PGA Tour players competing in this week’s controversial Saudi Arabia-backed LIV Golf Series tournament have been suspended from the tour. Now, they’ve drawn the ire of a prominent 9/11 survivors group.
On Friday, 911familiesunited.org, a coalition of families and survivors of the 2001 terrorist attacks, sent a scathing letter to representatives of Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson, Bryson DeChambeau, Patrick Reed and Kevin Na expressing their outrage toward the golfers for participating in the new league and accusing them of sportswashing.
“As a freedom-loving American, I am grateful to have the freedom of choice where I work and who I work for, and I respect your right as well,” wrote Terry Strada, the organization’s national chair and a mother of three whose husband , Tom, was on the 104th floor of the north tower of the World Trade Center during the attacks. “As a 9/11 widow, I feel compelled to help you understand the level of depravity the Kingdom engaged in when it knowingly sent government agents here to establish the support network needed for those hijackers.
“As you may know, Osama bin Laden and 15 of the 19 September 11 hijackers were Saudis. It was the Saudis who cultivated and spread the evil, hate-filled Islamist ideology that inspired the violent jihadists to carry out the deadly 9/11 attacks. And, most egregiously, it is the Kingdom that has spent 20 years in denial: lying about their activities, and cowardly dodging the responsibility they bear. Yet these are your partners, and much to our disappointment, you appear pleased to be in business with them.
“Given Saudi Arabia’s role in the death of our loved ones and those injured on 9/11—your fellow Americans—we are angered that you are so willing to help the Saudis cover up this history in their request for ‘respectability.’ When you partner with the Saudis, you become complicit with their whitewash, and help give them the reputational cover they so desperately crave—and are willing to pay handsomely to manufacture. The Saudis do not care about the deep-rooted sportsmanship of golf or its origins as a gentleman’s game built upon core values of mutual respect and personal integrity. They care about using professional golf to whitewash their reputation, and they are paying you to help them do it.”
Earlier this year, Mickelson set off a storm of criticism when he told a writer that the Saudi government are “scary motherf—kers” and admitted that the golf league was being used for “sportswashing” by the regime, but that he was using the rival circuit as leverage against the PGA Tour, which he accused of being a monopoly.
This week, Mickelson emerged from a four-month hiatus to play in LIV Golf’s first tournament outside London, where he was grilled as being a “Saudi stooge.” He was also joined by Johnson, Na and others. DeChambeau and Reed also jumped from the PGA Tour to LIV Golf earlier this week and will make their debut later this month in Portland, where they’ll also be joined by Pat Perez, the latest player to commit.
The players competing in the LIV Golf Series are guaranteed an enormous payday with no cut in the 54-hole tournaments, and Mickelson, Johnson and DeChambeau have received nine-figure deals just for joining.
More players are also expected to defect from the PGA Tour to LIV Golf, which is backed by the Public Investment Fund — the Saudi sovereign wealth fund headed by crown prince Mohammed bin Salman that is essentially bankrolling the series. MBS, as he is known, was behind the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, in 2018, according to US intelligence.
Months before officially joining LIV Golf, Mickelson — who like the other American competitors won’t be allowed to play in the Presidents Cup and possibly the Ryder Cup — acknowledged the killing, as well as human rights atrocities in Saudi Arabia. He condemned them during his opening press conference but said the opportunity was too good to turn down.
“We understand that some of you are hopeful that rule changes will be implemented to allow you to again represent America in the Ryder Cup, despite your betrayal of American interests in joining the Saudi ‘sports wash,’” Strada said in the letter. “It is absurd for any American who chooses Saudi oil money over the September 11 community to think that these exceptions should be made, and we will be sure to say so publicly should you pursue that path under the misguided notion that your betrayal will go unnoticed .”