s decision […]

1 year ago

FILE -  Yves Jean-Bart, president of the Haitian Football Federation, wearing a protective face mas...

Associated Press

Disgraced ex-Haitian soccer president announces he’s back

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) — Haiti’s former soccer federation president whose lifetime ban from sport over sexual abuse allegations was overturned last month announced Wednesday that he is reclaiming his position. Yves Jean-Bart’s defiant announcement could lead to a standoff with FIFA, which already has appointed an emergency management committee to lead the Haitian Football Association […]

1 year ago

FILE - Green Bay Packers' Aaron Rodgers walks off the field after an NFL football game against the ...

Associated Press

Rodgers says decision on future will come ‘soon enough’

GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) — Aaron Rodgers says he will make a decision on his future “soon enough” as the four-time MVP quarterback ponders whether to play next season and if his future remains with the Green Bay Packers. Rodgers, 39, discussed his future while speaking on an episode of the “Aubrey Marcus Podcast” that […]

1 year ago

Defectors open Saudi-funded golf series amid pomp, fractures