Golf’s leaders need to speak loudly, yet they’ve stayed mum

The staid game of golf has traveled a long path of societal ignorance and neglect to reach the ethical precipice it balances on so precariously today.

The game’s various leaders were given the public-relations equivalent of a two-foot putt Tuesday when it was announced that stars such as Dustin Johnson, Sergio Garcia, Kevin Na, Ian Poulter, Graeme McDowell, Lee Westwood and Louis Oosthuizen had signed up to play in the first tournament of the much-discussed and universally-criticized Saudi golf league, which is funded by the people who killed and dismembered Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018.

Anticipated and discussed for months, the reprehensible and obviously unprecedented decision of some of the world’s best-known golfers to go into business with Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman came this week. Bin Salman, who is bankrolling the Saudis’ LIV Golf, sanctioned the killing of Khashoggi, according to human rights organizations and intelligence services.

Certainly golf’s stakeholders – the US Golf Association, the PGA Tour, Augusta National and the PGA of America, among others – were ready to answer with virtuous words that would ripple through the honorable game for decades, making future generations proud, staking out a moral high ground on which men like those listed above would not be allowed back in their midst for a long time, perhaps forever.

It turns out that no, they were not ready, not at all. They replied haltingly, relying on past statements, saying almost nothing while thinking they were saying something. Augusta National never returned an email. The USGA, which hosts the men’s US Open in two weeks, said it reserves the right, “as we always have, to review any competitor’s situation on a case-by-case basis.”

The PGA of America said it’s “inappropriate and premature” to speculate on the future. The PGA Tour appears to be ready to kick out Johnson and those other hollow shells on the Saudi list, but it wouldn’t say so officially Wednesday.

One wonders what might actually stir up the ire of this oldest of the old boys (and some girls) clubs if their players going into business with murderers doesn’t do it for them?

US Open

Dustin Johnson plays his shot from the sixth tee during the third round of the 2021 US Open at Torrey Pines. Photo by Michael Madrid-USA TODAY Sports

This latest societal systemic failure of golf leadership – look at how the sport treated Black men for decades, and how it treats women to this day – was triggered by Johnson, the 37-year-old, two-time major winner who apparently has decided to obliterate his reputation entirely for an estimated $ 125 million being handed to him by the Saudis.

Johnson is so lacking a moral core that he signed up to play in next week’s Saudi kickoff in London – let’s call it the Blood Money Open – knowing it conflicted with the RBC Canadian Open, which he pledged to attend at least in part because he is sponsored by RBC.

Make that was sponsored. RBC terminated its relationship with Johnson Wednesday afternoon. As RBC just learned, Johnson’s word means absolutely nothing.

In February, Johnson said this: “Over the past several months, there has been a great deal of speculation about an alternative tour; much of which seems to have included me and my future in professional golf. I feel it is now time to put such speculation to rest. I am fully committed to the PGA Tour. I am grateful for the opportunity to play on the best tour in the world and for all it has provided me and my family. While there will always be areas where our Tour can improve and evolve, I am thankful for our leadership and the many sponsors who make the PGA Tour golf’s premier tour. ”

On May 31, he was out the door for the Saudi event in London.

Dustin Johnson, ladies and gentlemen.

Johnson and Garcia and the others, along with their role models Greg Norman and Phil Mickelson, will say this is about their freedom as golfers to make money where they want to make it and escape the shackles of the repressive multi-million-dollar Tour life . But it’s not that. It’s all about greed; rich, pampered men wanting more and more and more.

The game of golf has told us forever that it is built on the pillars of honor and dignity, sportsmanship and fair play. Sadly, that façade has crumbled. Today’s game of golf, personified by Johnson and his pals, is about selfishness, combined with a stunning lack of moral judgment.

The people who run the game need to speak out against that, loudly, boldly and right away. Silence is no longer an option.


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