When Shane Lowry uttered the words, “I’m not a politician, I’m a professional golfer” ahead of the Saudi International back in February, he immediately knew he’d made a mistake.
Lowry was teeing up for the third time in the Kingdom as part of a three-year deal he signed to compete at the event following his Open Championship triumph in 2019.
Fresh off his victory at Wentworth, @ShaneLowryGolf chats BMW PGA, winning The Open at Portrush, the future of the DP World Tour, his decision to not pursue a LIV contract, and some outstanding stories from his first Ryder Cup.
— No Laying Up (@NoLayingUp) September 15, 2022
Many players have used the ‘not a politician’ line to absolve themselves from any conversation surrounding the source of the Saudi money given the “heinous” – according to Amnesty International – human rights abuses ongoing in the Kingdom. Yet with Lowry now nailing his colours to the PGA and DP World Tour masts since the arrival of LIV Golf, he told the No Laying Up Podcast about how he instantly regretted his answer; understanding the criticism that quickly followed.
“I absolutely understand and when I said it, I thought to myself, ‘why did I say that?’” Lowry explained.
“It was one of those where it was the wrong thing to say. The thing was, I went to play the Saudi International for the last three years so I would be very hypocritical if I said it’s about where the money is coming from. I just think [LIV] it’s bad for the game.
“Will I go back and play the Saudi International again? No, but I do think this is bad for the game and it’s very divisive.
“We’d love to be going out and playing all the big tournaments and I’d love if all the top players were there. Your DJs, Brooks, Bryson. I’d love to be playing against those guys but we’re not, and the reason is because of LIV and I don’t think it’s good for the game.”
Lowry believes that the bottomless pockets of LIV Golf have done nothing but splinter the game, and while $100m contracts would be the LIV “norm” for someone of the Clara man’s standing in the sport, Lowry insists he’s never played the game for money and therefore wouldn’t be tempted, though he can understand some players making the move.
“I’ve always said I don’t play the game for money, I never have and I feel like that’s why I didn’t even entertain it to be honest,” said Lowry whose latest big win arrived at the BMW PGA last week.
“I’ve said to a couple of players who have gone to LIV, why do you play the game? If you play the game for money, maybe you should probably do it. If you play the game for trophies, you shouldn’t.
“I stood there on the 18th green on Sunday and I held that trophy and it’s a who’s who of European golf and it’s incredible that my name gets to go on that.
“I don’t care how much money I won and in fact, we had a few drinks on Sunday night and it was like 11 o’clock and someone said to me ‘how much did you win today?’ And I was like, ‘I honestly have no idea’. They were like ‘no way!’ They wouldn’t believe me. And I had to open my phone and go to the text I got from the European Tour to see how much I won.”
The conversation around Saudi Arabia’s involvement in golf has changed dramatically since Lowry’s three year deal with the Royal Greens tournament expired. From Golf Saudi contributing to the ecosystem of the DP World Tour to LIV Golf attempting a hostile takeover, Lowry went into detail around the reasons why the Saudi event once made sense on his calendar, and why LIV Golf certainly doesn’t.
“The reason I went to play it is because I’d just won The Open in 2019 and I signed a deal to go play there for three years when it was a European Tour event,” Lowry said, soon realising that his reputation was taking a hit around the world as a result.
“I’d Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Saudi Arabia, they’re all beside each other, and I used to play the three of those at the start of the year and then I’d come back and play in America.
“For me at the time, maybe I was wrong to think it but I thought that’s fine, I’ll do that. And there’s no doubt about it, I say I don’t play the game for money but I was getting well looked after for going there and that’s the reason I went. But because it was a European Tour event as well.
“Especially in a Ryder Cup year, you’re going to pick up points as well. Maybe I misjudged the room when I did that, and I definitely felt that this year when I was going there. I was not one of the better liked golfers in the world at the time but I had to fulfil my contract and I went.”
Given the changes being put forward to both the PGA and DP World Tours, the strengthening of the Strategic Alliance and new elevated events bringing the best players together more often next season, Lowry hopes the constant narrative around dollar bills and cash bonanzas might now shift back to the golf, prestige and titles, if for no other reason than to prevent the average golf fan from tuning out altogether.
“It’s just disgusting amounts of money that we’re talking about,” Lowry added.
“The general Joe Soap, a guy that works his nuts off to make fifty grand a year and has to struggle to maybe even pay his membership at his golf club – loves the game so much. This is probably pissing him off more than anyone and I think that’s the wrong thing to do.”