Greed On Grand Scale

June 8th, 2023 by Tom Lynch

“Greed is all right, by the way. I want you to know that. I think greed is healthy. You can be greedy and still feel good about yourself.” — Said by Wall Street financier Ivan Boesky, May 18, 1986, in his commencement address at UC Berkeley’s School of Business Administration.

Less than a year after uttering those words, immortalized by Michael Douglas in Oliver Stone’s 1987 film,  Wall Street, Ivan Boesky went to jail for insider trading. But what Boesky said about greed has driven humanity since it began walking upright. Greed is a most powerful and overriding emotion driving rational thought to a place it cannot be found.

A case in point happened on Tuesday of this week, when the PGA (Professional Golfers Association) merged with LIV Golf, the Saudi-backed tournament series set up in 2021.

LIV Golf had hired PGA Tour Hall of Fame player and former champion Greg Norman as its commissioner. The Saudi Sovereign Wealth Fund, which is known as the Public Investment Fund (PIF), poured billions of dollars into LIV, which lured famous PGA tour players into joining it by offering an average of $100 million dollars just for signing up. A Forbes report estimates that Phil Mickelson received a signing fee of an astonishing $200 million, likely receiving half of that up front. Forbes further reports that with earnings of $138 million, Mickelson was the world’s highest paid sportsperson of 2022. The investment by the Saudi’s PIF fund boosted the earnings of the 10 highest-paid LIV golfers by an estimated $370 million—in one year.

When the Saudi’s created LIV Golf and stole 48 of the world’s best players, they also created a new golf format and pay scale for winning, or, for that matter, losing, too.

PGA tournaments consist of four rounds of golf beginning on Thursday and ending the following Sunday. After the first two days, the lower scoring bottom half of the field is cut, and those players go home—empty handed. Only in the four major tournaments do players who miss the cut get paid anything. In 2023, it was $10,000 for the Masters and US Open, $5,000 for the British Open, and $3,250 for the just completed PGA Championship.

LIV Golfers play in 12, four-person teams. The tournaments last only three days, there is no cutting anyone, and both teams and individuals win money; in each tournament, the golfer finishing last still wins $120 thousand! There’s a season-long individual points race with $30 million in the pot. The leading player in the standings at the end of the season picks up $18 million of that.

For two years, the PGA, and its players who stayed, vociferously condemned LIV Golf. Last year the PGA brought suit against LIV Golf, and the parties were currently getting ready for trial. Discovery was about to begin.

In its suit the PGA said:

LIV has executed a campaign to pay the LIV Players astronomical sums of money to induce them to breach their contracts with the TOUR in an effort to use the LIV Players and the game of golf to sportswash¹ the recent history of Saudi atrocities…

But on Tuesday all that changed when the Saudis, to the total surprise of the PGA golfers, bought the PGA. There really isn’t any other way to put it. They’re calling it a “merger,” but the deal stipulates that the only investor in the enterprise is PIF, and PIF has first refusal if any other investor wants to get into the game.

PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan, the man who banged the drum loudest about the awful LIV Golf, will be CEO of the combined organization, but the Chair of the Board will be PIF Governor Yasir Al-Rumayyan.

So, who is he, you may ask? And what does he know about golf?

Yasir Al-Rumayyan sits at the right hand of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the man who runs Saudi Arabia, and the man the CIA says is responsible for the murder and dismemberment of US-based Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Al-Rumayyan is the brains behind LIV Golf, and he is the reason PIF is the exclusive investor to the new entity and a “premier corporate sponsor” of the PGA Tour.

The players who were steadfast in their loyalty to the PGA in its fight with LIV have been blindsided by the whole thing. Most found out about the deal on Twitter. Those players now stand to make a lot more money with all that Saudi financing. They probably won’t complain.

But we should. The killing of Khashoggi, the mass executions (decried and condemned by the EU), the plight of women², the treatment of migrants, the list goes on and on. The kingdom has a lot of blood on its hands—and money in the bank, a chunk of which will now and in the future, find its way into the hands of the adult golfers young golfers look up to. It’s all rather shameful.

So, the lawsuit goes away, and things one might have learned in Discovery about the Saudi government will now stay hidden.

How does this whole thing make you feel? To me, a venerable, but elitist, sport is now dangling from the hand of a malevolent and clever puppeteer who bears no resemblance to the kindly Geppetto.

One unanswered question is: How will this affect television ratings for golf? I suspect not at all. That’s a shame.

This Faustian bargain comes on the heels of Saudi Arabia announcing four days ago it would cut oil production by one million barrels a day to “ensure oil price stability.” That “stability” will probably finance the new golf deal.

Put that in your tank and drive it.


¹ Sportswashing is a term used to describe the practice of individuals, groups, corporations, or governments using sports to improve reputations tarnished by wrongdoing. The 1936 Summer Olympic Games in Berlin, Nazi Germany, is widely viewed as an early case of sportswashing.

² In March, the Council of Ministers passed a new Personal Status Law, which came into effect in June. The new law, which was not previously codified, enables discrimination against women, including through male guardianship. Only men can be legal guardians under this law, and women must have a male guardian’s permission to marry and are then obliged to obey their husband. Moreover, the law does not give women and men equal rights over matters relating to their children in the event of separation. While the mother is automatically granted custody, the father is designated as the child’s legal guardian without due consideration of the best interests of the child.