Graeme McDowell’s passionate defence of the LIV Golf sportswashing project will have many wondering if the affable Ulsterman has been brainwashed in the same way Greg Norman believes Rory McIlroy has been drinking too much of the PGA Tour Kool-Aid.
Always one of the more intelligent and engaging commentators of the game, McDowell’s declaration at the opening LIV Golf Series event in Hertfordshire that he was “proud to help (Saudi Arabia)” change the world’s perception of them through golf was the very definition of sportswashing.
He may have been torn about accepting an offer, rumoured to be in the region of $20 million to extend his golfing career as an earner by joining Dustin Johnson, Bryson DeChambeau and Patrick Reed in playing the new rival circuit to the PGA Tour and the DP World Tour.
While the soon-to-be 43-year-old would love to come out and say, ‘yes, I took the money because at this stage of my career, I can no longer compete at the highest level’, he must also dance to the tune of his new Saudi-backed bosses.
In other words, bar contradicting the LIV Golf message, he’s found himself in an impossible position.
“I’m not here to cure the world’s geopolitical situation,” McDowell said before even getting to the Centurion Club.
“I am here to play golf. Saudi Arabia has a huge amount of resources where they can accelerate their journey in the world of golf, and it’s fun to be part of that journey. I see the positive side of what golf can do around the world.”
Whatever advice he got about what to do to rescue his badly damaged image, he clearly didn’t listen to Jimmy Dunne, a significant figure in the game, whose firm lost more than 80 employees in the 9/11 attacks on the Twin Towers.
Saudi Arabia has been linked to the attacks, but according to the New York Times, three presidential administrations have built a wall of secrecy around information about possible Saudi government ties to the terrorist attack which cost 2,996 lives.
“I don’t like it when they say they’re ‘growing the game’,” Dunne told Michael Rosenberg of Sports Illustrated.
“That’s c***. I don’t even like it when they say, ‘I have to do what’s best for my family’.
“I really wonder how many of those guys, the lifestyle that they were living was so horrible that their family needed them to do this.
“Just say, ‘I’m at a point in my career where I (want to) make five times as much money against much weaker competition and play less.’ Just tell the truth. Don’t cover it with a lot of c***.”
McDowell doubled down on his position on Saturday, or at least his Twitter account did.
Replying to @nolsen79, an account with 33 followers, who wrote that “nobody is going to watch a washed-up group of money-hungry old men play an exhibition”, McDowell managed to dig himself into an even deeper hole.
“Watch this space,” he tweeted. “It will be a compelling field in no time. There is room for the sport for this product. Once the smear campaign dies down and the golf takes over, we will see.”
Whatever about efforts by the PGA Tour’s TV allies in criticising the new league, the expression “smear campaign” is also an insult to those with legitimate concerns surrounding a variety events in Saudi Arabia.
McDowell’s position is a clear indicator that there is no going back now for the players who joined LIV Golf and those who are about to join.
Sources at the DP World Tour are adamant these “rebels” will never be welcomed back to the PGA Tour or DP World Tour fold because the players who have remained loyal will not countenance the prospect of them having their cake and eating it too.
While the DP World Tour has not banned players yet, news of a further strengthening of the Strategic Alliance between the PGA and DP World Tour is expected this week.
Given the ties the DP World Tour has to the Middle East, European Tour CEO Keith Pelley must tread carefully. Or at least, more carefully than McDowell, who has nowhere to go but fully in with LIV Golf and its messaging.