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Dustin Johnson and Saudi golf stars toe line Eddie Howe knows well amid morality questions


There has been a remarkable similarity to the lines, often unconvincingly, spluttered by the golfers of the LIV Series in the past few days that it is no surprise to learn that officials behind the Saudi-backed venture have been supplying the clubmen with crib sheets.

Questions around dubious morals and greed were always guaranteed so the communications professionals prepared some notes with stock answers that have the sole purpose of diffusion.

Is this a money grab, Mr Multimillionaire? “We are professional athletes just like our contemporaries in NFL, MLB, NHL — we deserve to be compensated for our skills and entertaining fans,” read one of the answers, as first reported by the Mail.

Are you worried about being banned from playing on the PGA Tour? “I don’t see why we can’t have the choice to play in all Tours. I love to compete.”

In a field packed with washed up men of the past and a smattering of B-grade players unlikely to trouble the first page of a Major Sunday leaderboard, Dustin Johnson’s presence is the most fascinating of all because he is the one player still roundly considered to be top tier.

Throughout the build up he has been spared to a large extent by Phil Mickelson’s ‘was-it-on-the-record’ interview with Alan Shipnuck but Johnson’s press conference on Tuesday offered more definitive evidence around why players are flocking to a startup that has perhaps not totally captured public imagination considering how many of the patrons in attendance on day one at Centurion were locals given free tickets, and that they could not secure a British TV deal.

“I don’t want to play for the rest of my life, this gives me an opportunity to do what I want to do,” said Johnson, a man with $74m in PGA Tour earnings and millions more in endorsement deals.

So it is a money grab, then? At least there was a degree of honesty about that, which may be abhorrent to many of those watching on from home but was some way better than the word soup produced by Graeme McDowell or the lame no comments supplied by Ian Poulter and Lee Westwood when challenged by Mirror Sport over whether they would play in Russia or apartheid South Africa.



Newcastle United head coach Eddie Howe
Newcastle United head coach Eddie Howe

Eddie Howe has taken a similar approach at Newcastle United, deflecting questions about the moral dilemma of being employed by a club owned by the same backers of the LIV tour.

The weakness of his response to fair, firm questioning after Newcastle’s 1-0 defeat away to Chelsea in March stood out. A day earlier it was confirmed that 81 men had been killed in Saudi Arabia for a range of offences from “terrorism” to “disrupting the social fabric and national cohesion” and “participating in and inciting sit-ins and protests.”

For much of that bizarre afternoon, Chelsea’s first game since Roman Abramovich was sanctioned, Newcastle fans waved Saudi flags in the away end at Stamford Bridge. An attempt to goad critics, perhaps, or maybe it is simply a case of ignorance.

“I’m just going to answer questions about football,” Howe said, deferring to his disappointment about the result. “It’s right I only stick to football. Pushed to elaborate, he added: “I’m here to manage the football team. I’m well aware of what’s going on around the world… [football] is all I’ll talk about. I’ve made my position clear.”

He was widely criticised for those views and yet, as the golfer’s crib sheet proves, it is the go to approach for media advisors because deflection is diffusion and to engage can lead to far more trouble. Take the apartheid South Africa question as an example. Say yes and the door is open to even greater criticism. Say no and accusations of hypocrisy would follow.

It is ludicrous, of course, but in a complex world opening up moral debates would be a misstep, criticising those chucking millions their way to play a few rounds would be daft.





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