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Charl Schwartzel wins LIV opener, securing $4.75M US from golf’s richest event | CBC Sports

Charl Schwartzel wins LIV opener, securing $4.75M US from golf's richest event | CBC Sports

Former Masters champion Charl Schwartzel banked $4.75 million US on Saturday by winning the richest tournament in golf history, while the event’s Saudi backers faced renewed backlash after a 9/11 victims’ group called for American players to withdraw from the rebel series.

Schwartzel held on for a one-shot victory at the inaugural LIV Golf event outside London to secure the $4 million prize for the individual victory — along with another $750,000 from his share of the $3 million purse earned by his four-man Stinger team for topping the team rankings.

Schwartzel, the 2011 winner at Augusta National, collected more prize money from winning the three-day, 54-hole event than he had from the last four years combined. It came at a cost, though, having resigned his membership of the PGA Tour to play on the unsanctioned series without a waiver.

“Never in my wildest dreams did I think we could play for that much money in golf,” Schwartzel, who had not won a PGA or European tour event since 2016, told the crowd.

Pressed in the news conference, he dismissed criticism of the windfall coming from the Saudi sovereign wealth fund.

“Where the money comes from is not something … that I’ve ever looked at playing in my 20 years career,” the South African said. “I think if I start digging everywhere where we played, you could find fault in anything.”

Fellow South African Hennie Du Plessis, who was selected for Stinger by team captain Louis Oosthuizen in the draft, earned $2.875 million by finishing second at Centurion Club, located between Hemel Hempstead and St. Albans.

Schwartzel entered the final day with a three-shot lead and did just enough to hold off Du Plessis despite finishing with a 2-over 72 for a 7-under total of 203.

It is the first of eight events in the first year of LIV Golf, which began against the backdrop of the PGA Tour banning players who signed up. The European tour has yet to comment on any sanctions for players who jumped to the series without its approval.

WATCH l Saudi-funded golf league poaches top talent from PGA tour:

Saudi-funded golf league poaches top talent from PGA tour

The LIV Golf league funded by the Saudi government is poaching some of the world’s top golfers, including Dustin Johnson, to leave the PGA Tour.

Twenty players have now defected from the PGA Tour, with Patrick Reed the latest former Masters champion confirmed on Saturday as signing up to LIV Golf as the final round was being completed.

However, the lucrative rewards for joining the Public Investment Fund-backed series have not been enough to entice any players ranked in the world’s top 10.

Reed, who has won almost $37 million in a decade on the PGA Tour, is ranked 36th. The 31-year-old American’s only major win was the 2018 Masters.

Having appeared at three Ryder Cups, where he has been one of the brashest characters on the American team, Reed’s decision could see him ineligible for selection in the future.

Reed said he would make his debut on the second stop of the LIV Golf series in Portland, Oregon, on June 30-July 2.

Pat Perez, the 46-year-old American who is ranked 168th in the world, also joined the breakaway on Saturday, saying he wants to travel less after 21 years on the PGA Tour. He made no mention on the LIV live broadcast about the riches on offer.

Criticism towards players

Saudi Arabia’s track record of human rights violations has sparked criticism from groups, including Amnesty International, that the country is “sportswashing” its image by investing in signing up sports stars.

LIV Golf CEO Greg Norman, who would not speak to the media at the event, called the series a “force for good” in a speech at the victory ceremony, without addressing criticism of the Saudi project.

LIV Golf plays up the financial largesse. Yasir Al-Rumayyan, governor of PIF, said on stage that there would be a prize of $54 million for any player who could hit an implausible 54 at a LIV event.

For many in the United States, Saudi Arabia will forever be associated with the collapse of the World Trade Towers and the deaths of nearly 3,000 people on Sept. 11, 2001. All but four of the 19 hijackers on 9/11 were Saudi citizens, and the Saudi kingdom was the birthplace of Osama bin Laden, the head of al-Qaida and mastermind of the attack.

Terry Strada, the national chairperson of 9/11 Families United, has sent a letter to representatives of LIV Golf stars calling on them to reconsider their participation in the series. Her husband, Tom, died when a hijacked plane flew into the World Trade Center.

“Given Saudi Arabia’s role in the death of our loved ones and those injured on 9/11 — your fellow Americans — we are angered that you are so willing to help the Saudis cover up this history in their request for ‘respectability,”‘ Strada wrote, accusing the players of betraying U.S. interests.

Strada’s letter was sent to agents for Reed as well as Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson, Bryson DeChambeau and Kevin Na.

“When you partner with the Saudis, you become complicit with their whitewash, and help give them the reputational cover they so desperately crave — and are willing to pay handsomely to manufacture,” Strada wrote.

“The Saudis do not care about the deep-rooted sportsmanship of golf or its origins as a gentleman’s game built upon core values of mutual respect and personal integrity. They care about using professional golf to whitewash their reputation, and they are paying you to help them do it.”

Victims’ families are trying to hold Saudi Arabia accountable in New York, despite its government’s insistence that any allegation of complicity in the terrorist attacks is “categorically false.”

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PGA Tour suspends players in Saudi-backed event as golf’s discord deepens

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Professional golf arrived at a crossroads Thursday as an insurgent, Saudi-backed tour teed off on a tree-lined course outside London and the PGA Tour suspended the players who had defected, turning what would normally be a sleepy weekday on the golf schedule into one of the strangest and most consequential days in the history of a sport suddenly on the precipice of seismic change.

Having poached players with tens of millions of guaranteed dollars and promised fans more action than traditional tournaments, LIV Golf staged the opening round of its inaugural tournament at the Centurion Club in England amid criticism it was participating in an attempt to cleanse the global reputation of the Saudi Arabian government.

Moments after the first balls flew through the air, PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan sent a memo to members from the tour’s Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla. headquarters, announcing the tour had suspended the 17 of its players participating in LIV Golf and, with several other stars on the verge of leaving, vowing it would do the same to others.

The Saudi-backed LIV Invitational golf series kicked off its first tournament on June 9, luring several PGA Tour players with large financial rewards. (Video: Reuters)

Everything you need to know about the LIV Golf Invitational Series

The Tour’s immediate and strong response underscored the existential threat LIV Golf presents to the business model around which professional golf revolved from the days of Arnold Palmer through Jack Nicklaus’s prime to Tiger Woods’s reign.

Shepherded into existence by former pro golfer Greg Norman and backed by a Saudi investment fund, LIV Golf attracted a number of PGA Tour stalwarts by offering massive signing bonuses and purses; shorter, no-cut events; a lighter schedule; and guaranteed prize money and appearance fees that are foreign to almost every form of professional golf. The rebel tour has no designs on turning a short-term profit, aiming instead to gain an instant foothold in the sport. It used nine-figure contracts to lure Phil Mickelson — a six-time major winner and one of golf’s most familiar faces, who infamously referred to the Saudis as “scary mother——-” in an interview with his biographer — and Dustin Johnson, two of the game’s greatest players.

The PGA Tour has argued to its players that moving to LIV Golf will cost them stability and legacy. LIV Golf can offer guaranteed money on par with athletes in other sports, even if many believe the money is tainted by atrocities of a repressive Saudi government.

The insurgent players will compete initially in an eight-event series around the globe. Two tournaments, including the season finale, will be played at courses owned by former president Donald Trump, whose courses the PGA Tour has distanced itself from. With a handful of players, including major winners Patrick Reed and Bryson DeChambeau, expected to jump to LIV Golf by its next tournament June 30 in Portland, Ore., the series is threatening to reconfigure the order of a mannerly sport.

“It’s a shame that it’s going to fracture the game,” star Rory McIlroy, perhaps the most vociferous defender of the PGA Tour, told reporters Wednesday at a news conference before the Canadian Open. “The professional game is the window shop into golf. If the general public are confused about who is playing where and what tournament’s on this week and who is, you know, ‘Oh, he plays there, okay, and he doesn’t get into these events.’ It just becomes so confusing. I think everything needs to try to become more cohesive, and I think it was on a pretty good trajectory until this happened.”

Players who join LIV will likely face the same thorny questions their peers did this week, when golfers deflected reporters’ inquiries about the Saudi government’s alleged killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and other human rights concerns.

Norther Ireland’s Graeme McDowell said in a news conference that “the Khashoggi situation” was “reprehensible,” but that he believed LIV Golf could be a positive force.

Dustin Johnson quits PGA, joins Phil Mickelson on Saudi-backed tour

“I just try to be a great role model to kids,” McDowell said. “We are not politicians. I know [reporters] hate that expression, but we are really not, unfortunately. We are professional golfers.”

That stance, experts say, is exactly what the Saudis want as they seek to change the subject from alleged human rights violations.

“The Saudis want normality. They want to be seen as supporters of a game that a lot of people like to watch and play. They’ll therefore expect the players to behave much as they would do in any other tournament,” said University of Sussex politics professor Dan Hough, who specializes in integrity and corruption in sports. “It’ll be much more a case of talking positively about the tournament they are involved in from a golfing perspective.”

In his memo to PGA Tour players, Monahan pointedly referred to LIV Golf as the “Saudi Golf League” and called LIV Golf participants “players who have decided to turn their backs on the PGA Tour.”

“These players have made their choice for their own financial-based reasons,” Monahan wrote. “But they can’t demand the same PGA TOUR membership benefits, considerations, opportunities and platform as you. That expectation disrespects you, our fans and our partners.”

Monahan told players he is certain fans and sponsors “are tired of all this talk of money, money and more money.” But the tour has attempted to assuage players with its own financial incentives. It has raised purses, enhanced end-of-season bonus money and introduced the Player Impact Program, which funnels money to stars based on a combination of performance and off-course promotion.

The tour, though, cannot compete financially with the deep pockets of LIV Golf or its guaranteed money for appearances, which violates the PGA Tour’s entrenched pay-for-performance ethos. Its best appeal may be the promise of playing in non-tour events such as the four majors, the Ryder Cup and the Presidents Cup, which is scheduled for September. The organizations that run those events have not offered definitive decisions on how to deal with the breakaway players.

Bryson DeChambeau, Patrick Reed reportedly will join Saudi-backed LIV Golf

The United States Golf Association, which runs the U.S. Open, said this week it will allow players who have already qualified to play next week in Brookline, Mass. PGA of America CEO Seth Waugh, whose organization runs the PGA Championship, said last month that he didn’t think LIV Golf was “good for the game” and that his group supported golf’s current “ecosystem.”

The PGA Tour also recognizes it could receive a legal challenge from the suspended players, backed by LIV. Mickelson, who took a months-long, self-imposed exile after his controversial comments surfaced, has said he intends to keep the lifetime exemption his performance earned him.

“You probably have more questions,” Monahan wrote in his Thursday memo to players. “What’s next? Can these players come back? Can they eventually play PGA Tour Champions [the tour’s senior circuit]? Trust that we’ve prepared to deal with those questions …”

Meanwhile, the new league — whose LIV name refers to the Roman numeral of its 54-hole events and rhymes with “give” — struck a cheery tone during its first round. Without a traditional television deal, it was streamed on YouTube, Facebook and the LIV website. The event began with a shotgun start, placing threesomes at every tee box on the course as men in Beefeater outfits blew an opening horn.

“I feel so happy for the players. I feel so happy that we’ve brought free agency to golf,” Norman said as the first broadcast began.

Said Johnson: “I’m just excited to get it started. It’s a new chapter for golf. The fans are going to love it, all the players who are here are going to love it.”

But in a statement released by LIV Golf with the first round underway, the crisis roiling this sport was laid bare.

“Today’s announcement by the PGA Tour is vindictive and it deepens the divide between the Tour and its members,” the statement said, in part. “ … This certainly is not the last word on this topic.”