Legendary golfer Gary Player thinks government and sports shouldn’t mix, as the golf world goes through a major merger that has triggered antitrust concerns.
Speaking to CNBC at the Berenberg Invitational on Monday, the South African golfer said the two have become “too intertwined.”
“We’ve got to get governments to stay out of sport. It’s absolutely vital,” the 87-year-old hall of famer said. “Let sports bodies stick to sports and politicians should stick to politics.”
Player, though, is no stranger to political involvement in sports. He was an ambassador for Golf Saudi, an organization pushing to make the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia a more prominent force in the sport. Today, he is an ambassador for the Saudi energy giant Aramco. He displays its logo on his golf shirts.
Player also said he supports the proposed merger between Saudi-backed LIV Golf and the PGA Tour, which has drawn criticism and scrutiny from regulators and lawmakers, not to mention golfers. (Previously, Player has spoken out against players leaving the PGA Tour to join LIV Golf, saying it’s for “guys that can’t win one the regular tour any more.”)
“With getting together now, the players will have more money to play for forever, whereas it might not have gone on forever,” he said. “The world will benefit by putting the parties together.”
Last week, a U.S. Senate subcommittee held its second hearing on the proposed merger. Connecticut Sen. Richard Blumenthal, the Democratic chairman of the subcommittee, subpoenaed the Saudi Public Investment Fund for information related to the merger and other U.S. investments.
Player also said he’s against athletes getting too political, specifically singling out athletes who don’t stand for the national anthem as well as the political views of the U.S. women’s national soccer team.
Player on golf and charity
Player, who is just one of five players to win all four majors, has won nine majors altogether, and has played golf with every president in the United States over the last 70 years, sounded off on the game he loves.
He offered his perspective on upcoming Ryder Cup at Marco Simone in Italy.
“I’m very much against captain’s picks,” he said. “Incentivization is important. Have a system, you know the leading 12 events … they are going to represent the United States. That’s how it should be,” said Player.
In 1989, the United States Ryder Cup team adopted the highly debated use of “captain’s picks,” where team captains pick who represents the United States. The practice has been around more than four decades internationally.
Player was in Bedford Hill, New York, for his celebrity golf event which raises money for pancreatic cancer, from which his wife died in 2021.
“Golf is the greatest catalyst for raising money for charities around the world,” he said.