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Masters champion Fred Couples on Saudi-backed golf tour: ‘I don’t like anything about it'

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LIV Golf held its second event over the weekend — this one in Portland, Oregon — and the backlash surrounding the Saudi Arabian-backed golf league continues.

In a conversation with Yahoo Finance, golf legend Fred Couples bashed the startup league that’s plucking players from the PGA Tour.

“I don’t like anything about it to be honest with you,” Couples told Yahoo Finance last week at the Icons Series event at Liberty National Golf Course. “I’ve heard some people say: ‘Well you know golf is an open sport and if they can get more…’ Well this is different. They’re kind of pummeling the Tour to give the best to the Saudi Arabians. We don’t know how long this tour is going to last. My easy answer is, as a golf professional who has played the tour for 42 years, I’m kind of embarrassed.”

LIV Golf started play on June 9 and has flaunted hundreds of millions of dollars at some of golf’s biggest names to defect from the PGA Tour. The golf series is bankrolled by the Saudi Arabia Public Investment Fund, posing a dilemma for participating golfers given the brutal murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi government-directed operatives in 2018 and other human rights accusations.

Branden Grace pose with the trophy alongside second place Carlos Ortiz (left) and third place Patrick Reed (right) during the final round of the LIV Golf tournament at Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club on July 2, 2022. Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports
Branden Grace pose with the trophy alongside second place Carlos Ortiz (left) and third place Patrick Reed (right) during the final round of the LIV Golf tournament at Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club on July 2, 2022. Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

The Saudi’s have invested at least $500 million toward the launch of the new golf league, including a a $255 million purse across eight tournaments and player salaries. But LIV Golf still doesn’t have a broadcast partner, and the matches are streamed on LIV Golf’s YouTube. Overall, there’s no clear understanding of how the tournament makes money and plans to be profitable in the long run.

Nevertheless, some players have followed the money. Phil Mickelson reportedly left the PGA Tour for $200 million. Dustin Johnson walked for a $125 million deal, according to reports. Two of the sport's rising stars, Bryson DeChambeau and Brooks Koepka, soon followed.

Couples took issue with how the LIV players have addressed the media throughout the start of the new league. Many players, including Mickelson Koepka and Johnson, have deferred commenting on the controversial nature of their new employer.

“Where I’m really embarrassed is when they go to do interviews,” Couples said. “They can’t even speak. They don’t know what to say. They don’t answer. For me when I go to a PGA Tour event and I’m in there, I get asked crazy questions. I don’t confront anyone. I don’t tell anyone ‘oh that happened years ago.’’

Former Masters champion Fred Couples attends the Drive, Chip and Putt National Finals at Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Georgia, U.S., April 3, 2022.  REUTERS/Brian Snyder
Former Masters champion Fred Couples attends the Drive, Chip and Putt National Finals at Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Georgia, U.S., April 3, 2022. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

Couples, who’s been on the PGA Tour for 40 years, thinks LIV’s shot at pro golf is fleeting and maintained the tour done a “great job” combating LIV. And in the end, with LIV not having much of a revenue stream beyond oil money, the battle between the tours will hinge on how long the Saudis bankroll the project.

“I don’t know how long it’s going to be around,” Couples said. “Right now the LIV Tour is kind of a cool thing if you’re a golfer and you’re getting paid $100 million. And you’re a golfer and you’re being completely overpaid. But we’re not the NFL. I can’t sign a basketball contract for five years for 200 million. In golf, we play and we play and we earn what we have. And up until two months ago, everyone thought it was the greatest game in the world on the PGA Tour. Now some people are being paid handsomely and they’re kind of bashing the tour, which is ridiculous.”

Josh is a producer for Yahoo Finance Live.

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