Seven-time major winner and World Golf Hall of Famer Karrie Webb expressed concern about how the controversial new LIV Golf tour, which kicked off its first event on Thursday in London, will impact women’s golf.
“In the women’s game, it’s really hard because obviously you want as many women to have the opportunity to play the game,” Webb said Wednesday on Golf Channel’s “Golf Today” ahead of her appearance this week in the ShopRite LPGA Classic. “But as women I feel like we should be standing with all women. And the treatment of women in Saudi Arabia, we shouldn’t be supporting that.”
The LIV Golf Invitational Series, a new eight-event series of 54-hole golf tournaments (“LIV” also is the Roman numeral for “54”) featuring 48 players – all men – playing in two-person teams and competing for whopping $25-million purses, is funded by the Saudi Arabia Public Investment Fund (PIF), which is controlled by Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman. According to multiple human rights organizations and intelligence services, bin Salman approved the killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018.
Webb hopes her fellow LPGA players will take a cue from its tour’s founders, who pushed back against discrimination from the beginning. In 1967, when a Black tour member was denied lodging with the rest of the tour, the players responded: “We all stay or we all go.” Today, the term “Act like a Founder” is a guiding principle in the tour’s culture, invoking the spirit of “we all stay or we all go” as the LPGA continues to combat racism, sexism, discrimination and bias.
“Meg Mallon [18-time LPGA winner] said it the best at the beginning of the year,” added Webb. “When our founders started this tour, they refused to play at clubs that didn’t allow Black players or Hispanic players, and they needed to play every opportunity they could and they still refused to do that. So, I feel like when we say, ‘Act like a founder,’ we really need to take a page from that book.”
Aussie Greg Norman is serving as LIV Golf’s CEO, and Webb took to social media last month to express her disappointment in her childhood idol after Norman seemingly dismissed Saudi Arabia’s human-rights atrocities as “mistakes” during a press conference last month.
“The little girl in me just died well and truly!!” wrote Webb in a Tweet the same day Norman’s comments were published. “Has anyone’s childhood hero disappointed them as much as I am now??”
When asked Wednesday if her stance had changed, Webb replied: “No, she’s still well and truly dead.”
The little girl in me just died well and truly!! Has anyones childhood hero disappointed them as much as I am now?? 😢😭 https://t.co/p17klqYdCp
— Karrie Webb AO (@Karrie_Webb) May 12, 2022
However, she did concede the mind-blowing numbers LIV Golf is doling out could be hard to pass up, particularly for younger players. For comparison, players at this week’s LIV Golf event at Centurion Club – where there is no cut and signing fees are reportedly as much as $200 million – will take home a minimum of six figures, with the winner earning $4 million while the last-place player in the field will receive $120,000. For the women competing in New Jersey, where 144 players will compete for $1.75 in prize money, the winner will receive $262,500 while last place (70th) pays $3,567, and approximately half the field walks away with zero.
“I feel for younger players that … feel the need to go there,” added Webb, who won 41 LPGA titles in her career and whose career earnings total $20,276,503 since 1995. “I understand that. I think if I was a younger player with no money in my pocket, I’d probably be going, but from my standpoint, and the age that I’m at, you know, I feel like as women we need to stand together.”
As for where LIV Golf stands with the women’s game, Norman also said last month that the organization approached both the LPGA and Ladies European Tour (LET) with “a substantial investment” and were rejected by both. However, the LPGA denied the claim, telling Golf Channel in a statement, “The LPGA Tour has not received an offer from LIV Golf.”
The LET, however, already has ties to Saudi Arabia, having contested the Aramco Ladies Saudi International since 2020. The LET also showcases the Aramco Team Series, a group of international events backed by the Saudi PIF. Several LPGA regulars, including the world No. 2 Nelly Korda and her sister Jessica Korda, have competed in Team Series events.
As far as women within the LIV Golf organization, two women were announced as part of its broadcast team: Singapore native Su-Ann Heng, a former No. 1-ranked player in Singapore and six-time member of the Singapore Ladies National Team, will serve as an on-course commentator along with Troy Mullins, a former World Long Drive competitor and TV personality from Los Angeles.
However, LIV Golf ruffled a few feathers last week at the U.S. Women’s Open when it announced the field for its London event on the eve of the women’s major championship. Two-time LPGA winner Marina Alex tweeted, ”Yay for the LIV announcement the day before the biggest week in women’s golf history. LOVE THAT FOR US.”
Of note, on Thursday the PGA Tour announced the indefinite suspension of any current and future players in the LIV Golf Invitational Series.