LIV Golf wants to talk about sports. Donald Trump is still looming.

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It wasn’t until Sunday night that LIV Golf, the men’s league awash in billions of dollars from Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, achieved its greatest athletic triumph to date when one of its headliners, Brooks Koepka, emphatically won the PGA Championship.

On Thursday morning, however, LIV’s roadshow was once again infused with the political bent that has followed the sophomore circuit as it shook professional golf: the talkative, spotlight-grabbing presence of former President Donald J. Trump, who hosts one of the league tournaments this weekend on a track northwest of Washington.

Whether LIV can outrun Trump’s shadow, and whether it even wants to, could mean a lot for the perception of the league in years to come, particularly in the United States, where it has struggled to gain a meaningful foothold. get to the ground against the PGA Tour.

But for now, besides major tournament winners such as Koepka and Phil Mickelson who have joined the circuit, there is probably no figure outside of golf more publicly connected to LIV than Trump, who has repeatedly and enthusiastically proclaimed Saudi Arabia’s thunderous, flashy entrance. in sports has applauded. At his events, he often appears as an enthusiastic MC whose role is both decidedly eye-catching and deeply mysterious — neither the Trump Organization nor LIV have revealed how much money the former president’s company makes for the events — while the competition seems to be penetrating into a hidden secret. sport.

“They want to use my properties because they are the best properties,” Trump said Thursday, as he showed up at a five-hour pro-am event with LIV players Graeme McDowell and Patrick Reed (holding what amounted to a rolling game ). press conference on politics and an infomercial on his property over 18 holes along the Potomac River).

Indeed, Trump’s portfolio contains some exceptional jobs, including the Washington-area location that once hosted a Senior PGA Championship, and LIV executives have said in the past that they were attracted to them because many of the premier properties in the United States was unwilling to host a track intended to rival the PGA Tour. But Trump’s continued, growing place in LIV’s orbit also invites lingering skepticism about the league’s motives and intentions, which some critics see as a glossy way for Saudi Arabia to repair its image.

The former president is unbothered by the league’s patron, Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund and the kingdom’s burgeoning place in professional golf, despite a record of human rights violations. He still rejects the objections of family members of the September 11 victims, some of whom believe Saudi Arabia played a role in the 2001 attacks, because, as he said Thursday, LIV tournaments are “a great economic development.” . He openly admires the millions and millions of dollars the Saudis pour into players and, of course, properties like his, even though he claimed on Thursday that hosting tournaments amounts to “peanuts to me.” This year, LIV will travel to three of its properties, up from two in the first season.

He has remained steadfast in his loyalty, even as Justice Department special counsel Jack Smith has subpoenaed the Trump Organization for documents related to LIV.

In an interview while walking between the holes on Thursday, Trump described Smith’s aggressive approach as “retaliation” because the Biden administration “wants to do something to divert attention from what has taken place.” He said he didn’t know why his ties to LIV had caught the Special Prosecutor’s attention.

Trump’s affection for LIV can be traced, at least in part, to years of friction with the golf establishment.

In 2016, the PGA Tour ended a long-standing relationship with Trump’s course in Doral, Florida, near Miami, over what the then-commissioner described as “essentially a sponsorship issue.” And in 2021, after Trump supporters stormed the Capitol, the PGA of America—which is separate from the PGA Tour—abandoned its plan to host its flagship men’s championship in 2022 at Trump’s New Jersey property.

Trump has not fared much better abroad. The R&A, which hosts the British Open, has indicated it has no intention of returning the tournament to Trump-controlled Turnberry, where LIV commissioner Greg Norman won one of its two Opens.

However, LIV has embraced Trump and in return received the imprimatur of a former president, along with bursts of coverage of events that would otherwise have gone unnoticed. He brings prestige and power, however both may be diluted by the division in which he enjoys.

“They have unlimited money and they love it,” he said Thursday, “and it’s been great publicity for Saudi Arabia.”

But for every day Trump shows up at a LIV event, it’s a day LIV might as well write off as a day when it won’t escape the sharp questions it’s spent a year trying to get past, or at least case to say it wants to pass.

It has been hard enough for the league, even on a day when Trump is not playing a round, not to confront its players with questions about the morality of accepting millions of Saudi money.

“We’re contracted to play golf,” Bryson DeChambeau, the 2020 US Open winner who finished tied for fourth in the PGA Championship last weekend, said Wednesday. “I think the most important thing is to provide great entertainment wherever possible on any platform, any platform. If you can talk about ethics, that’s people’s perception. I totally disagree, but everyone is entitled to their own opinion, and I would say, was it worth it? Absolute.”

But DeChambeau barely has the same megaphone or presence as a former resident of the Oval Office. When Trump appears at a LIV event, even winners of the Masters Tournament or the US Open are relegated to supporting actors.

LIV executives have generally brushed aside questions about whether the former president is good for business, or merely essential to it, given their difficulties landing quality venues. They seem confident that sports will catch up with politics at some point, which may be wishful thinking given that Trump suggested on Thursday that nothing — not even a return to the White House — would easily stop him from doing business with the league.

But LIV’s strategy still involves a gamble that the presence of one of the country’s most polarizing figures won’t deter even more sponsorship deals and television rights that are already proving difficult to obtain for the operation. And Trump can alienate potential fans as easily as he can seduce them.

Trump himself insists that LIV craves him at his events and that he is not a distraction from the league’s proclaimed goal of growing the sport and giving it the needed dose of energy.

“They wanted me to be here, and I said sure,” said Trump, who said LIV’s contracts with its properties didn’t require his appearances at events like the pro-am.

Maybe that’s all true. But as long as that is the case, LIV will remain in the political thicket no matter how well Koepka plays on the game’s biggest stages.

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