Why are LIV golfers struggling to explain why they left the PGA Tour?

BEDMINSTER, NJ — Last month, Justin Thomas, the seventh-ranked men’s golfer in the world, summed up the sentiments of PGA Tour players like himself who turned down lavish money offers from rival Saudi Arabia-backed LIV Golf Series to stay established. tour.

Thomas just wants his former brothers, now under contract with LIV Golf, to say they jumped for the money. “Like, I personally would gain more respect for it,” Thomas said. “But the more the players keep talking and saying it’s to improve the game, the more worried and angry I get about it.”

On Wednesday, Thomas, who commented on the No Laying Up podcast, avoided the words of the last three defectors on the Rebels Tour, who appeared in a press conference at the LIV Series event, which begins on Friday. Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey.

“No, money wasn’t a factor,” said Charles Howell III, 43, who was once ranked No. 15 in the world but has fallen to No. 169. Instead, Howell argued, he joined the breakaway circuit because golf “can be a force. Change and good.”

Paul Casey, who is ranked 31st in the world, also laments that the focus of the new scheme’s successful recruitment efforts has been the large sums paid to jump ship.

“There’s a lot more to it,” Casey, 45, said.

LIV Golf, whose major shareholder is Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, handed out upfront individual payments of between $90 million and $200 million to golf stars including Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson and Bryson DeChambeau.

But on Wednesday, Howell, Casey and Jason Kokrak, who left the PGA Tour earlier this month, shook their heads when asked directly if they joined the inaugural tour for financial gain.

Kokrak said he was “on the fence” about whether to leave the PGA Tour until he entered the first two LIV tournaments this year. That’s when he watched as scores of golfers guaranteed eight-figure appearance fees also prepared to hand out $25 million in prize money, including $120,000 to the last-place finisher, who, like everyone else, had major expenses to attend. will be reimbursed. At the LIV event in Portland, Ore., master player Pat Perez, who shot an 80 in the final round to finish tied for 29th, took home $153,000 in individual winnings and another $750,000 as part of the team competition.

Kokrak, 37, watched these former teammates make sure they were in the money regardless of their grades and concluded Wednesday that he was drawn to the “fun vibe.”

“It makes me stronger,” he said.

I put a son.

Midway through a meeting with about 40 reporters on Wednesday, Howell, Casey and Kokrac were asked if they were uncomfortable being the public face of what critics have called an effort by Saudi Arabia to use golf to play down its dire human rights record. . Corporate sponsors have left golfers who have left the PGA Tour to join LIV Golf.

“I’ve been to the kingdom a few times and I’ve seen the changes,” said Casey, who played in Saudi Arabia’s annual international golf tournament. “And I talked to the people there.”

Casey went on to explain that he was playing golf with a 17-year-old girl and her father. “This opportunity would not have existed a few years ago,” he said. “It was a very positive experience for me.”

The next question turned to gay rights in Saudi Arabia. Did the golfers want to settle this?

Casey, who has been one of the most media-cooperative, thoughtful and brash golfers on the world golf tour for the past two decades, responded, “It’s not a topic I know enough to talk about.”

Kokrak, sitting to his right, added: “Yes, I agree with Paul. I don’t know enough about the subject to talk about it. “

The responses were reminiscent of another question at LIV Golf’s inaugural tour event in June, when players noticed by reporters with similar responses to questions were asked if they had received media training or been trained to handle difficult questions.

Perez said, “Zero.”

Brooks Koepka, a four-time major champion, testily replied, “I don’t know.”

At the end of Wednesday’s news conference, as Casey was leaving the podium, he was approached by a reporter from a New Jersey-based newspaper who asked about the recent protests by families of victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks criticizing the holding. A Saudi-backed event on Trump’s golf course, especially since it is located 50 miles from where the World Trade Center once stood.

“My heart goes out to all those who lost and were affected by 9/11; I have no words to describe the pain and sorrow beyond,” Casey said seriously.

The LIV Golf assistant pointed out.

“I have to do a photo shoot,” Casey said.

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