BOB WEST ON GOLF — Debate heats up over Mickelson, PGA Tour defectors

Published 12:09 am Wednesday, June 15, 2022

Tiger Woods reportedly turned down in excess of $500 million to become affiliated with the upstart Saudi Arabia-backed LIV golf tour, ostensibly because he didn’t want to have his name tarnished as part of a “sportswashing” scheme to cover up Saudi atrocities.

Phil Mickelson, on the other hand, accepted $200 million to become the face of a Greg Norman endeavor that has already siphoned off nearly 20 PGA Tour members. Among the other notable defectors are Dustin Johnson, Bryson DeChambeau and Patrick Reed.

So, what to make of a rapidly developing morality play that steps front and center this week at the U.S. Open being played outside Boston. Everybody it seems has already picked their side, right down to CBS’ normally neutral nice guy Jim Nantz. who threw out the word betrayal on the RBC Canadian Open telecast this weekend.

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Nantz, not surprisingly, came down on the side of the PGA Tour and its suspensions of those who bolted for insane blood money. He’s in the vast majority and the case against the LIV’s recruits ratcheted up over the weekend when the chairman of a 9/11 survivors group reminded everyone of 3,000 lives lost in one of America’s great tragedies.

“Given Saudi Arabia’s role in the death of our loved ones and those injured on 9/11 – your fellow Americans – we are angered that you are so willing to help the Saudis cover up this history in their quest for respectability,” wrote 9/11 widow Terry Strada, in a letter to the defecting players.”

If you are fuzzy on the subject, 15 of the 9/11 hijackers were Saudi citizens. Strada’s group has an active lawsuit against the kingdom of Saudi Arabia for the training and financing that led to death and destruction at the World Trade Towers.

Then there’s the dismembering of Washington Post reporter Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi ruler Mohammed bin Salmon’s henchmen. And the jailing of dissenters, oppression of women and criminalization of homosexuals that is pretty much standard fare.

For those who may have missed it, here’s what Mickelson was quoted as saying about his new business partners a couple of months ago.

“They’re scary (expletive) to get involved with. We know they killed Khashoggi and have a horrible record on human rights. They execute people over there for being gay.”

For $200 million, however, Mickelson has managed to look the other way and get deeply involved. The media went at him hard in a Monday press conference and you have to think he will be a marked man for U.S. Open galleries this week, especially once the beer starts to flow.

Many questions, meanwhile, remain to be answered where LIV golf is concerned. For every Mickelson, Johnson and DeChambeau, there’s a Rory McIlroy, Justin Thomas and Scottie Scheffler championing the PGA Tour and why players should remain loyal to an organization that has done so much for them.

There are many more in the latter camp than the former and most of them are younger, rising stars who are the future of the game. Many of them are influenced by Woods and his views on the PGA Tour. It’s a stance certain to endear him to game’s old guard and its purists.

As for the LIV gang, they have their guaranteed blood money and fat purses, and that seems enough to rationalize becoming partners with a murderous government. But most of them were quickly dumped by long-time sponsors not wanting to see their name linked to Saudi Arabia. There is no tournament TV contract for similar reasons.

What American business wants to have any of these guys flaunting their products to a public well aware of Saudi Arabia’s track record? What TV network wants to be a part of airing a competition offering ridiculous money to a limited number of good players, many of whom may be scorned in their own country?

Big picture, though, the PGA Tour vs LIV is an issue that won’t be going away any time soon. Who would have thought golf could be in the middle of something like this, something that may cause once-popular players to regret possibly being on the wrong side of history?

CHIP SHOTS: Patrick Bassana of San Antonio won the YMBL tournament that was the opening event for the Southern Texas PGA Junior Tour June 6-7 at Bayou Din. Bassana shot 150 (79-71) to give him a five-stroke victory over Preston Deserrano of Nederland.

In other Junior Tour flights, Montana Dileo of Orange was a 16-shot winner in Girls 15-18 with a 149 (76-73) and Brayden Akers of Livingston won Boys 13-14 with a 154 (77-77), In Junior Links, Ella Calder shot 63 over nine holes to win Girls 13-14 and Graham Warren of Dayton claimed Boys 13-14 with a 40 . . .

The Monday Senior 50 Plus game at Babe Zaharias was played in a best 3 ball format. The team of Doug LeBlanc, Aubrey Ward, Art Turner and Ron Mistrot won the front with plus 2. Minus 3 won the back to the tam of Danny Robbins, Rusty Hicks, Harrell Guidry and Rufus Reyes.

Closest to the pin winners were John House (No. 2, 6’, 10”), Turner (No. 7, 6-0 ½), Reyes (No. 12, 8-10) and Bob West (No. 15, 8-4) . . .

In the Super Saturday Senior 2 ball there was a five-way tie on the front at minus 1 between teams captained by James Shipley, Brian Mirabella, Price Youngs, Ron LaSalle and West. On the back the Mirabella, Kenny Robbins, Guidry and Ron Hicks won with minus 5.

The Friday 2 ball saw the team of Dwayne Morvant, Larry Reece, Richard Malone and Glenn Knight take the front with minus 2. That was also the winning score on the back for the team of Earl Richard, Charles Leard, Lonnie Mosley and Dwayne Benoit.

The Wednesday Dogfight was played in an all-points count format. Winning with 28 points was the team of Richard, Raymond Darbonne, Larry Lee and Paul Duplantis. Second with 27 was the foursome of Danny Robbins, Cody Metts, Jake Selensky and James Johnson.

Closest to the pin winners were Benoit (No. 2), West (No. 7), Danny Robbins (No. 12) and Kenny Robbins (No. 15) . . .