Thomas Pieters still can’t help but laugh when he mentions his new team, RangeGoats GC.
The No. 34 player in the world was the best signing for the re-vamped LIV Golf League ahead of its second season, which began last month in Mexico, and joined Barstool Sports’ Fore Play podcast to discuss his reasons for joining LIV and his feelings about the PGA Tour.
The Belgian said life hasn’t changed too much since he made the jump to the Greg Norman-led and Saudi Arabia-backed circuit, he still gets on a plane, travels to a golf tournament and tries to win.
“Obviously there’s a lot of talk, but at the end of the day, it’s a personal opinion, and it’s just golf, it’s not life and death,” said Pieters, who noted he called DP World Tour chief executive Keith Pelley to inform him of his choice. “I made the decision, and I move on.”
LIV Golf has long been criticized as another avenue for Saudi Arabia to sportswash its controversial human rights record, and when asked if he had any issues with the Public Investment Fund backing LIV, Pieters clapped back at those who are critical of the upstart circuit.
From today’s episode: pic.twitter.com/b6skV7rwBs
— Fore Play (@ForePlayPod) March 23, 2023
“I know my money comes from an American-based company,” said Pieters, referencing LIV Golf Investments, where PIF is the majority shareholder. Yasir Al-Rumayyan is the current governor of the PIF, and serves directly under Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who has controlled the fund since 2015.
“I think the PIF is in about 150 boards if I’m not wrong, so anything you touch on a daily basis is funded by Saudi money, so I think it’s a bit hypocritical, some of the things that are being said,” Pieters continued. “Obviously the things that have happened, they’re horrible. I’m here to play golf. It’s not really something I want to go into. I knew that question was going to be asked, but I don’t really have an answer for that.”
A year later, and the players still can’t answer the single biggest question about their new employer.
“I feel like golfers have gotten too opinionated about everything, and I’m just here to play golf,” he later added. “I’m not dumb, maybe I’ll come across as dumb, but I just want to be happy, that’s all.”
For Pieters, that wasn’t life on the PGA Tour. He loved his time in college at Illinois, where he won the individual national title in 2012, but he got lonely on the Tour.
“As a kid you obviously dream about playing on the PGA Tour, winning golf tournaments. I played a year on the PGA Tour. I did not like it,” he said. “I got very homesick, very lonely, so for me that was kind of like tick the box, I tried it over there, wasn’t my thing and then LIV came around right at the right time.
“Everybody who was playing on it last year that I talked to said it was very exciting, new and that was something that really spoke to me. You can’t lie about it financially, it’s amazing, and it was something as a family, father of two daughters, as well with my girlfriend, it’s awesome to have such good schedule, as well.”
Pieters made it clear he didn’t hate the PGA Tour and loved playing in events like the Arnold Palmer Invitational and Players Championship, but when the round was finished, he was lonely, and never experienced that in Europe on the DP World Tour.
“Last week (RangeGoat teammates Harold Varner III and Talor Gooch), we went out to dinner a couple nights, for me that’s normal,” he said. “It’s funny because Harold said, ‘man we never did this on the PGA Tour,’ and I find that a little bit sad.”
Pieters opened up while talking about his journey through professional golf and what his future may or may not look like, providing a unique perspective compared to those of his professional golf colleagues.
“I’ve done 10 years of being on the road and trying to achieve my dreams. I’m not Rory McIlroy, I’m not Tiger Woods, I’m not going to be in the history books or have a massive legacy, and that’s OK,” said Pieters. “I’ve made an unbelievable living out of golf, which is amazing for me and my mrs. and my kids. I don’t worry about that at all, actually. It’s just sport. It’s just golf. Happiness is so much more than just playing golf.”
You can disagree with his thoughts on the PIF and Saudi Arabia’s involvement in pro golf, but you certainly can’t argue that.