21 Jul 2022 LIV Golf and the Ethics of Money
I don’t want to lose too many of you at the word “golf,” so to sum up real quick: “LIV Golf” is a relatively new, Saudi-funded, rival golf league of the PGA Tour. The Saudi government has been implicated in many evil things over the years, from alleged involvement in the 9/11 terrorist attacks, to the dismemberment and murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi, to various other crimes against humanity. LIV Golf is a textbook case of what is known as “sportswashing.”
The golfers who have been enticed to leave the PGA Tour for LIV Golf, risking future involvement in golf’s most meaningful events (the four “majors,” the Ryder Cup, etc.), have all left for one reason, which is money, and lots of it. Many explicitly disavowed the rival golf tour for months, for the humanitarian reasons above as well as a love for real tournament golf at the highest levels, over and above glorified exhibition matches with few fans. But the heel turns have been so quick I’m worried some of these guys may screw themselves into the ground. Money doesn’t just talk; it screams, apparently.
It’s common for people like me to refer to money as a tool, and it is. Tools have jobs, and they get used by humans to accomplish something for a particular purpose. A hammer is used to drive a nail. A cello is used to make music. A camera is used to capture images. Money can be traded for other tools, and it can purchase goods and services and the period of time after gainful employment that we refer to as “retirement.”
But in some sense, it is not strictly true to say that money is a tool. Or maybe it is true, just not the whole truth. For you know as well as I do that a hammer does not do to you or me or a professional golfer what money does. Money is different, somehow, and it’s that “somehow” that we have to be careful of. Indeed, the more money we have, the more we have to be careful.
Somehow the promise or even the offer of more money makes us forgetful, purposefully or otherwise, of its rightful place in our lives. The tool begins to evolve into a purpose, begins to take on the qualities of an end to work toward or a virtue to be embodied. If someone were to do this with another tool, like a hammer or cello or camera, we would rightly see it as a pathological obsession. But with money we have a much more difficult time recognizing the pathology and naming it for what it is.
Look, I don’t know what your LIV Golf choices are. The moments when money is less a tool than it is a master. But we all have them, probably in direct proportion to our wealth. And while it’s beyond my paygrade and ability to provide the moral formation necessary to deal with these difficult choices wisely, maybe I can just leave it at this: Be vigilant, because if we’re not careful we will choose more without realizing it, and end up with less.
On the other hand, there are times when choosing less may lead to more joy than we could possibly imagine.