(NewsNation) —The U.S. Open teed off on Thursday, marking not only the start of one of golf’s four major championships, but also the first major event pitting PGA Tour pros against defectors to the Saudi-funded LIV Golf league.
This year’s U.S. Open figures to have the spotlight on it for a lot more than just golf, as megastars like Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson are under the microscope for their involvement in LIV Golf.
Mickelson, who is expected to make a boatload of money from LIV Golf, missed the cut at the U.S. Open after shooting 11-over par in his first two rounds. Johnson, once the No. 1 ranked golfer in the world, was tied for 31st after shooting 1-over par.
Both golfers, along with others who left the PGA for LIV Golf, have come under intense scrutiny for aligning themselves with a golf league funded by the Saudi government. Human rights abuses, including the decapitation of a Washington Post journalist, at the hands of the Saudi government have been well-documented.
Mickelson himself even spoke out about the rights abuses by the Saudis before joining LIV Golf. Mickelson still however says he condemns the actions of the Saudi government.
“I said earlier, I don’t condone human rights violations, I don’t know how I can be any more clear,” Mickelson said.
Now, families of victims killed in the 9/11 terrorist attack, which has ties to Saudi Arabians, are voicing their displeasure with those who left the PGA to join LIV Golf.
Terry Strada, who lost her husband Tom Strada in the terrorist attack on 9/11, wrote a letter to Mickelson and other LIV golfers asking them to rethink their membership in LIV Golf.
Strada, who is the national chair for the 9-11 Families United Organization, wrote in part:
“Perhaps you were unaware of the Saudi role in September 11. Or if you were, perhaps you thought nobody would care, nearly 21 years later. Either way, you were mistaken. We noticed, we care, and we urge you to reconsider.”
Mickelson and the other LIV Golf players have tried to keep a distance between themselves and the league’s ties to the Saudi government, but the public, especially organization’s like Strada’s have taken note and won’t let them forget.
“These players are now complicit with a government that we now have evidence was 100% behind September 11th,” Strada said. “I am a big fan of golf. My whole family has been involved in playing the game. I love what the PGA stands for in a very long history of a wonderful sport that inspires sportsmanship and inspires integrity, and inspires competition. LIV Golf doesn’t do any of those things. It is more of an exhibition style of golf where players will sell their soul to the Saudis to take their money.”
Mickelson issued a response directly to the Strada family.
“I would say to the Strada family – I would say to everyone that has lost loved ones, lost friends on 9/11 – that I have deep, deep empathy for them,” Mickelson said. “I can’t emphasize that enough. I have the deepest of sympathy and empathy for them.”
Foreign policy expert Lester Munster is skeptical that golf fans will flock to LIV Golf, despite the star-power the league has recruited.
“I don’t think it’s going to be successful, simply because on the kind of the public diplomacy level of International Affairs, that is the reaction of normal people to events in the world,” Munster said. “They’re horrified by the conduct of the Saudi government. This kind of buying off of globally popular athletes is not going to play well, for anyone. And I think in the long run, it’s not sustainable.”