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PORTLAND, Oregon — You can say this much for LIV Golf: The new Saudi-backed organization and its players certainly know how to generate headlines — and controversy.
The tour, which makes its U.S. debut Thursday at Pumpkin Ridge outside of Portland, has quickly become known for contentious exchanges between media asking about Saudi Arabia’s horrendous track record on human rights and players who mostly refuse to acknowledge said track record.
That continued Tuesday afternoon, as Brooks Koepka, Patrick Reed and Pat Perez attended the day’s second news conference and proceeded to get visibly annoyed with every non-golf question.
When asked about various local politicians who have voiced opposition to LIV being in Oregon given who’s funding the tournament, Perez said, “I understand the topics you’re trying to bring up and they’re horrible events. But I’m here to play golf.”
Perez did not clarify what he meant by “horrible events,” though it’s likely the 2018 death of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who was killed inside the Saudi consulate, would be included.
To more general concerns about LIV’s connection with Saudi Arabia, Koepka said people are “allowed to have their opinions, we’ve heard it, everybody has. Our only job is to play golf. We’re trying to grow the game.”
But Koepka and Perez didn’t care for the question about if, in aligning themselves with Saudi Arabia, were they actually alienating fans and potentially harming growth of the game?
“We haven’t asked them (the fans),” Perez snapped. “We don’t know. You go ask them.”
Koepka argued that more golf on TV and the internet in general — whether people are getting it via TikTok, Instagram or Twitter — is ultimately good for growing the sport. And clearly, Reed said, the PGA Tour considers LIV an organization that will do exactly that.
"Seeing how miraculously the purses went skyrocketing back up on the PGA Tour, it just shows they obviously believe not only is this a true threat, but a great tour, if they're copying what we're doing," Reed said. "I believe this is a tour that's going to be around forever."
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On topics related to the actual playing of golf, Koepka, Perez and Reed all expressed frustration with the PGA Tour, fed up with what they said is a punishing, unrealistic schedule. They said the PGA Tour created division by not listening to players when they complained about a packed schedule that didn’t allow them proper rest. Koepka said he returned to playing three weeks after major knee surgery, even though doctors had advised him to not play for six months. What other option did he have?
“If you took off any period of time because your body needed it, now you’re behind,” said Reed, who won the 2018 Masters.
Perez, 46, said he’s “been on the road longer than (newest LIV golfer) Matt Wolff has been alive. The bottom line is, I’m tired of being on the road. This (LIV) is like winning the lottery.”
All players who have signed contracts with LIV have been suspended from PGA Tour events, though only a handful, including Reed, have actually resigned their membership.
“I’m not resigning,” Perez said. “I don’t think I did anything wrong.”
As for continuing to have access to the majors, no one seems very worried.
“Obviously we don’t really know where they all stand,” Reed said. “Being a past champion at Augusta and having a green jacket, I would think I’d be able to play there the rest of my life. At the end of the day, it’s going to be up to them.”
Added Koepka: “You play well anywhere in the world, you’ll be just fine. I’ve made my decision, I’m happy with it and whatever comes of it, I’ll live with it.”
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: LIV Golf players continue to face questions about Saudi-backed venture