Lee Westwood, former No. 1-ranked golfer, applies for waiver to compete in first Saudi-backed golf event – CBS Sports

Home » Lee Westwood, former No. 1-ranked golfer, applies for waiver to compete in first Saudi-backed golf event – CBS Sports
Lee Westwood, former No. 1-ranked golfer, applies for waiver to compete in first Saudi-backed golf event – CBS Sports

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Although no players have officially committed to the first LIV Golf Invitational event at the Centurion Club in England on June 9-11, several have disclosed that they have applied for the necessary waivers from the PGA Tour to play in the three-round tournament. The most recent do so — and the first former No. 1 player in the world — came on Wednesday when Englishman Lee Westwood announced his intentions.
The LIV Golf Invitational event in England marks the first of a proposed eight-tournament slate starting this summer and continuing into the fall. The series is funded by the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia and overseen by LIV Golf CEO, Greg Norman.
Phil Mickelson recently came under massive scrutiny for disclosing that the folks behind the league are “scary motherf—ers to get involved with,” according to Alan Shipnuck. He added: “We know they killed [Washington Post reporter and U.S. resident Jamal] Khashoggi and have a horrible record on human rights. They execute people over there for being gay. Knowing all of this, why would I even consider it? Because this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reshape how the PGA Tour operates.”
Mickelson’s agent recently announced that he had also applied for a waiver from the PGA Tour to play the event, a standard request anytime a player steps outside of the PGA Tour to play in a tournament. Mickelson has not officially committed to play in the event and in fact hasn’t been heard from or played in a tournament since the beginning of February.
So we know Mickelson’s motives, but what about Westwood? Ostensibly — money. LIV Golf is putting up massive $20 million purses for relatively small fields and could also be paying folks like Westwood, who are still big names and nice draws, for their commitment. Westwood explained it a different way in an interview with Sky Sports this week
“It’s an opportunity to play in a big tournament against some of the best players in the world in England,” he said. “I love playing in England in front of home fans. Any time there’s an opportunity like that, I feel like I should take it.”
As for how he justifies where the money is coming from, Westwood pointed at other sports leagues as his shield. He’s not the first to do this, and he certainly won’t be the last.
“We’ve played European Tour events in Saudi Arabia,” said Westwood. “I’ve had releases from the PGA Tour saying that I can go play in Saudi Arabia. It’s been no problem to them in previous years. Formula 1 race there. Newcastle is owned partly by people from Saudi Arabia. There’s been fights there. I think there’s been snooker and darts there as well. Golf is not the first sport to have links with Saudi Arabia, but it seems to be coming under more scrutiny than anywhere else. Whether you think that’s right or now is the individual’s opinion.
“I think Saudi Arabia obviously know they’ve got issues. Lots of countries around the world have got issues. I think they’re trying to improve. They’re trying to do it through sport, which a lot of countries do. I think they’re doing it a lot quicker than some countries are trying to do it, and that maybe worries people or scares people because people don’t like change, do they. They like continuity and things to stay the same.”
This is, almost to the definition, what Saudi Arabia is trying to do by funding this league — to normalize its country’s repressive regime and heinous actions over the years by using sports. At the outset, it might seem like a good idea to Westwood and others, but there are a million ways this can go.
Perhaps most interestingly, in the short-term, is whether Westwood and anyone else playing these events are barred from the major championships. Both the PGA Tour and DP World Tour (formerly the European Tour) have been outspoken that anybody pursuing these leagues won’t be allowed back to their own, which foreshadows a massive court case in the near future. But the entities running the major championships act independent of both of those tours. A lot of the golfers requesting waivers and playing in the LIV Golf Invitational events will be qualified for the final few majors of the year. Whether they get to play in all of the above could be a different story.
Golf’s fractured state continues as LIV Golf tries to will these events off the ground and players choose to tee it up. The Premier Golf League (separate from LIV Golf) jumped back in the mix on Wednesday with a letter to players outlining why its breakaway league (and not the Saudi Arabian one) should be the one players join. There is a sadness here, too, because one of the best things about any sport is when all the best players in the world are all gathered in one league over a long period of time. The PGA Tour has mostly enjoyed that for a long period of time, and now it seems that it may not.
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