While Admitting a ‘Tainted’ Legacy, Graeme McDowell Takes Issue with LIV Backlash
In what was described as a sometimes emotional interview, Graeme McDowell expressed his surprise at the backlash associated with his move to the LIV Golf Invitational Series, said he’s received death threats online and acknowledged, that at least temporarily, his legacy is “tainted.’’
The 2010 U.S. Open champion, who is from Northern Ireland and lives in the Orlando, Florida, area, spoke to Irish reporters at the JP McManus Pro-am in Limerick.
As quoted by the Independent newspaper, McDowell, 42, said he’s been taken aback by the vitriol associated with his decision and comments made in London last month that were splashed negatively across newspapers in his homeland.
“The hardest thing for me the last three or four weeks is the negative fallout and being linked to comments, where all you’re trying to do is say the right things and do the right thing for a golf organization that are giving us a phenomenal opportunity,” he said.
LIV Golf has faced tremendous backlash for, among other things, its funding from Saudi Arabia. The country’s sovereign wealth fund, the Public Investment Fund, is bankrolling the endeavor through LIV Golf, calling repeated attention to its human rights issues, link to 9/11 and the death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
The LIV Golf League – as it will be referred to starting next year – has offered multiyear guaranteed contracts and purses of $25 million per event, with the winner receiving $4 million. McDowell made $560,000 for a 10th-place tie in London and another $135,000 after an admittedly tough week in Portland, where he tied for 35th out of 48 players.
“All the tenuous links to the things that these guys have allegedly done when we know that the links are, like I say, tenuous at best,’’ McDowell said. “It doesn’t mean everyone in Saudi Arabia is a bad person.”
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McDowell pointed out the double standards often associated with criticism of Saudi. Last week in Portland, he noted the PGA Tour’s own benefactor, FedEx, which has dealings in the country and with whom the PIF has a significant investment.
“(U.S. president) Joe Biden, he’s going to jump on a plane and sit down with MBS (Mohammed bin Salman, crown prince of Saudi Arabia) in two weeks’ time because he needs oil,” McDowell said in the interview. “But golfers, we’re the worst people in the world.”
McDowell was particularly troubled by the way he has been portrayed for skipping last week’s Irish Open. In order to play the Saudi International earlier this year — which he won in 2020 — he needed to commit to the Irish Open, a tournament he said he’s played for the majority of the last 20 years.
When he won the Saudi event two years ago, he signed a three-deal to return to the Saudi tournament — which the European Tour (now DP World Tour) sanctioned at the time. He believes the Tour is now being hypocritical for holding that against him. He was unable to play the Irish Open because of the LIV tournament.
“I tried to be fair and I tried to be open with them and put all my cards on the table,” he said. “Of course I was very disappointed that the second event fell against the Irish Open. I would have loved to have been there last week. The only thing I can say is I have to be all-in. I’m (nearly) 43 and 380th in the world. My value to these guys is only so much. I have to try to commit the best I can to the LIV Tour, and that meant not obviously being able to play last week.”
McDowell added: “Listen, I’d love to be back at the Irish Open next year and like I say I can only apologize to the Irish golf fans that I wasn’t there last week. And like I say, unfortunately I had pretty good reasons for it in regards to what I have to commit to with the LIV Tour. I have to be all-in with those events. I can’t just dip my toe in.”
Asked if he had sold his soul, McDowell said: “I’ve played golf all over the world for countries, that if you dug deep enough, you might think, what am I doing playing golf here.” He admitted to taking the money because of his recent struggles with injuries and to compete at a high level and that he “lost my spark a little bit.”
As for his legacy, McDowell said: “In the short term it’s tainted because the narrative is so negative. Eventually that narrative will have to change. How many top players are going to have to play in this thing and create a product to where you guys will start talking about golf?”
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The author of 5 books, 3 of which are New York Times bestsellers. I’ve been published in more than 100 newspapers and magazines and am a frequent commentator on NPR.