Former World No. 1 golfer Lee Westwood told Sky Sports on Wednesday that he has requested releases from the PGA Tour and the DP World Tour to play in the first Saudi-backed LIV Golf Invitational Series event in London next month.
Westwood, 49, told Sky Sports that any impact on his future candidacy as captain of the European team in the Ryder Cup is “in the European Tour’s court.”
“I put a release in with the PGA Tour and European Tour, as many people have,” Westwood told Sky Sports. “That’s kind of the stage we’re at and anything after that is just ifs and buts and speculation. It’s an opportunity to play in a big tournament, against some of the best players in the world, in England.”
Because the first LIV Golf Invitational event — scheduled June 9-11 at the Centurion Club, outside of London — conflicts with the RBC Canadian Open in Ontario, PGA Tour players will have to receive a release from the tour to compete in the other event.
Six-time major champion Phil Mickelson and Robert Garrigus are the only other PGA Tour players who have publicly acknowledged asking for a release, although it’s believed that many others have.
LIV Golf chairman Greg Norman told ESPN on Monday that the series had received more than 200 registrations from players who want to be part of the 48-player field in London. The players will compete on 12-man teams in a 54-hole event with no cut and with shotgun starts.
Norman said two players previously ranked No. 1 in the world and about 15 of the top 100 players in the world rankings are among those who have registered.
The LIV Invitational Series regular-season tournaments will have a $25 million purse, with $20 million going to the top individual players and $5 million to the top three teams.
Westwood, an 11-time Ryder Cup participant, reportedly passed on being a potential European captain at the 2023 Ryder Cup in Rome. It’s unclear how his participation in LIV events will affect his position with the Ryder Cup.
The LIV Golf Invitational Series is being financed by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund. Westwood said he was aware of the Saudi Arabian government’s history of alleged human rights violations.
“We’ve played European Tour events in Saudi Arabia, and I’ve had releases from the PGA Tour to say I can play in Saudi Arabia,” Westwood told Sky Sports. “It’s been no problem to them in previous years. Formula One raced there, Newcastle United are owned by Saudi Arabian owners and there have been [boxing fights there]. Golf is not the first sport to have links with Saudi Arabia, but it seems to be coming under more scrutiny than anywhere else.
“I think Saudi Arabia knows they have issues. Lots of countries around the world have got issues. I think they [Saudi Arabia] are trying to improve, and they’re trying to do that through sport. I think they’re doing it a lot quicker than a lot of people are trying to do it. That worries people and scares people, because people don’t like change.”
Mickelson was heavily criticized for his comments about the Saudi Arabians’ “horrible record of human rights,” including the slaying of Washington Post reporter and U.S. resident Jamal Khashoggi in October 2018.
“I hear what people say,” Norman told ESPN. “You can take a look and say, ‘Why is the PGA Tour involved with the Chinese government and what the Chinese do with their Uyghurs?’ Quite honestly, I’m a big, staunch believer in golf diplomacy. I’ve seen it happen in my world. For the last 20 years, I’ve been very focused on that because I’ve seen what golf can do to break down barriers and change cultures. I truly admire countries, individuals, corporations and governments that make the effort to change the cultural past.
“What happened with Khashoggi — gosh almighty, everybody in the world was just shocked about what happened. There’s no person on this planet that wasn’t shocked. Everybody wants to look forward and get beyond all that.”