US golfers at Saudi LIV Golf branded traitors by families of 9/11 victims – ‘Sold us out’

Neil McLeman quizzes Poulter and Westwood on LIV Golf morals

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Phil Mickelson and other American stars signed up for the LIV Golf have been branded traitors by a 9/11 survivors group for taking part in the “multi-billion dollar sportswashing” of Saudi Arabia. Terry Strada, the National Chair 9/11 Families United who lost her husband in the terrorist attack, said: “You have sold us out. This is a betrayal not only of us, but of all your countrymen.”

Greg Norman last night declared the first LIV event at the Centurion Club in Hertfordshire as a success after Charl Schwartzel claimed the $4m first prize and a further $750,000 as his Stingers won the team competition. It was the 2011 Masters champion’s first victory since 2016.

And former Masters champion Patrick Reed and world No 168 Pat Perez were yesterday confirmed as the latest signings for the breakaway league. But the climax to the $25m Saudi-backed event yesterday was overshadowed by a stinging letter from 9/11 Families United to Mickelson, Dustin Johnson, Bryson DeChambeau, Reed, and Kevin Na.

Jamal Khashoggi’s fiancee Hatice Cengiz called for the players to be banned from Majors following the murder of the Washington Post journalist in 2018. But the public rebuke from a coalition of families and survivors of the worst-ever terrorist attacks on American soil brings fresh focus on LIV before this week’s US Open in Brookline.

The Al-Qaeda attack on New York in 2001, masterminded by Saudi Osama bin Laden, killed over 3,000 people and traumatised the USA. Accusing the golf stars of betraying their memory is a much bigger PR problem than Ian Poulter refusing to rule out playing for Vladimir Putin if the money were right.

Strada wrote: “Our community wishes to express our outrage at your partnership with LIV Golf and remind you of the responsibility that your new business partner, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, shoulders for providing the financial support and logistical support that enabled the terrorists to attack our nation and kill our loved ones.

“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.

“Whether it was the appeal of millions of dollars of hard cash, or just the opportunity to prosecute your professional grievances with the PGA, you have sold us out. This is a betrayal not only of us, but of all your countrymen.” The 9/11 Families United website said the letter expressed their “outrage towards the golfers for selling out their fellow Americans by participating in the multi-billion dollar sports washing campaign”.

Asked about the human rights issues, winner Schwartzel said: “Where the money comes from is not something I have ever looked at in my 20-year career. If I start digging everywhere we play you could find faults in anything. It’s a question that’s hard for me to answer.”

And he admitted of his victory: “I don’t know if anything will come close to a Green Jacket. Majors are what defines your career. I was fortunate to wear a Green Jacket and I’m very proud of that. Majors pressure is different. At the Majors you are playing for prestige, history. Winning Majors will always top anything you do.”

Sam Horsfield shot a closing 68 to finish as top Brit in fifth place to bank $975,000. World No 15 Dustin Johnson was eighth after his 70 while Mickelson showed you don’t get much for $200m these days by shooting a closing 76 to be down in 33rd place.

Ian Poulter finished tied 20th after his 74 while Lee Westwood was 29th after a level-par 72. World 1371 Andy Ogletree carded rounds of 82, 77 and 75 to finish last – and still won $120,000. All PGA Tour players who have joined LIV have been banned but the DP World Tour has yet to announce any sanctions.

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