Golf legend Tiger Woods blasted PGA Tour players who left the organization to attend the newly-created LIV Golf Invitational — saying they’ve “turned their back” on the historic majors circuit to chase a lucrative paycheck.
“They’ve turned their back on what has allowed them to get to this position,” said Woods on Tuesday. “But that is a possibility, that some players will never, ever get a chance to play in a major championship.”
The PGA Tour has long been the place where the best players in the world compete against one another for supremacy in the world of golf, and includes the Masters Tournament, the U.S. Open, the Open Championship and the PGA Championship.
But recently, a Saudi Arabian-backed challenger to the PGA emerged under the banner of “LIV Golf” (a reference to the Roman numeral for 54), which angered PGA officials who banned any participants in the first LIV event on June 9 from competing in PGA tour events.
As a result of that ban, and the ongoing discussions regarding future acceptance of LIV participants in PGA Tour events, some players may not be eligible to play in future major tournaments, where legends like Woods and Jack Nicklaus cut their teeth.
“Some players will never, ever get a chance to play in a major championship, never get a chance to experience this right here, walk down the fairways at Augusta National,” said Woods. “I just don’t understand it.”
Organizers of LIV Golf have spent big money to recruit professional golfers, including a reported $150 million to Dustin Johnson and $200 million to Phil Mickelson — two of the most prominent players in the sport. They have also paid appearance fees to a number of other famed golfers.
Winnings for eight LIV events this year are reported to top $255 million, in addition to any fees paid to individual players.
The PGA Tour, on the other hand, does not pay appearance fees, and golfers are only rewarded monetarily if they win. That makes Woods criticisms fall on deaf ears for some, as he has been awarded over $120 million from his PGA winnings (in addition to over $1 billion in advertising dollars), while non-champions are left with scraps.
LIV Golf reportedly offered Woods nearly $1 billion to participate in its events, he which rejected.
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But, in addition to the controversy surrounding the emergence of LIV as a competitor to the PGA, it has also cast a new spotlight on the presence of Saudi money and the often strained relations between the kingdom and the western world in recent years.
Those geopolitical concerns include the Saudi’s reported killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, an American and critic of the country’s crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, as well as ongoing human rights abuses — such as their military intervention in Yemen that has resulted in the deaths of countless civilians.
Golfers participating in LIV events have been hesitant to address their feelings about participation in the Saudi-backed endeavor, which critics have called “Sportswashing” and an attempt to paper-over the country’s human rights records.
The situation isn’t limited to golf, either. WWE’s long-term contract with the Saudi government to host major sports entertainment events there also came under fire in the wake of Khashoggi’s murder.
For Woods, though, who has won 15 majors within the PGA Tour system, lamented the decision of other golfers who are bypassing the system that has propelled professional golf to become a global phenomenon, and is the organization that has recorded the sport’s illustrious history for nearly a century.
“I know what the PGA Tour stands for and what we have done and what the tour has given us, the ability to chase after our careers and to earn what we get and the trophies we have been able to play for and the history that has been a part of this game,” Woods said.