LIV Golf may need a mulligan on Capitol Hill

Golf legend Greg Norman left the Capitol on Wednesday touting his meeting with Republicans as a smooth drive down the fairway, even though, for many GOP lawmakers, he hit immediately into the rough.

Norman blitzed Capitol Hill this week in a blatant effort to repair the Saudi-bankrolled LIV Golf series’ reputation as it faces withering criticism from human-rights activists, 9/11 families and lawmakers from both parties for its ties to the Saudi royal family. That LIV’s 67-year-old Australian CEO even felt the need to meet with members of Congress underscores the public-relations toll already taken by allegations of improper foreign influence.

Flanked by his lobbyist, former Rep. Ben Quayle (R-Ariz.), Norman did not deviate from his months-long messaging strategy: his insistence that LIV is all about “growing the game of golf.” That pitch hasn’t stuck, even on the GOP side of the aisle despite former President Donald Trump’s partnership with the new series.

“It was basically propaganda. They’re just pushing their deal, and I don’t care,” said Rep. Tim Burchett (R-Tenn.), who exited the room early as Norman met with the Republican Study Committee, the House GOP’s largest caucus. “Honestly, this shouldn’t be taking up our time. This is a conservative organization, and we ought to be dealing with what we’ve got to deal with in our country, not worried about a bunch of Saudis, a bunch of billionaire oil people. So I’m out.”

The Saudi government’s foray into the golf world stoked controversy not just for its impact on the long-running PGA Tour, but also because it drew allegations of “sportswashing” — the practice of using professional sports to repair one’s reputation. Even before this year’s LIV series officially began, lawmakers from both parties were criticizing it as an effort by Saudi Arabia’s hardline leaders to whitewash their country’s abysmal human-rights record.

A cohort of families who lost loved ones on Sept. 11, 2001, has publicly urged Trump to not host LIV tournaments at his country clubs. They’ve also appealed directly to golfers themselves, asking them not to join LIV.

Speaking with reporters after the GOP meeting, Norman indicated that the feedback he got behind closed doors was all positive. Jonathan Grella, a spokesperson for LIV, dismissed the criticisms and said Norman’s “message about the benefits of competition was very well received, even if a couple members of Congress say otherwise.”

That’s not entirely accurate.

“Don’t come in here and act like you’re doing some great thing while you’re pimping a billion dollars of Saudi Arabian money,” lamented Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas), who has been outspoken about LIV. “You enriched yourself on the back of the [PGA] Tour. You got rich using the Tour to do so.”

Lawmakers also used the meeting to push for LIV and its benefactors to register as foreign agents, pointing to Trump’s own insistence that the enterprise itself is good PR for the Saudi …read more