Saudi Golf Federation CEO Majed Al Sorour on Thursday attempted to walk back comments recently made to the New Yorker, in which he suggested that the federation would start its own major championships if LIV Golf players aren’t permitted to participate in the four existing ones.
In a story that was published on the New Yorker website earlier this week, Sorour said the four traditional majors — the Masters, PGA Championship, U.S. Open and Open Championship — were siding with the PGA Tour in its ongoing battle with the Saudi Arabian-financed LIV Golf circuit.
The PGA Tour has suspended more than 30 of its players for competing in LIV Golf events without conflicting-event releases. LIV Golf has filed a federal antitrust lawsuit against the PGA Tour, which filed a countersuit against LIV Golf for interfering with its contracts with players.
“For now, the majors are siding with the [PGA] Tour, and I don’t know why,” Sorour told The New Yorker. “If the majors decide not to have our players play? I will celebrate. I will create my own majors for my players. Honestly, I think all the tours are being run by guys who don’t understand business.”
In a statement posted to Golf Saudi’s Twitter account on Thursday, Sorour said the New Yorker story “wrongfully expressed and misrepresented my views.”
“I had a casual conversation with a New Yorker reporter at LIV’s Boston event a few weeks ago, during which I expressed my frustration at the unfortunate blackballing of LIV Golf players by the PGA Tour,” Sorour wrote. “When it comes to the Majors, tournaments that stand alone and are independent of LIV, I have the utmost respect for the Majors. The Majors are about history, heritage, true competition and honor.”
LIV Golf players were permitted to compete in the four majors this past season if they had exemptions or were otherwise eligible. Players did not receive Official World Golf Ranking points for their finishes in LIV Golf’s first seven events, and many players who don’t have existing exemptions might be in jeopardy of missing the majors next year.
LIV Golf has applied for recognition by the OWGR board, which has said that it is considering the matter. LIV Golf formed a strategic alliance with the little-known MENA Tour, which is recognized by OWGR, in an attempt to get world-ranking points for its players sooner.
“The majors are indeed the best platform where LIV golfers and other tour golfers can compete, despite the PGA Tour’s suspension of our players,” Sorour wrote in the statement. “As a LIV Golf Board member and managing director, I am here to accomplish our LIV Golf Investment Chairman and board’s strategic direction by building a team, growing the game and defending player rights. That is my only interest.”
In the same New Yorker story, Sorour detailed how six-time major Phil Mickelson‘s controversial comments about Saudi Arabia’s history of human rights violations caused many golfers to back out of their commitments to LIV Golf.
“They’re scary motherf—ers to get involved with,” Mickelson told author Alan Shipnuck, who posted an excerpt of his book, “Phil: The Rip-Roaring (and Unauthorized!) Biography of Golf’s Most Colorful Superstar,” on the Fire Pit Collective website in February.
“They killed [Washington Post reporter and U.S. resident Jamal] Khashoggi and have a horrible record on human rights,” Mickelson continued, in an interview that Shipnuck said took place in November. “They execute people over there for being gay. Knowing all of this, why would I even consider it? Because this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reshape how the PGA Tour operates.”
Sorour told the New Yorker, “We don’t kill gays, I’ll just tell you that.”
After Mickelson’s comments were made public, Sorour said he called Yasir Al-Rumayyan, governor of Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, which is financing LIV Golf.
“I called the boss and said, ‘Everyone’s walking away. Do you want to do it, or not?'” Sorour said. “Get the biggest mediocres, get the 10 [players] that we have, get you and I, and let’s go play for $25 million.”
The New Yorker reported that the “mediocres” were lesser-known players, who would replace high-profile golfers like Dustin Johnson and Bryson DeChambeau, who waited to join the LIV Golf circuit.
LIV Golf’s inaugural season ends with a $50 million team championship, which is scheduled for Oct. 28-30 at Trump National Doral Miami.