- Associated Press
Tuesday, June 28, 2022

The Saudi-funded LIV Golf series brings its would-be rival to the PGA Tour to the United States for the first time this week, kicking off its second tournament on Thursday with more big prizes, three big new names added to its roster of players and, not surprisingly, some political blowback from state and local officials in Oregon.

The series settles in this week at Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club in tiny North Plains, nestled in the rolling hills west of Portland with at least eight of the world’s top 50 golfers lured away from the established PGA Tour by the upstart league.

But the North Plains mayor, as well as officials from surrounding cities, concerned about human-rights abuses in Saudi Arabia have written the club’s owner, Escalante Golf, with concerns, and Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden, a Democrat, is speaking out against the tournament. 

“We oppose this event because it is being sponsored by a repressive government whose human rights abuses are documented. We refuse to support these abuses by complicitly allowing the Saudi-backed organization to play in our backyard,” said a letter signed by North Plains mayor Teri Lenahan and 10 other mayors from surrounding cities. 

Wyden accuses the Saudi government of sportswashing.

“It’s just a page out of the autocrats’ playbook covering up injustices by misusing athletics in hopes of normalizing their abuses,” he said.

LIV Golf had been expected to announce additional players from its inaugural event outside London three weeks ago. The big surprise was Brooks Koepka, who only a week before he signed on had been in full support of the PGA Tour.

LIV Golf also said Monday that Carlos Ortiz of Mexico is joining, one week after Abraham Ancer of Mexico signed on.

The 48-man field will compete for another $20 million purse, with an additional $5 million prize fund for a team competition. Charl Schwartzel won the inaugural event and its $4 million payoff.

Also in the field are 23-year-old Matthew Wolff and Oklahoma State’s Eugenio Chacarra of Spain. Wolff, who also played at Oklahoma State, made an instant impact on the PGA Tour when he turned pro at age 20 and won the 3M Open in Minnesota in his third start. 

A year later, Wolff shot 65 in the final round to tie for fourth in the PGA Championship, and he had the 54-hole lead at Winged Foot in the U.S. Open until he shot 75 on the last day and finished six shots behind Bryson DeChambeau.

Since then, Wolff has struggled with relating happiness with the scores he was posting, and he stepped away in 2021 for 10 months to cope with mental health issues. Once as high as No. 12 in the world, he now is No. 77. His lone finish in the top 20 this year was a tie for sixth in the Saudi International.

The additional signings -— which include DeChambeau and Patrick Reed as the London event was concluding — give the LIV Golf Invitational a field led by Dustin Johnson who is ranked at No. 16 in the world.

Ortiz, who is No. 119 in the world, won his only PGA Tour title in the Houston Open in 2020.

The Portland event is the first of five LIV Golf events scheduled for the United States, the first time PGA Tour members are competing on U.S. soil the same week as a PGA Tour event. The John Deere Classic in Illinois does not have any of the top 50 in the world.

Players who compete in LIV Golf are suspended by the PGA Tour. Some of them, such as Sergio Garcia and Johnson, have resigned their membership.

“The PGA Tour, an American institution, can’t compete with a foreign monarchy that is spending billions of dollars in attempt to buy the game of golf,” Commissioner Jay Monahan said last week. “We welcome good, healthy competition. The LIV Saudi golf league is not that. It’s an irrational threat, one not concerned with the return on investment or true growth of the game.”

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