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LIV golfers, descending upon Bolton, are becoming increasingly unapologetic about taking the money

Harold Varner lll said he enjoyed playing in the majors, but he had higher priorities when deciding on his golf future.John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

BOLTON — The decision was torturing Harold Varner III.

The LIV Golf Series was offering him life-changing money, but what about the connection to the Saudis? What will people think if he accepts their tainted money? What about showing gratitude to the PGA Tour?

Then Varner’s wife offered clarity.

“My wife is, like, [expletive] everybody,” Varner said Wednesday before his practice round at The International, where the LIV Golf Invitational Boston begins Friday. “Do what you want to do.”

And there we have it: The perfect tagline for the upstart golf series.

(Expletive) everybody. Do what you want to do.

The LIV tour, holding its fourth event of the season here, is swimming in controversy because of how it is subsidized — by the bottomless trough of the Saudi Public Investment Fund, the financial arm of the Saudi royal family. This is the same royal family accused of myriad human rights violations and the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

The LIV tour is the Saudis’ way of buying prestige and positive publicity. They have bought 13 of the world’s top 50 golfers, including Cam Smith, the world No. 2 and recent British Open champion. The event during Wednesday’s practice round was the definition of “sports-washing” — LIV commissioner Greg Norman, star Bryson DeChambeau, and announcer David Feherty holding a golf clinic for veterans.


The players who have jumped to LIV in the last five months have twisted themselves into pretzels trying to justify the move. It’s about being able to spend more time with family. No, it’s about spreading the game of golf across the world. Actually, it’s about having more fun and tailoring the game to kids. At Wednesday’s practice round, a DJ was set up between the practice green and driving range, playing electronic dance music while players warmed up.


“I love that stuff,” said Smith, a day after his defection to LIV became official. “I play with music at home and, yeah, I just can’t wait to be a part of this.”

Those have been the LIV PR talking points.

Smith, ranked No. 2 in the world, arrives at the driving range Wednesday.John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

Varner finally put an end to that nonsense Wednesday.

These guys aren’t out here to improve the game. They’re not here to honor Bobby Jones and Sam Snead and Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods. They’re not here to make golf more fun for kids.

LIV is growing in stature for one reason: Cash. Lots and lots of cash.

The golfers are taking the money, and they are becoming more and more unapologetic about it.

“Not really sure the direction the [PGA] Tour is going in, but the biggest thing for me was trying to take care of myself,” said Varner, 32. “I’m actually super proud that I made a decision based off of what I believe in.”

Phil Mickelson reportedly got $200 million guaranteed from LIV. Dustin Johnson reportedly got $125 million. Lesser-known players such as Varner are believed to have gotten deals worth well into the eight figures.

“Obviously, it’s more money than we’ve ever played for,” said two-time Masters champion Bubba Watson, who earned $48 million in 16 years on the PGA Tour. “I mean, $4 million to the winner. So obviously it’s about some money.”

Harold Varner lll, James Piot, Bubba Watson, Hudson Swafford, and Turk Pettit (left to right) posed for a team photo at The International Wednesday.John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

For the star players such as Mickelson and Johnson, who already have made more money than most of us can fathom, the jump to LIV looks like pure greed.


But for someone such as Varner, the move is more understandable. He grew up without means in Gastonia, N.C. And pro golf has been a grind for him. Varner has earned $10.4 million in six years on the PGA Tour. The past two years were the first time he cracked $2 million in a season.

He can double that in just one LIV event, never mind the eye-popping guarantee he no doubt received.

“Golf’s never been a way for me to get my name on a trophy; it was a way for me to get out,” Varner said. “For a kid that grew up where I grew up, [LIV] was an opportunity for me to just make sure my kid never would be in that situation, ever, and that means the world to me.”

Golfers such as Varner jumped to LIV without knowing whether they will be able to compete in a major again. So far, LIV tournaments do not count toward world golf rankings, which could ultimately prevent the LIV participants from qualifying toward majors.

The majors are a big deal. This year marked the first time that Varner got to play in all four of them. He knows that he may never get a chance to tee it up again at Augusta National or compete for a claret jug or Wanamaker Trophy.

He still made the jump. It’s all about the Benjamins.


“Yeah, this is my first year playing in every major, so it was cool,” he said. “But I think it’s way cooler making sure my kid doesn’t have to worry about anything. That’s about it.”

Watson, 43, wants to keep playing in the Masters and attending the champions dinner. But not enough to stay away from the LIV tour.

“I told my kids that there is a chance, there is a possibility, that we can’t go to Augusta,” Watson said. “And I told them, ‘If they tell me that I can’t go, being a past champion, then I don’t want to be there anyway.’ ”

Varner’s comments Wednesday were actually refreshing. He is one of the few to admit what we all know.

Yes, it’s all about the money.

Yes, it has blood on it.

Yes, it might cost all of these guys a spot in the majors.

“So what?” the LIV players are telling us. “(Expletive) everybody.”

Ben Volin can be reached at ben.volin@globe.com.