William Watson: The PGA/LIV deal may stick, but hypocritical Jay Monahan will have to go

William Watson: The PGA/LIV deal may stick, but hypocritical Jay Monahan will have to go

Golf prides itself as a sport where honour still matters. The PGA commissioner’s hypocrisy is disqualifying

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Does any human activity give greater pleasure (outside the bedroom) than revelling in other people’s hypocrisies? Professional Golf Association (PGA) Commissioner Jay Monahan, in making a deal with the Saudi devils in LIV Golf, whom he had previously accused of 9/11 complicity, chainsawing journalists and somewhat lesser but still despicable human rights violations against women and gay people, has committed hypocrisy on a spectacular scale. But, as public figures do in this era, he is forging ahead anyway.

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“I recognize that people are going to call me a hypocrite,” he said. “Anytime I said anything, I said it with the information that I had at that moment …” So in this week’s moment he has new information? The 9/11 bombers weren’t Saudis, after all? Jamal Khashoggi wasn’t assassinated and dismembered in a Saudi consulate in Istanbul? Women and gays do have full human rights and complete equality in Saudi Arabia?

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He went on: “I said it based on someone that’s trying to compete for the PGA Tour and our players.” That sounds awfully like “I lied for strategic purposes because it suited the interests of the PGA Tour at the time. When you’re trying to beat somebody in a public relations war, you use whatever arguments you can, whether or not you truly believe them.” We’ve become accustomed to that way of thinking in politics — question period ethics, you might call it — but many of us were hoping other parts of life might still be governed by more traditional conceptions of fact and truth.

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Monahan concluded: “I accept those criticisms. But circumstances do change. I think that in looking at the big picture and looking at it this way, that’s what got us to this point.” That’s a little vague but I suspect the new circumstances he refers to are that after a year of spending like crazy to make its tournaments financially competitive with LIV’s prize money and signing bonuses, the PGA concluded that continuing the dollar spree much longer was going to empty its reserves and wreck its business model. There just aren’t enough golf fans to persuade the networks to keep financing the spending bonanza.

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Cue the constructive engagers. Rather than improve Saudi society by boycotting everything LIV, the PGA will now be trying to improve the Saudis by “constructive engagement.” By working with them. And their money. And trying to raise up Saudi morality by exposing them on a daily basis to the shining example of the exemplary business ethics of their exemplary new colleagues on the merged entity’s board, such as Jay Monahan himself.

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That might not work so well. Not any better than when our own Liberals tried it with Cuba and China and other “people’s autocracies” the left prefers not to criticize. The constructive engagers sometimes end up getting reconstructed themselves, as when prime ministers begin to practise Chinese-style stonewalling with Canadian characteristics.

On the substance of the new golf deal, anything that reduces the incomes of lawyers can’t be all bad. The PGA and LIV are going to stop suing each other, which should ease their cash drain. On the other hand, they’ll also stop providing embarrassing depositions about each other’s operations, including the PGA’s peculiar tax status as a non-profit. And various governments will go after them for trying to monopolize the world market for professional golfers, which it looks very much as if they’re trying to do.

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There’s lots of talk in these first hours about how “unifying” golf will help the game. How, exactly? Those of us out there pounding the links are completely unaffected — except in terms of who we get to watch in TV tournaments. The people who actually play in those tournaments should regret the deal. As always happens when one new sports league takes on another, the workers’ compensation has skyrocketed. The PGA seriously increased its prize money in response to LIV. It may not reduce it post-merger but the pressure to keep increasing it will be off.

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The TV networks will be worse off, with just one entity to buy broadcast rights from, not two.

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But the people who really get hurt are the players who went very public in support of their respective sides. You think Joe Biden got sandbagged last week. Rory McIlroy, forthright straight-shooter, has been the front man among golfers for the PGA. He and other players, including the biggest star of all, Tiger Woods, were kept out of the secret LIV/PGA negotiations. (As was LIV’s front man, Greg Norman.) Yet they still have to approve the deal. Things could continue to be “spicy,” as one participant called the first post-deal Monahan/players meeting (at this week’s Canadian Open).

In the end, is money all that counts? To an extent. If economic considerations become over-powering, you get powered over. But reputation still matters. If you develop the reputation that anything you say, however fervently, is situational, contingent on “the information I had at that moment,” who will take you seriously in future? Golf prides itself as being a game in which honour still matters: people call penalties on themselves. The deal might stick. Monahan will have to go.

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