The widow of Jamal Khashoggi, the Washington Post correspondent alleged to have been murdered by Saudi Crown Prince Muhammed Bin Salman, slammed golfers who have taken a check from the LIV Golf Tour Sunday, including Phil Mickelson.
Mickelson, Dustin Johnson and Bryson DeChambeau are among those accused of being ‘complicit’ in the ‘whitewashing’ of Saudi Arabia’s reputation by cashing in with the controversial, renegade LIV Invitational Series, which is owned by the MBS-controlled Saudi Public Investment Fund.
Hatice Cengiz, Khashoggi’s widow, trashed the golfers as mercenaries taking money from murderers who should be banned from all other competitions.
‘If they still carry on and play as if everything is normal, then they should be banned from playing in the world’s major tournaments,’ Cengiz told USA Today. ‘This will show that there are consequences for supporting murderers, and it will show the murderers that they are not escaping justice.’
Every player taking part in the rogue league has been suspended by the PGA, but they don’t control the Masters, PGA Championship, US Open and The Open Championship, golf’s four majors.
Hatice Cengiz, the widow of Jamal Khashoggi, the Washington Post correspondent alleged to have been murdered by Saudi Crown Prince Muhammed Bin Salman, slammed golfers who have taken a check from the LIV Golf Tour Sunday, including Phil Mickelson
Khashoggi’s widow, trashed Mickelson and his cohorts as mercenaries taking money from murderers who should be banned from all other competitions
‘If they still carry on and play as if everything is normal, then they should be banned from playing in the world’s major tournaments,’ Cengiz said. ‘This will show that there are consequences for supporting murderers, and it will show the murderers that they are not escaping justice’
Mickelson, Dustin Johnson and Bryson DeChambeau are among those accused of being ‘complicit’ in the ‘whitewashing’ of Saudi Arabia’s reputation by cashing in with the controversial, renegade LIV Invitational Series, which is owned by the MBS-controlled Saudi Public Investment Fund
‘They should be insisting on justice for Jamal and the countless persons targeted and abused in the Kingdom,’ Cengiz added, ‘and they should not be participating in sports paid for by the very abusers.’
On the eve of the tour’s debut competition at Centurion Club in England, Mickelson squirmed his way through his first press conference since February, refusing to say whether or not he has been banned from the PGA Tour after his defection.
The 51-year-old Californian had previously described the Saudis as ‘scary motherf***ers’ and said he was well aware of the nation’s ‘horrible record on human rights’ – including the murder of Washington Post reporter Jamal Khashoggi – in an interview with the author of a new unauthorised biography.
Yet Mickelson is reportedly being paid $200million (£160m) to compete at LIV Golf events, starting this week in England.
Today he declined to confirm if he is receiving the enormous fee, but his answer indicated the reported sum may be accurate. ‘I feel that contract agreements should be private,’ Mickelson said. ‘Doesn’t seem to be the case, but it should be.’
In his first appearance in front of the media in months, Mickelson was wearing a cap featuring his own personal logo, having been dropped by long-term sponsor KPMG due to the Saudi furore. In contrast to his previously long-term squeaky clean public image, Mickelson was also unshaven.
Asked about Saudi Arabia’s record of human rights abuses, which include a mass public execution of 81 people in March this year, Mickelson added: ‘I don’t condone human rights violations at all. Nobody here does.
Phil Mickelson has endured a difficult press conference after defecting to the LIV Golf tour
Mickelson squirmed and dodged questions as he appeared at the Saudi-backed golf event
Mickelson previously called the Saudis ‘scary motherf***ers’ but has now taken their money
‘I’m aware of what has happened with Jamal Khashoggi and it’s terrible. I have also seen the good that the game of golf has done throughout history and I believe LIV Golf is going to do a lot of good for the game as well.
‘I don’t condone human rights violations. I don’t know how I can be more clear.
‘I understand that many people have strong opinions and may disagree with this decision. I can empathise with that.
‘But at this time this is an opportunity that gives me a chance to have the most balance in my life going forward and I think it’s going to do a lot of good for the game.’
As well as infamously calling the Saudis ‘scary mother f***ers’, Mickelson had previously insisted to his unauthorised biographer Alan Shipnuck that working with the Saudis was a ‘once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reshape how the PGA Tour operates’ while also accusing the Tour of ‘obnoxious greed’.
The LIV Golf series is handing out £200m in prize money to those golfers it can lure from the traditional golf tours, and the seven regular-season tournaments will have total prize pots of £20m, which are the richest in professional golf.
Another £24m bonus will be shared by the top three players cumulatively from those events, while the season-ending team match-play championship has another £40m up for grabs.
Two of the events are being held at golf courses owned by Donald Trump.
The six-time major champion is reportedly being paid £160m to compete at LIV Golf events
He has acknowledged the murder of Washington Post reporter Jamal Khashoggi (pictured) by the Saudis and that the Saudi regime has a ‘horrible record on human rights’, but is still playing
Charl Schwartzel has pocketed £3.86 million, golf’s biggest ever prize pot, after winning the controversial first LIV golf tournament – as players have faced renewed backlash from a 9/11 victims’ groups
The South African, 37, won the first round of the series, at Centurion Club in St Albans, Hertfordshire, with a one-stroke victory.
Schwartzel, a former Masters champion, also won a further £609,000 ($750,000) for being part of the winning team – with players competing both individually and as part of a four-man team.
Speaking at the presentation, LIV Golf chief executive and former world number one Greg Norman said ‘the evolution of golf has arrived’.
And Schwartzel, receiving the trophy, added: ‘Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think we could play for that much money in golf.
‘As you could see I was taking a bit of heat down the stretch and there was a lot of money involved.’
Schwartzel’s victory comes after US golfers Patrick Reed, Bryson DeChambeau and Pat Perez confirmed they will be joining the tour.
But in addition to Khashoggi’s family, the American defectors have been accused of ‘betraying’ the victims of the 9/11 terror atrocity in a scathing letter from a prominent support group.
In citing Saudi Arabia’s prominent role in the terror attack, Terry Strada, the chair of 9/11 Families United, wrote: ‘Whether it was the appeal of millions of dollars of hard cash, or just the opportunity to prosecute your professional grievances with the PGA, you have sold us out.
‘This is a betrayal not only of us, but of all your countrymen.’
Strada, whose husband died in the attack, added: ‘Our community wishes to express our outrage at your partnership with LIV Golf and remind you of the responsibility that your new business partner, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, shoulders for providing the financial support and logistical support that enabled the terrorists to attack our nation and kill our loved ones.
‘As you may know, Osama bin Laden and 15 of the 19 September 11 hijackers were Saudis. It is the Kingdom that has spent 20 years in denial: lying about their activities, and cowardly dodging the responsibility they bear.
‘Yet these are your partners, and much to our disappointment, you appear pleased to be in business with them.
‘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 request for ‘respectability’. When you partner with the Saudis, you become complicit with their whitewash, and help give them the reputational cover they so desperately crave- and are willing to pay handsomely to manufacture.
‘Please, do not insult our loved one’s memories and take the pathetic position, as one of your foreign colleagues did last week, claiming you are ‘just golfers playing a game’ or blandly treating the evils of the Saudi regime as ‘human rights’ concerns. You are all Americans, keenly aware of the death and destruction of September 11.’
The letter came as the start-up tournament has been hugely criticised as an attempt at ‘sportswashing’ Saudi’s tarnished reputation.
And the source of its wealth and its impact on the golf landscape, amid Saudi Arabia’s human rights record, has also come under close scrutiny.
The Stinger GC team (L-R) Branden Grace of South Africa, Louis Oosthuizen of South Africa, Hennie du Plessis of South Africa and Charl Schwartzel of South Africa and family pose with the trophy
Ian Poulter also faced tough questions over his decision to join the lucrative start-up tournament
Barely half an hour into the first day of the inaugural event, the PGA Tour handed out indefinite suspensions to 17 golfers who took part.
The DP World Tour – formerly the European Tour – is yet to announce whether it will also sanction players who have signed up, but the PGA appear unlikely to get support from other sporting bodies.
The LIV tournament, backed by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund the PIF, featured a 54-hole format with no cuts and a shotgun start where each group of three begins on a different hole.
As well as the individual stroke play competition, 12 teams of four, chosen by captains at a pre-event draft and boasting names such as Stingers and Fireballs, competed for the prize pot.
Schwartzel won the event, which included just four of the world’s top 50 players, despite bogeying the final hole.
Finishing seven-under, he saw off fellow countrymen Hennie du Plessis and Branden Grace – with around 100,000 watching live on YouTube.
One insider told the BBC: ‘I wasn’t sure we’d ever see a shot hit. But I think it now has legs and will absolutely be a big part of the landscape of professional golf.
‘Lots of players who were on the fence would love to be involved now.’
More players are expected to be revealed before the second tournament takes place in Portland later this month.
Events will then follow in New Jersey at former President Donald Trump’s famous Bedminster, as well as Boston and Chicago.