Swedish golfer Henrik Stenson meets with former President Donald Trump after winning LIV Golf Bedminster on Sunday at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, N.J. Photo by Peter Foley/UPI | License Photo
Aug. 1 (UPI) -- Former President Donald Trump helped Henrik Stenson celebrate the latest title of the controversial Saudi-funded LIV Golf series in Bedminster, N.J. Stenson said he was "motivated" by critics.
The ongoing criticism of the breakaway competition and Team Europe's recent decision to strip Stenson of his Ryder Cup captaincy in response to his participation were among the factors that motivated the golfer this week at Trump National Golf Club, he said Sunday.
"I guess we can agree I played like a captain," Stenson told LIVGolf.com after he carded a final round 2-under par to win LIV Golf Bedminster by two strokes.
Stenson, the No. 174 player in the Official World Golf Ranking, finished with a three-round score of 11-under. No. 83 Matthew Wolff fired a final-round low score of 7-under, but finished tied with No. 18 Dustin Johnson for second at 9-under overall.
No. 134 Carlos Ortiz and No. 46 Patrick Reed rounded out the Top 5.
Stenson's removal as Ryder Cup captain, announced July 20, is just one of several ways he and other PGA Tour defectors have been disciplined for their decision to leave the American golf competition. LIV Golf participants are also suspended from the PGA Tour and several have lost major sponsorships.
Stenson was asked about how those factors impacted his life and golf game over the past few weeks during his final round news conference.
"There might have been a little extra motivation in there this week," he told reporters. "When we as players have that, I think we can bring out the good stuff. I certainly did that this week."
Lucrative contracts and large prizes -- like the $4 million Stenson received for his first-place finish -- are the main reasons golfers are citing for their defection to the rival series. Where most of that money comes from -- the Saudi sovereign wealth fund -- is the basis for ongoing criticism, including that of several groups that met this week outside the Trump Organization-owned course.
Protesters, including families of victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, which claim the Saudi Arabian government supported the terrorists, met a few miles from the golf club, but did not march to its gates.
"We are pleased that people are refocusing attention on this issue," Jay Winuk, one of the protest organizers, told The New York Times. "There is no reason to go over to the scene where yet another atrocity is taking place."
The National Press Club also slammed LIV Golf last week, citing the Saudi-backed killing of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Turkey in 2018. The club called for Americans to boycott the tournament.
LIV Golf responded to the protesters and recent backlash in a statement before the tournament, citing "sympathy" for the families impacted by the Sept. 11 terror attacks.
Light crowds were seen throughout the three rounds of LIV Golf Bedminster. Tickets on Saturday were on the secondary marketplace for as low as $1.
Trump participated in a Pro-Am on Thursday in Bedminster in his latest show of support for LIV Golf. He wrote on social media last month that more golfers should leave the PGA Tour for the rival series. LIV Golf's championship will be held in October at Trump National Doral in Miami.
He echoed that sentiment during an interview with ESPN at the start of LIV Golf Bedminster.
"Well nobody has gotten to the bottom of 9/11, unfortunately, and they should have, as to the maniacs that did that horrible thing to our city, to our country, to the world," Trump told ESPN.
"But I can tell you there are a lot of great people out here. We are going to have a lot of fun. We are going to celebrate. A lot of money is going to charity. Really the best players in the world...soon you will probably have all of them."
Yasir al-Rumayyan, the governor of the Saudi investment fund, and Golf Saudi CEO Majed Al-Sorour were among those photographed while in conversation with Trump during the tournament. Trump also shared the stage with the Saudis to applaud Stenson during his trophy presentation.
The LIV Golf Series will continue with LIV Golf Boston from Sept. 2 to 4 at The International in Bolton, Mass.
LIV Golf announced Wednesday that it will nearly double its season tournament total and increase its prize pool by $150 million in 2023. That field will play for a total of $405 million in prizes, in addition to the money players earn through contracts with series organizers.
Swedish Golfer Henrik Stenson (C) raises the trophy on the podium after winning the individual competition at the LIV Golf invitational at the Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, N.J., on July 31. Photo by Peter Foley/UPI | License Photo