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 U.S. 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 U.S. 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.”