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RUBEN NAVARRETTE JR.: Golfers lured by Saudis wind up stuck in sand trap of life

I’m trying to teach my three teenagers a valuable life lesson: Choices have consequences.

It’s a lesson that is lost on the 11 professional golfers who recently sued the Professional Golfers’ Association. The “linksmen” — who were suspended by the PGA Tour in June for participating in the lucrative Saudi-backed LIV Golf Invitational Series — allege that the association violated antitrust laws.

The Tour “has ventured to harm the careers and livelihoods of any golfers … who have the temerity to defy the Tour and play in tournaments sponsored by the new entrant,” the lawsuit asserts.

The plaintiffs also claim that the PGA threatened to place lifetime bans on players who participate in the LIV Golf series, pressured sponsors to discourage golfers from defecting and leaned on other entities in the golf “ecosystem” to maximize the harm to any golfer who plays for the Saudis.

PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan recently sent a memo to PGA Tour players, saying that the golfers who walked away from the event “to promote themselves” now “want back in.” The PGA isn’t having it. The association will make its case in court “clearly and vigorously,” Monahan insisted.

The plaintiffs include Bryson DeChambeau, Talor Gooch, Hudson Swafford, Matt Jones, Ian Poulter, Abraham Ancer, Carlos Ortiz, Pat Perez, Jason Kokrak and Peter Uihlein.

But the ringleader is clearly golfing superstar Phil Mickelson, who has won six major championships and rakes in $40 million annually from endorsements. Mickelson’s net worth is estimated to be somewhere between $300 million and $400 million.

For participating in the LIV tournament, which includes eight events around the world over the next several months, Mickelson was paid a whopping $200 million. And that fee, like those paid to the other golfers, was just to show up and play. Win, lose or draw.

It’s good work if you can get it, as the saying goes.

The 11 golfers are willing to look past the fact that the kingdom is, according to U.S. intelligence agencies, guilty of human rights violations. This includes the brutal and unforgivable murder of Washington Post contributing columnist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018. A U.S. intelligence report concluded that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman — better known to Americans as “MBS” — ordered Khashoggi’s killing.

He chairs Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, the sovereign wealth fund that is backing the LIV Golf series.

And to think, golf was once considered a “gentleman’s game.”

Certainly, the Saudis are not gentlemen. Neither are the golfers who brought the lawsuit. Rather, they look more like spoiled babies who want to have their caviar and filet mignon and eat it, too.

Here’s what really bothers me: Professional golf isn’t some civil service job from which one can’t get fired. Golfers serve at the pleasure of the PGA, which has the right to decide with whom it wants to associate its brand. These golfers have lives to which most Americans could never relate, and they have chosen to travel this unconventional path on their own. There will be bumps in the road, and they have to accept that. In this case, they want to collect a major payday from a dubious source without suffering any consequence.

As I’ve been trying to tell my kids, the world doesn’t work that way. Accountability matters. Or at least, it should. So do character and judgment — and going to court to get your way shows neither.

Thank goodness, not everyone is so easily seduced by a payday. Tiger Woods — arguably the biggest name in golf, with 15 major championships — turned down what LIV Golf series CEO Greg Norman called a “mind-blowingly enormous” offer of as much as $700 million to $800 million to play for the Saudis.

Last month, at the Open Championship in St. Andrews, Scotland, Woods said he disagreed with the players who had defected from the PGA.

“I think that what they’ve done is they’ve turned their backs on what has allowed them to get to this position,” Woods said. He suggested that guaranteed money kills “the incentive to go out there and earn it in the dirt,” and he worried that younger players had lost their chance to ever play in major championships.

“I just don’t see how that move is positive in the long term for a lot of these players,” Woods said.

It’s not. But what would be even more harmful would be for the PGA to give into the tantrum and teach the privileged that actions don’t have consequences. That’s not the reality that we mere mortals live with every day.

Ruben Navarrette’s email address is crimscribe@icloud.com. His podcast, “Ruben in the Center,” is available through every podcast app.

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