(Reuters) – World number 16 Tony Finau has withdrawn from next week’s Saudi International, citing family reasons.
Finau was among a star-studded group signed up to a European Tour event that, backed by the Saudi government, in its second year is again splashing out lavish appearance fees as part of a big push to stage international sports events.
Players have received widespread criticism for playing in a country ruled by a regime that democracy advocacy group Freedom House rates as one of the worst in the world for restricting freedom, political rights and civil liberties.
Finau, who has had a busy globe-trotting schedule that has included starts in Australia, Hong Kong and California over the past six weeks, said his withdrawal was related to his recent relocation.
“With the need to help my wife get our young family settled in the Scottsdale (Arizona) area after our recent move during the holidays, I’ve made the tough decision to remain at home and withdraw from the field at next week’s Saudi International,” Finau said on Twitter on Thursday.
“I have consulted with Golf Saudi throughout this decision making process, and I truly appreciate how gracious and understanding they have been of my circumstances.
“They have subsequently extended an invitation to me for the 2021 Saudi International, and I am pleased to accept that opportunity.”
The tournament’s talent-laden field still includes four prominent Americans in world number one Brooks Koepka, defending champion Dustin Johnson, five-times major champion Phil Mickelson and 2018 Masters winner Patrick Reed.
All four have made it clear they have no interest in criticizing the Saudi regime.
Freedom House, in its 2019 report, says: “Saudi Arabia’s absolute monarchy restricts almost all political rights and civil liberties.
“No officials at the national level are elected. The regime relies on extensive surveillance, the criminalization of dissent, appeals to sectarianism and ethnicity, and public spending supported by oil revenues to maintain power.”
(Reporting by Andrew Both in Cary, North Carolina; Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman)