US golfer Tiger Woods has revealed he turned down a $3m appearance fee to play at the controversial Saudi International tournament on the European Tour early next year.
“I just don’t want to go over there,” Woods told ESPN. “It’s a long way.”
The tournament, which is sponsored by the Saudi government, has received criticism because of the nation’s poor human rights record, and, in particular, the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the country’s consulate in Istanbul, which caused an international outcry.
Nonetheless, the likes of Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka, Patrick Reed, Sergio Garcia, Shane Lowry, Henrik Stenson and Tony Finau also have committed to play in Saudi Arabia from January 30 to February 2, 2020. There is a $3.5m purse as well as seven-figure appearance fees to several players.
Mickelson, in particular, has come under criticism for accepting an invitation to play in the event and skipping the Waste Management Phoenix Open, where he has played 27 straight years and 30 times overall.
“After turning down opportunities to go to the Middle East for many years, I’m excited to go play and see a place in the world I’d never seen,” Mickelson tweeted. “I understand those who are upset or disappointed. You’ll be OK. I’m excited to experience this for the first time.”
Woods, who also turned down an invitation in 2019, said of the controversy: “I understand the politics behind it. But also the game of golf can help heal a lot of that, too. It can help grow it. And also a lot of top players are going to be playing there that particular week.
“It’s traditionally not a golf hotbed, the Middle East. But it has grown quite a bit. I remember going to Dubai for my very first time and seeing maybe two or three buildings in the skyline. Now there is a New York City skyline. Again, golf has grown. There were only a few courses when I went to Dubai and now they’re everywhere. Same with Abu Dhabi, and maybe eventually in Saudi Arabia.”