Golfers take money over morals playing in Saudi Arabia tourney
LA JOLLA, Calif. — Justin Rose barely had time to admire his new trophy or count the $1.278 million he won for capturing the Farmers Insurance Open on Sunday at Torrey Pines before he had to scramble to catch a flight out of town.
To Saudi Arabia.
Patrick Reed, who finished about 30 minutes before Rose, hurried from the course to catch the first of two flights scheduled to get him to Saudi Arabia by about 4 a.m. Tuesday to play in the Saudi International, the European Tour’s newest event.
Among the other stars of the sport slated to join Rose and Reed to play in the event this week are Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka, Bryson DeChambeau, Sergio Garcia, Ernie Els, Henrik Stenson and Ian Poulter.
Though the tournament purse is $3.5 million, those players are believed to be receiving significant appearance fees, upward of more than $1 million.
On its surface, the event looks like just another money grab for these multi-millionaire players.
But the underbelly has an uncomfortable feel to it — beginning with the European Tour’s decision to put an event in such a dangerous country, rife with horrible human rights practices.
These players are independent contractors, and they’re entitled to chase whatever money they choose to.
But in this case, you cannot help but wonder at what price it is worth the risk to their own well-being and if there’s any part of them that takes into consideration the frightening things that occur in that country, lowlighted by its involvement in the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in October.
Saudi Arabia’s human rights record has come under intense scrutiny since the death of Khashoggi, who wrote critically of Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman in columns for the Washington Post.
Paul Casey, a prominent player on the European Tour who also is an ambassador for UNICEF, is one known player to have declined an invitation to the event, citing the country’s human rights atrocities among his reasons.
Casey, however, is a bit of a lone wolf on this, with the other players blindly powering on as if this were just any golf tournament in any another country.
When The Post asked Reed after his round Sunday if he had any concern about his safety there, he said, “No, because the European Tour has us covered.”
That answer sounded equal parts naive to exactly how protected anyone can be by a golf tour governing body and ignorant to the issues taking place in that country.
“We’re athletes,” Reed said. “We are going over to play golf. We leave that to the people who handle politics.”
Reed called it “a very easy decision” for him to go to Saudi Arabia, saying, “I know Saudi is really trying to grow the game of golf, and I’m a huge advocate of growing the game of golf worldwide. If I can help with that, I’m all for it.”
It all sounds so very altruistic, but it’s not. It’s about money, wealthy players lining their pockets with more money than they may ever need. And you have to wonder whether it’s all worth it.
“I’m not a politician. I’m a pro golfer,” Rose said after his win Sunday. “There are reasons to go play it. It’s a good field, there are lot of world ranking points to play for, and by all accounts, it’s a good golf course. It’ll be an experience to experience Saudi Arabia.”
Hopefully, for the sake of Rose and Reed and the others, it’ll be a safe experience.
Brandel Chamblee, a former PGA Tour player and current Golf Channel analyst, went on a passionate tirade of sorts on the air Sunday, calling out the players for participating in the tournament.
“To turn a blind eye to the butchering of a media member in some way euphemizes the egregious atrocity that not only took place with the Jamal Khashoggi murder but what goes on there all the time,” Chamblee said. “Non-participation — and I applaud Paul Casey — in some marginal way makes a statement on human rights. By participating, [the players] are ventriloquists for the abhorrent, reprehensible [Saudi] regime.
“I cannot imagine what economic incentive it would take for me to go to a place that is so egregiously on the wrong side of human rights. I don’t understand it from an economic point of view, I don’t understand it from a business point of view, and I don’t understand it from a moral point of view.”
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