In his 2004 book, “Pipe Dreams,” author Robert Bryce details the greed, deceit and corporate excesses that led to Enron’s massive collapse in the fall of 2001. I’ll tell ya, it’s a helluva page-turner. It not only details the fraud and bankruptcy at the root of the scandal, but is also a character study of those at the center of it all. In some ways, you have to be impressed with Jeffrey Skilling, the Enron CEO. His abject honesty is astounding. It’s not honesty regarding how he broke the law and ruined lives, of course, but honesty about his motivation.
On one occasion, according to Bryce, Skilling told Terry Thorn, Enron’s head of governmental affairs, the cold-hard truth at the heart of it all.
“I’ve thought about this a lot,” Skilling told Thorn, “and all that matters is money. You buy loyalty with money. Don’t ever forget that.”
There it is.
It’s oddly nice to just hear it so plainspoken, isn’t it? You almost respect it. (Almost.) Why? Because it’s better than feeling lied to.
This brings us to today and this very restless moment in the world of professional golf. Recent months have unleashed so much wrangling and foreboding over the Saudi-funded LIV Golf Invitational Series serving as an ultimate disruptor in the sport. There have been questions of ethics and morality. There have been essential questions regarding this existential threat to the PGA Tour. There’s been constant speculation over who will go, who won’t go, and who will consider going in time.
But now we’re finally here. The first LIV Golf event will tee off just north of London on Thursday. We’ll see it. No more postulation.
Before things start, though, we have a favor to ask of all those set to tee it up at Centurion Club.
Please, for the love of God, guys, embrace what you’re doing. Own it. Be it. Lean all the way into it. Stop reading the ridiculous, grandiose talking points you’re being handed by whatever PR hacks are around you. Stop telling us you’re excited to play what amounts to video game golf. Stop telling us you’re totally jazzed about shotgun starts. Stop saying you’re trying to use golf as a force of good in the world. Stop pulling down the “GROW THE GAME” lever like it’s a slot machine ready to pop.
Guys, just say it’s the money.
Say it was too much money to turn down. Say you’ve already calculated how much earlier you can retire. Say you’re putting an addition on your house.
Say those words out loud.
It will make you feel better.
And it will be the truth.
A lot of people will respect you more for it. Sure, they might not respect what you’re doing. And they might not accept the moral origami you used to shrug off becoming an indirect employee of the Saudi Arabia government or understand why you’re perfectly content playing weaker competition on a regular basis. But, dammit, they’ll have to respect the honesty!
Because the alternative is treating the entire golfing public like it’s a herd of gullible morons. And that, thus far, has been the primary messaging from those players taking the plunge into the Saudis’ palace pool. Tuesday’s first round of LIV news conferences, for example, came off as a series of attempts to speak justification into existence via prepackaged bullet points that John Q. Golf Fan would slurp down like free drinks at a pro-am, as if we haven’t t already seen the damn playbook.
LIV provided talking points and examples for its players. Keep your ears peeled over the next couple weeks pic.twitter.com/JSZWf5n9kr
— The Fried Egg (@the_fried_egg) June 5, 2022
And yet, one after another, dating back to last week at the Memorial, those players participating in LIV’s inaugural event have come out with the same disingenuous motives. It’s as if … telling the concocted story is part of the job. As if, creating this cooked-up ideal of LIV Golf’s greater purpose as a golf ambassador to the world(!) is the real intent, thus shrouding that the league is a tool of the Public Investment Fund, a wealth fund controlled by the government of Saudi Arabia.
But no, it can’t be that.
So just tell us it’s the money.
There’s pretty much universal agreement that those who defect to LIV are free to do so. There is a responsibility that comes with that, though, to acknowledge being part of the most divisive counter-strike any professional sport has seen in decades. It’s no small matter, so let’s not act like it is.
And let’s not act like you’re simply an unknowing player in this game.
One of Skilling’s primary holdings when explaining his trading methods (which earned him a 24-year sentence in prison) was that if someone didn’t understand what he was doing, it was simply because they were too dumb to it. In the case of LIV golfers, these guys are doing the opposite. Some are saying that they are too dumb to understand criticisms or the notion that they might be partaking in sportswashing. Talor Gooch, a 30-year-old who spent four years in college at Oklahoma State, said Tuesday that it’s not a fair criticism, but added, “I’m a golfer, I’m not that smart,” Gooch told reporters at Centurion Club. “I try to hit a golf ball into a small hole. Golf is hard enough. I try to worry about golf, and I’m excited about this week.”
Now that’s a counterpoint.
Kind of feels like something someone would say when they forget what they were told to say.
Maybe a better answer would’ve been that the lump-sum up-front money from the PIF is already in the bank. Or maybe the better answer would be that the winner of this week’s LIV event is going to earn $4 million for three days’ easy work, while the winner of next week’s US Open will win just over $2 million for four days of hard-ass golf .
That’s something everyone would understand. All that matters is money.
Maybe if anyone had the guts to just come out and say it.
(Photo of Phil Mickelson, left, and Dustin Johnson: Aitor Alcalde / LIV Golf via Getty Images)