The Saudi Factor: What LIV Golf Means For The LPGA
Money talks, and in recent weeks the influx of LIV Golf's cash has risen to a roar in the world of golf. With major PGA Tour players like Dustin Johnson and Phil Mickelson defecting - and receiving suspensions as a result - those in the ranks of women's golf are quietly wondering if the LPGA might be next target.
LIV Golf launched its first event in London on Thursday after months of drama and speculation about who would partake. The league is backed by the Saudi Arabian government's sovereign wealth fund, leading to harsh criticism like that levied by CBS Sports, which called it "fundamentally a reputation laundering entity for a hostile government." The Saudis' reputation for human rights abuses has been too much for some players' sponsors to bear: When Bryson DeChambeau announced he would be joining the tour, Rocket Mortgage was quick to drop him.
LPGA golfers haven't been immune to the attractions of the Saudi cash; nor have they been spared the inevitable backlash. Earlier this year, Angel Yin found herself sponsor-less at the U.S. Women's Open following her appearance at the Saudi-backed Aramco Saudi Ladies International. “The way I see it, if they are willing to invest money into women’s golf, I don’t see how that can hurt," she said.
It's an attitude adopted by many male and female golfers alike, but one that doesn't always pass muster with tour professionals, media, and fans. What's more, it's clear that it's a moral and professional conundrum that all professional golfers are likely to face throughout the rest of this year and beyond.
Indeed, Golf Saudi already backs six events on the Ladies European Tour, which has been part of a joint venture with the LPGA since 2020. In addition, some LPGA players (Anna Nordqvist, Allison Lee, and others) have been seen to wear Golf Saudi logos during tournament play. LPGA Board Member Stacy Lewis told Golfweek that the tour is aware of the shifting tide when it comes to Saudi money - and they're scared.
“We don’t have all the money and the power that the PGA does to kind of withstand all this,” said Lewis. “If tour players were to leave and start doing what the guys are doing, I don’t know what would happen to our tour. … We’ve kind of kept them at arm’s length.”
Ultimately, if money is the bottom line for players it remains to be seen if the LPGA will be able to compete. The LPGA historically has suffered from lower purses than the men's league, as well as fewer sponsorship opportunities for its stars - even the biggest ones. At the Women's Open, Nelly Korda was asked if she'd find a Saudi-sized purse attractive, and she was clear: "I don't know if anyone would say no to that."