Mon, 25 Jan 2021

Sportswashing, a player awash with cash and a country's unlikely hero feature in golf talking points this week:

Casey's Saudi flip

Paul Casey's decision to play in Saudi Arabia next year has laid him open to charges of hypocrisy after he previously shunned the country over its poor human rights record.

World No 1 and Masters champion Dustin Johnson will tee up in February's European Tour event in Saudi Arabia alongside US Open champion Bryson DeChambeau, Open champion Shane Lowry and other global stars such as Patrick Reed, Justin Rose, Tommy Fleetwood and Phil Mickelson.

But the big surprise among the 2021 Saudi International entries was England's former world number three Casey, who pointedly refused to play when the tournament began in 2019.

His stance was echoed by Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy, who both turned down reported $3 million appearance fees. "I just don't want to go," said McIlroy at the time, calling it "a morality issue".

Saudi Arabia has hosted a number of high-profile events recently and will hold its first Formula One grand prix next year, bringing accusations of "sportswashing" -- using sport to divert attention away from human rights issues.

Casey, a UNICEF ambassador, told the UK's Independent newspaper in January 2019 that he "would be a hypocrite" if he accepted Saudi appearance money.

But this week the world number 23 defended his U-turn. "This is not a decision I've taken lightly," Casey said in a statement.

"I wasn't comfortable going in the past, but I have always been open-minded and willing to learn. I believe sport has the power to effect change."

Johnson's golden 2020

Dustin Johnson has pulled out of this week's Mayakoba Classic, the final US PGA Tour event of 2020, meaning a strange but highly successful playing year has come to an end.

The world number one endured some bizarre ups and downs after the sport returned from shutdown in June.

He was forced to sit out two big-purse events after contracting Covid-19, and posted back-to-back rounds of 80 for the first time in his career, but also became FedEx Cup champion and won a small matter of four times -- including the Tour Championship and his first Masters at Augusta, his second major title.

Johnson's tournament winnings since June alone were $8.95 million, and once you throw in the $15 million bonus he received for winning the Tour Championship and FedEx Cup at East Lake in September his on-course earnings soar to an eye-watering $23.95 million in five months.

Most important of all, though, he now has a new green jacket.

Pole in Olympic position

Christiaan Bezuidenhout won his second European Tour event in South Africa at the weekend but a man who came tied second made almost as many headlines.

Adrian Meronk was bidding to become the first Pole to win on the European tour, and although the 6ft 6in rookie came up short after leading going into Sunday's final round, the 27-year-old has now set his sights on qualifying for next year's Olympics.

That would be some achievement, coming from a country that only has an estimated few thousand golfers in a population of almost 40 million - a legacy of the days of Soviet control where the sport was frowned upon.

European and US PGA tour events were not even shown on Polish television until two years ago.

"There has been a lot of growth in playing numbers this year in Poland," Meronk told Golf Digest.

"Because of the virus, people have been looking for things to do outdoors. And golf has benefited. New courses are being built.

"If I was to win on the European Tour, it would be huge for golf in Poland. So would making it to the Olympics. I'm in right now through my world ranking," said the world number 195.

"If I was to do well in that, golf would get a lot of publicity."

World rankings

Top 10s, week beginning November 30, 2020:

Men

1. Dustin Johnson (USA) 13.06

2. Jon Rahm (ESP) 10.42

3. Justin Thomas (USA) 9.62

4. Rory McIlroy (NIR) 7.57

5. Bryson DeChambeau (USA) 7.38 (+1)

6. Webb Simpson (USA) 7.30 (+1)

7. Xander Schauffele (USA) 7.24 (+1)

8. Collin Morikawa (USA) 7.24 (-3)

9. Patrick Cantlay (USA) 6.47

10. Tyrrell Hatton (ENG) 6.27

Women

1. Ko Jin-young (KOR) 7.79

2. Kim Sei-young (KOR) 7.38

3. Nelly Korda (USA) 6.59

4. Danielle Kang (USA) 6.40

5. Park In-bee (KOR) 6.18

6. Brooke Henderson (CAN) 5.81

7. Nasa Hataoka (JPN) 5.71

8. Minjee Lee (AUS) 5.25

9. Park Sung-hyun (KOR) 4.99

10. Kim Hyo-joo (KOR) 4.90

Source: News24

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