The Saudis are conquering a circus as big as the Gulf itself, and nothing can stop dirty laundry from being publicly broadcast


There was a time when golf hid its dirty laundry and operated behind a country club omerta where bans, drug tests and administrative disputes were probably settled somewhere between a bar and a snooker room.

The events that unfolded leading up to this year’s US PGA Championship offer a reasonable explanation as to why the sport could never count on operating outside of this “safe space”.

It’s not that all golfers have an uncontrollable urge to make hopelessly offensive comments, just that there are more than enough who insist on doing so unknowingly.

And so it has led to a tournament without a champion that risks being overshadowed by a power struggle fought – as always – in the name of greed.

Phil Mickelson pulled off an extraordinary feat in becoming history’s oldest major champion at Kiawah Island last year, the goofy father decked out in Top Gun fliers who took unspeakable delight in outsmarting a younger generation. The only man he couldn’t seem to outwit was himself.

After admitting that he thought the Saudis were “scary m************” with a “horrible human rights record,” Mickelson nonetheless concluded that LIV Golf’s rival league needed a reasonable Form of leverage in his efforts was wrestling image rights and other profit streams from the PGA Tour.

His audacity led to the implosion of the league and his ban from the circuit, and confirmation that he would not be defending his title came only last week in the form of a brief statement from the PGA rather than the man himself.

It’s a shame, no doubt, but it’s hard to feel much sympathy. However, the same cannot be said of some of Mickelson’s colleagues. In an interview with ESPN, Charley Hoffman produced an amazingly unconscious analogy while defending his childhood friend. “Unfortunately, he stuck his neck out and he was chopped off.”

Mickelson’s absence was the main topic of conversation as players prepared for Southern Hills, even more so than the appearance of Tiger Woods, who won the 2007 PGA Championship on the same course.

But that status was rivaled last week when Greg Norman not only delivered a Mickelson impersonation, but appeared determined to go the extra mile at a media day to launch the revamped LIV Golf Invitational Series.

Asked about the murder of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi, Norman put forward the cowardly defense that “we all make mistakes”. But as the saying goes, not all mistakes are created equal and Amnesty International does not make reports of Norman’s collapse in the back nine.

Sportswashing, when it comes to gradually sanitizing a state’s reputation, represents a new method in which not only has all pretense been thrown out, but the attempted hostile takeover of an entire sport is now taking place in public. Norman is the frontman in his mind, the jerk and henchman in reality.

The difference is that Mickelson is still undeniably a central figure in golf. He’s one of four reigning major champions and remained the second most popular player in the sport according to the PGA Tour’s inaugural Player Impact Program last year — a compensation system ironically designed to appease the world’s best players.

He was still the subject of fandom, fascination, and frustration before he felt the need to tarnish his reputation, though a new biography, written by journalist Alan Shipnuck, reveals the depth of Mickelson’s alleged multimillion-dollar gambling losses detailing might shed some light on some of the reasons why.

In keeping with golf’s opaque governance, it has never been made clear whether Mickelson faced a ban or some other form of punishment for his remarks.

It has now been more than three months since he last competed and the PGA has been at pains to imply that the six-time major champion chose not to defend his title rather than be forced to.

A genuine apology would not be insignificant, but Mickelson has always been reluctant to sacrifice his pride or admit defeat. Perhaps through a distorted perspective, he still believes he is more of a savior than an outcast.

It didn’t take golf going to South Africa during apartheid to know it had a special talent for avoiding the elephant in the room.

The PGA Championship will continue with enough storylines to eclipse Mickelson, but this isn’t an issue that can be resolved within the private confines of locker rooms, boardrooms and courtrooms, especially if he decides to return first next month LIV Golf event in London.

The Saudi insurgency is a circus as big as the sport itself, and nothing can seem to stop the dirty laundry from being publicly broadcast. The Saudis are conquering a circus as big as the Gulf itself, and nothing can stop dirty laundry from being publicly broadcast

Fry Electronics Team

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