Veterans Padraig Harrington and Matt Kuchar each shot a 4-under 68 on Thursday to share the early lead with MJ Daffue and Roberto Diaz in the weather-delayed first round of the Valero Texas Open.
Casey, others discuss jump to LIV amid protests
BEDMINSTER, N.J. — The three newest LIV Golf members met the media Wednesday amid protests from 9/11 families against the Saudi-backed golf league’s event being held this weekend less than 50 miles from the site of the World Trade Center.
“I’m very aware of the ramifications of making this choice,” said Paul Casey, who is currently ranked No. 26 in the Official World Golf Ranking.
Casey on Monday said his “heart goes out” to the families of 9/11 victims, but when asked Wednesday about Saudi Arabia’s track record on human rights, he said that “by not engaging and not participating and not traveling to countries, you harden positions if you do that.”
Casey, 44, who has three career PGA Tour titles in addition to his 15 wins on the DP World Tour, joined Charles Howell III and Jason Kokrak in fielding questions Wednesday for more than 30 minutes, with many revolving around the Saudi Arabian money financing LIV Golf and Saudi Arabia’s troubling record of human rights abuses.
“By joining LIV, players have shamelessly partnered with the very country that U.S. intelligence reports prove had numerous connections to the attacks on Sept. 11,” Terry Strada, chair of 9/11 Families United, said at a news conference Tuesday.
9/11 Justice, another group representing family members of those killed in the terrorist attacks, have released a television advertisement criticizing the LIV Tour’s Saudi ties and has plans to hold a news conference Friday.
In March 2019, Casey was one of the first professional golfers to speak out about Saudi Arabia’s involvement in the sport, when he declined to play in the Saudi Invitational. At the time, Casey, who had worked as an ambassador for UNICEF, cited ongoing conflict in Yemen and Saudi Arabia’s military involvement there.
“I’ve seen the numbers. In Yemen 22 million people are facing starvation; 11.5 million of them kids,” Casey said then, adding that he “would be a hypocrite” to participate in the Saudi tournament.
On Wednesday, Casey, who has since played in multiple Saudi invitationals, said he’s “seen change happening in the kingdom,” although Casey, Kokrak and Howell all declined to answer more detailed questions about Saudi Arabia’s record of human rights abuses involving women and the LGBTQ community,
“I’m very aware of the ramifications of making this choice,” said Casey, who has three career PGA Tour titles in addition to his 15 wins on the DP World Tour.
Howell, 43, denied that his decision to jump to the LIV series was simply a financial move.
“No, money was not a factor,” Howell said. “For me, I’ve been there [the PGA Tour] for 22 years and it’s been awesome. I’ve got nothing but great things to say about the PGA Tour, what they’ve given me.”
A veteran of more than 600 PGA Tour events, Howell also cited the opportunity to play in a series run by his boyhood idol, LIV Golf CEO and commissioner Greg Norman.
“Greg Norman was my hero as a kid growing up,” Howell said. “Every year at the Masters and Augusta, I couldn’t wait to get out there and see Greg Norman play. He was an idol. I had a life-sized cardboard cutout of Greg in my room.”
Howell, Casey and Kokrak will join former World No. 2 Henrik Stenson this weekend as the newest arrivals on the LIV Tour. Stenson’s decision recently led to him being stripped of his European captaincy for the 2023 Ryder Cup.
Stenson is expected to address the media Thursday.
On Wednesday, Casey said he “would love to still be part of the Ryder Cup, but if that’s not an option, then that’s not an option.”