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Tiger Woods Lit Up The Saudi Golf League For All The Wrong Reasons

Tiger woods at a press conference
Harry How/Getty Images

Ed. note: All Ray Ratto blogs are by definition Rays Week blogs.


Every cultural icon began as a voice for impatient youth and a change from the ways things used to be. And then every cultural icon ages, watches the next generation move on to younger icons, and becomes a naggy parental scold. It is unavoidable, and it is part of the process that ends with said icon doing medical ads that always end with the voice-over warning: Can cause vomiting, seizures, lesions, bleeding from eyes, ears, nose and mouth, and a noisy and soul-rending death. See your doctor if any of these things occur.

Or, as in the case of Michael Jordan, they become team owners, which ought to come with its own voice-over cautions: Can cause greed, contempt, dismissal of players you pay and general disdainful imperiousness that can end in vomiting, seizures, etc.

Thus, we come upon Tiger Woods’s very belated but still withering analysis of the Saudi-backed LIV Tour and even more about Greg Norman himself—though nothing about the Saudi money and Trumpian connections that fuel it. He has taken the interesting stance that it isn’t the Saudi sportswashing efforts or the two events being played at Trump courses that bothers him, but the fact that the LIV-ables are leaving the embrace of the old firm, the Professional Golfers of America, and might never get to play in major events ever ever ever again.

He sounds like just the kind of middle-aged scold every extraordinary cultural figure becomes when the audience has moved on and abandoned him or her to the dustbin of their parents’ history. In a moment where he could explode the LIV tour as doing business with dirty money in defense of even more untrammeled greed that they already exhibit, he goes for the politically safer yet far less compelling argument that successful golfers should be more grateful to the tired old boys than hyper-acquisitive and ethically indifferent in service to the morally compromised new ones.

And, while we’re at it, because he has longstanding beef with Norman, who has made himself eminently beefable over the years for being, well, Greg Norman.

“What these players are doing for guaranteed money, what is the incentive to practice?” Woods said during his pre-Open Championship news conference Monday at St. Andrews, where the kids are all gathering for the British Open. “What is the incentive to go out there and earn it in the dirt? You’re just getting paid a lot of money up front and playing a few events and playing 54 holes. They’re playing blaring music and have all these atmospheres that are different.”

One suspects that he would be in equally staunch opposition if the Saudi billionaires were replaced by the guys who gave us the raucous Waste Management Open, which means that while he may be on the right side on the human decency, he’s doing it mostly because he hates change. And he seems to hate Norman, too. “He tried to do this back in the early ’90s. It didn’t work then, and he’s trying to make it work now. I still don’t see how that’s in the best interests of the game.”

“Best interests of the game” can be reduced to “the PGA Tour,” which could surely use some freshening up. But aside from the ridiculous notion of golfers as revolutionaries fighting for the right to let their own personal greed bloom with the fertilizer of retrograde governments, Woods is fighting for the more benign (less evil) thing for all the wrong reasons. He claims to be fighting for the sanctity of golf, which is actually not a thing at all, but for the status quo’s right to reign unbothered, which probably shouldn’t be a thing.

“Some of these players may not ever get a chance to play in major championships,” he said, attacking the LIV Tour not on the very defensible grounds of being fueled by contemptible weasels, but on the purity of The Masters. “That is a possibility. We don’t know that for sure yet. It’s up to all the major championship bodies to make that determination. But that is a possibility, that some players will never, ever get a chance to play in a major championship, never get a chance to experience this right here, walk down the fairways at Augusta National.”

Maybe we’re being harsh to Woods here, but let’s face it kids, a fight between golfers about the gradations of manic greed is the sort of thing that leaves the skillet warm but cools quickly and becomes congealed in grease and thoroughly inedible after two minutes. The PGA Tour is defensible only because it isn’t the LIV Tour, and Tiger Woods is defensible only because he isn’t Greg Norman or the largely confused hulk of Phil Mickelson. Rory McIlroy, whose contributions to the debate include referring to the LIV players as “duplicitous” and cheerfully saying, “If the LIV Tour went away tomorrow I’d be super happy,” still thinks everyone should just sit down and hash it out like gentlemen.

This is of course the wrong approach. They should all be gathered in a room, given clubs and told to fight it out until one side is driven into the woods, no pun intended. Not because the PGA Tour is a force for good or that LIV’s sportswashing is just the PGA Tour with a more nefarious backstory, but so they’ll shut up until one person stands up and says the thing we all know to be true.

That there’s prize money as defined by corporate sponsors, there’s obscene prize money as defined by objectionable corporate sponsors, and there’s dirty obscene prize money as defined by governments who are comfortable with attitude adjusters like murder and oppression. You know, tiny subtleties you normal folk could pilot a cruise ship through sideways while irretrievably drunk.

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