Paul Casey changes stance, defends Saudi Arabia ahead of LIV Golf debut

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Paul Casey is one of three new golfers who will make his debut this week on the LIV Golf Invitational Series.

While there’s been plenty of backlash for those who have joined the controversial Saudi Arabian-backed venture — especially with this week’s event taking place at former President Donald Trump’s golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey, about 50 miles from the World Trade Center in Manhattan — Casey isn’t bothered.

His stance on Saudi Arabia has changed drastically.

“I was very aware of the ramifications of making this choice,” Casey said.

Casey changes stance on Saudi Arabia

Casey spoke with Charles Howell and Jason Kokrak on Wednesday ahead of their debut in the third LIV Golf event.

While most of the questions asked of the trio were focused on Saudi Arabia and the country’s involvement in sports amid their human rights abuses, Casey thinks the country is progressing.

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“I’ve been to the kingdom a couple of times, and I’ve seen change happening in the kingdom so I can confidently say that change is happening and that what we do is having a positive effect,” Casey said.

That position is a stark change from where he was a few years ago. Casey, a former UNICEF ambassador, refused to play in the Saudi Invitational in 2019 over the country’s involvement in Yemen. Playing there, he said at the time, would make him a “hypocrite.”

“I’ve seen the numbers,” he said in 2019, via ESPN. “In Yemen 22 million people are facing starvation, 11.5 million of them kids.”

Casey was asked about his partnership with UNICEF, and said they actually “encouraged me to go” to Saudi Arabia. He has since played in several Saudi Internationals.

“I then went to Saudi while I still had that relationship,” he said. “As they reminded me, it's about inclusion, and by not engaging and not participating and not traveling to countries, you harden positions if you do that. You have to be inclusive.”

Casey, Howell and Kokrak were asked directly about Saudi Arabia’s record on gay rights, too, though all three declined to speak about it.

Casey, who is ranked No. 31 in the Official World Golf Rankings, is one of the better golfers who has made the jump to LIV Golf. The 44-year-old has three PGA Tour wins and 15 on Europe's DP World Tour. Kokrak also has three PGA Tour wins to his name, as does Howell.

The three now can’t compete on the PGA Tour, and will likely be banned from any Ryder Cup teams. It’s unclear if they will be able to play in the major championships.

While it’s unclear how much the three were paid to play in the LIV Golf league, it’s almost certainly a significant pay raise. Still, both Howell and Casey insisted that the decision wasn’t about the money.

“Money was not a factor,” Howell said. “For me, I've been [on the PGA Tour] for 22 years, and it's been awesome. I've got nothing but great things to say about the PGA Tour, what they've given me, the opportunities, et cetera. But when this came along, I'm 43 years old, I've done a lot of that. I still love the game. I love the game more today than I did five years ago … As these guys have alluded to, I even got a bit more excited when someone, let's say Bryson [DeChambeau] reaches out and says, I'd love for you to be a part of my team. That's a compliment, but it's also a responsibility. OK, I've got to play well; I'm responsible not only for myself but for Paul, for Bryson, for others.

“It's new and exciting. Not that the PGA TOUR got boring, but I'm extremely excited to be here for the next few years, and yeah, it's a new venture, and at this age and this part of my life, it's perfect.”

Paul Casey
Paul Casey, Jason Kokrak and Charles Howell will all make their LIV Golf debuts this week in New Jersey. (Konathan Ferrey/LIV Golf/via Getty Images)
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