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Mohammed bin Salman bought golf—and a whole lot more.
The easiest way to understand what LIV Golf wanted to be was first to look at what it actually was. LIV, which was founded in 2021 with funding from Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF), pitched itself as “Golf but louder.” Golfers competed not just individually, but as part of 12 different teams, with names such as Hyflyers, Fireballs, Crushers, and Torque. Music blared over the sound system during tournaments.
“Golf but more like an energy drink” was a concept so evidently bad that LIV’s ambition had to be something else: Saudi Arabia did not want to disrupt the PGA; it wanted the PGA. LIV spent huge amounts of money to lure golfers away from the Tour. (Tiger Woods declined a reported $800 million offer.) It courted Republican politicians, hired the usual hacks and choke artists, and took the PGA to court over its anti-competitive practices. On Tuesday, the two parties announced a stunning settlement: LIV and the PGA are no longer fighting, they’re merging. The new joint venture’s chairman will be Yasir Al-Rumayyan—a governor of the Saudi sovereign wealth fund and chairman of the Saudi state oil company, Aramco.
As my colleague Russ Choma notes, this development is good news for former President Donald Trump, who took huge paydays from LIV to host tournaments at his country clubs after the PGA Tour stopped holding events at Trump courses. It’s a major victory for the masses who clamored for louder golf. But the real winner here is the man who chairs Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund: the country’s de facto ruler, Mohammed bin Salman.
MBS is not a very good person. According to the US government, he personally ordered the 2018 assassination of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who wrote for the Washington Post. After Khashoggi was murdered at the Saudi embassy in Istanbul and then dismembered, and the Saudi government’s attempts to redirect culpability elsewhere fell apart, there was a brief cooling-off in MBS’ relationship with the West. Some Americans (but not Eric Cantor) skipped out on an annual investors event in Riyadh later that year. But the blowback didn’t go much beyond that. Then-president President Donald Trump still met with MBS. So did President Joe Biden. Secretary of State Antony Blinken sat down with him this week.
Killing a Washington Post columnist is bad, but apparently not so bad you should have to cancel a networking event over it. Within a few years, MBS’ “Davos in the Desert” confab was once again packed with America’s finest job-creators—Jamie Dimon, Stephen Schwarzman, even a pre-indictment Sam Bankman-Fried. For a time, the PGA sought to leverage Saudi Arabia’s links to 9/11 against LIV while expressing support for people whose loved ones died in the attacks. (Most of the hijackers were Saudi nationals, and the FBI released a document last year stating that several of them were in contact with a man in California the agency believes was a Saudi intelligence operative; the Saudi government, which denies any involvement in the plot, has fought for decades to stop lawsuits from victims’ relatives.) As of this week, the PGA’s performed empathy is over too; what’s a few thousand lives among friends?
“I recognize that people are gonna call me a hypocrite,” PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan said at a press conference on Tuesday. But, he added, “circumstances do change.”
There is something sort of amusing, and depending on your worldview, validating, about a lawsuit over monopolistic practices ending in the formation of an even bigger monopoly. That America’s most Republican sport is now officially an appendage of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is a little too on the nose. But golf is not the only sport Saudi Arabia is trying to take over, and LIV was not its only holy-shit deal this week.