Graeme McDowell ‘proud’ to participate in ‘polarising’ Saudi-backed LIV Golf event

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Graeme McDowell is one of the leading names at the LIV Golf London event   (AFP via Getty Images)
Graeme McDowell is one of the leading names at the LIV Golf London event (AFP via Getty Images)

Graeme McDowell claimed he is “proud to help” Saudi Arabia ahead of the inaugural LIV Golf Series event at Centurion Club, as the former US Open champion struggled to answer to criticism of the kingdom’s human rights record.

McDowell is one of the leading names to take part in the Saudi-backed tournament in St Albans this and admitted it would have been “crazy” to turn down the controversial breakaway tour and the $25 million prize fund on offer to the 48 players in the field.

The 42-year-old accepted that the LIV Golf Series was “polarising” on a day which saw the former World No 1 Dustin Johnson resign from the PGA Tour after six-time major champion Phil Mickelson joined the entry list despite admitting concerns over Saudi Arabia’s “horrible human rights record”.

Mickelson is the highest-profile player in the field and attracted fierce criticism in February when he described the Saudis as “scary m************” and said that despite being well aware of the murder of Washington Post reporter Jamal Khashoggi, he was prepared to use the LIV Golf Series as leverage with the PGA Tour.

When McDowell faced the media on Tuesday at Centurion Club, the Northern Irishman said the murder of Khashoggi was “reprehensible” but suggested that the series could be a “force for good”.

“I love using the game of golf as something to help grow around the world and be role models to kids. We’re not politicians,” he said.

“If Saudi Arabia want to use the game of golf as a way for them to get to where they want to be, I think we’re proud to help them on that journey, using the game of golf and the abilities we have to help grow the sport.”

Asked specifically how golf is helping repressed groups in Saudi Arabia, McDowell struggled to reply: “I wish I had the ability to be able to have that conversation with you,” he said.

“As golfers if we tried to cure geopolitical situations in every country in the world that we played in, we wouldn’t play a lot of golf. That’s a really hard question to answer. We are just here to focus on the golf.”

While two-time major champion Johnson effectively ruled himself out of selection for the United States Ryder Cup team by resigning from the PGA Tour, McDowell said he hoped he could continue to be available for Team Europe.

“In regards to the Ryder Cup, it’s something I weighed up long and hard before I made the decision to come out here. I hope it doesn’t affect that,” said McDowell, who holed the winning putt at Celtic Manor in 2010.

“When you look at the European Tour and the players here have done a great amount for the Ryder Cup product and it would be a shame to see those guys not invited back. Is it healthy for the sport? This tour is designed to be an add-on to the greatest tours in the world.”

Greg Norman, CEO of LIV Golf, recently attracted scorn by downplaying the 2018 killing of Saudi Arabian journalist Khashoggi after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, saying: “We’ve all made mistakes.”

A US report last year said that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had approved the operation to kill or capture the Washington Post journalist. The Saudi government has denied any involvement by the crown prince and dismissed the report’s findings.

Additional reporting by Reuters

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