Padraig Harrington has accused the critics of golf’s Saudi rebel circuit of using “the low hanging fruit of morals” as a “stick to beat the guys” joining the $255 million LIV Golf Series.
Europe’s last Ryder Cup captain warned the DP World Tour, formerly the European Tour, that the ethical backlash will soon peter out and then they will struggle to hold off the Saudi billions.
In an impassioned “anti-woke” rant against the backlash to the breakaway league – which begins with the $25m opener in St Albans in three weeks’ time – Harrington maintained that the negativity towards the Kingdom and, presumably, its brutal human rights record, would soon blow over.
“As much as it’s being used as a stick to beat those guys and it is a big issue for anyone who is going, clearly time will pass,” Harrington told RTE. “There is no doubt the moral side of it has been the low hanging fruit that has been used to beat them back.”
Last week, Greg Norman, the LIV Golf chief executive, caused global outrage by brushing off the Saudi-approved murder of Jamal Khashoggi in 2018 by declaring, “we’ve all made mistakes”. The indifferent Australian then referenced all the businesses that deal with the Kingdom and wondered why golf should be any different.
Harrington seems to side with this view. “It’s not like my own country doesn’t do a lot of business in Saudi Arabia,” he said, before repeating his theory that the storm of objection will fizzle out. “As much as it’s being used as a stick to beat those guys and it is a big issue for anyone who is going, clearly time will pass.
“What is going to happen? Where is world golf going to be? I can understand the European Tour when they turned down the [Saudi] offer originally. They didn’t want to rock the boat but that boat is being rocked with pretty rough seas ahead.”
Harrington also revealed that he had tried unsuccessfully to get in touch with Phil Mickelson, who has not been seen in competition in more than three months because of his involvement with the Saudi separatists.
‘Phil has to do what’s right for him’
Last year, the left-handed American stunned the game in the USPGA by becoming the oldest winner of a major. Harrington, only a year younger than Mickelson, finished fourth.
“Phil has to do what’s right for him at this very moment,” Harrington said, referring to his friend’s withdrawal in the wake of his connections with the Saudi bid. “For me, that would be turning up and playing this week. At this very moment, it’s a very awkward situation. But we all live in different parallels.”
Harrington also had cautionary words for the DP World Tour, suggesting it has lost its power after signing the “strategic alliance” with the European circuit. “You have a rival tour to the PGA Tour, which the European Tour was, kind of,” he said. “Ultimately the European Tour is the one getting squeezed [by LIV]. It’s going to go from being the second tour to maybe not. The majors are obviously going to gain with two rival tours.”
Harrington is playing here this week looking for his second Wanamaker Trophy. Under his command the European team lost by a record 19-9 scoreline in the biennial match against the US last October and Harrington revealed he was not offered a place in the Saudi circus.
“At the end of the day, the only issue at the table here for the players who are going – because the moral questions, they’ll have got over that if they’re going – will be do they get world ranking points and will they still be eligible to play the majors?” Harrington said.
“I haven’t been offered anything so I don’t need to make any decision. I’m delighted I don’t have to make a decision. Put it like this, it would be tough in five or six years’ time if I’m sitting there feeling like I’ve left $50million on the table.”