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India’s top player says ‘LIV can be IPL of golf’

NEW DELHI: The breakaway LIV series can do for golf what the IPL did for cricket, India’s top player Anirban Lahiri has said after joining the lucrative Saudi-backed tour. The new circuit has sparked a bitter split that threatens to tear golf apart and sparked accusations of “sportswashing” of Saudi Arabia’s human rights record.

Saudi Arabia has drawn major criticism over the 2018 murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and for cracking down on rights activists, many of whom have been jailed or banned from travel. Despite that and the vast financial rewards being offered to lure players away from the more established US PGA and European tours, the defecting Lahiri said that LIV would benefit others along the way too.

Lahiri, runner-up at the Players Championship in March, was one of six new recruits-along with world number two Cameron Smith-announced on Tuesday for the LIV Golf Invitational Boston this week. “I look at the Indian Premier League and T20. When it started, I remember the almost vehement opposition it received,” Lahiri told Wednesday’s Hindustan Times. “But it had the potential of changing the way we consumed cricket.

“Look at it now. The Board of Control for Cricket in India is laughing all the way to the bank and so are the players. The broadcasters are delighted because they get off-the-chart ratings,” he said. Lahiri said that he was a “big fan” of traditional, five-day Test cricket but that the shorter Twenty20 format that the IPL pioneered was “so much fun”. “LIV can be the IPL of golf,” the 35-year-old world number 92 said.

Smith joins LIV

Meanwhile, British Open champion Cameron Smith has become the latest leading player to sign up to the breakaway LIV Golf Series, which on Tuesday announced that he was in the field for its next event. The Australian was one of six new recruits for the Saudi-backed tour for the LIV Golf Invitational Boston, from September 2-4.

As the world’s number two, the 29-year-old Smith will become the highest-ranked player to compete in a LIV Golf event. Smith was linked repeatedly to LIV Golf shortly after winning the 150th British Open, at St Andrews, last month, but avoided discussion of the subject while playing in this month’s PGA FedEx Cup playoffs.

A LIV statement issued Tuesday said Smith would be among five other players making their debuts among a field of 48 at the International in Massachusetts, including compatriot Marc Leishman, leading Chilean golfer Joaquin Niemann, Harold Varner III (world no 46), Cameron Tringale (55) and India’s top-ranked pro Anirban Lahiri (92).

LIV Golf’s record $25 million purses and 54-hole format have attracted several big-name players, including Phil Mickelson, Bryson DeChambeau, Brooks Koepka, Sergio Garcia, Henrik Stenson, Lee Westwood, Ian Poulter, Patrick Reed and Dustin Johnson. Smith told Golf Digest on Tuesday that money “was definitely a factor” in his decision. “I won’t ignore that or say that wasn’t a reason,” he said. “It was obviously a business decision for one and an offer I couldn’t ignore.

“The biggest thing for me joining is (the LIV) schedule is really appealing. I’ll be able to spend more time at home in Australia and maybe have an event down there, as well. I haven’t been able to do that, and to get that part of my life back was really appealing.” Varner said in an Instagram post that the chance to join LIV Golf “is simply too good of a financial breakthrough for me to pass by.” But the creation of the new circuit has sparked a bitter split with the established US PGA tour and a flurry of lawsuits.

‘Hard times’

Four-time major champion Rory McIlroy has been one of LIV Golf’s most outspoken critics among players. And the 33-year-old from Northern Ireland rammed home his point on Sunday after winning the $18 million top prize in the season-ending PGA Tour Championship at East Lake in Atlanta. “It means an awful lot,” McIlroy said. “This is an incredibly proud moment for me but it should also be an incredibly proud moment for the PGA Tour. They have had some hard times this year but we’re getting through it.”

LIV players have faced tough questions over Saudi Arabia’s human rights record and have been accused of greed in chasing the huge rewards on offer. The likes of McIlroy have effectively suggested LIV events are not much more than exhibition golf, with no halfway cut and small fields taking part in 54-hole events rather than the traditional 72.

But last week PGA commissioner Jay Monahan said tour players had agreed to compete in 20 events next season, included 12 “elevated” stops with $20 million in prize money and minimum season pay amounts for fully exempt players. England’s Lee Westwood, among those who jumped to LIV Golf, told Golf Digest in an interview published Friday that he sees the PGA as trying to duplicate what LIV Golf has already done. “I laugh at what the PGA Tour players have come up with,” Westwood told the magazine. “It’s just a copy of what LIV is doing. There are a lot of hypocrites out there.” – AFP

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