A screenshot of U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal. Courtesy of C-SPAN.

U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal grilled PGA Tour executives Tuesday over their ongoing talks with Saudi-backed LIV Golf, suggesting the professional golf association was helping the Saudi royal family gain broader influence in the United States.

The interrogation occurred during a Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations hearing related to the potential agreement. At times during the three-hour hearing, Blumenthal even urged the PGA to find alternative ways to get money so the organization could compete with LIV in a bidding war for top golfers.

“You still have the choice to stand up against sportswashing, against the Saudi monarchy, against the hundreds of billions of dollars, and maybe more, that the Saudis will throw at you and stand up for America,” he said.

Blumenthal, who chairs the committee, said the purpose of the hearing was to consider whether a deal between a tax-exempt U.S. professional sports league and Saudi Arabia presented a national security concern.

PGA officials pushed back on claims that they gave up on principles to accept a huge payday, though. They said they’re looking to merge with LIV because they worry Saudi Arabia’s Private Investment Fund was focused on bringing down the PGA.

“They sued us, we did not decide to sue them,” said Jimmy Dunne, a member of the PGA’s board of directors. “They took our players, their entire existence is based on taking more of our players.”

Tuesday’s hearing comes as the two tours continue to discuss the terms of a planned merger. Dunne and PGA Chief Operating Officer Ron Price repeatedly declined to discuss any details because the talks are ongoing.

PIF Governor Yasir al-Rumayyan and LIV Golf CEO Greg Norman declined invitations to attend the hearing.

The two PGA officials said the framework of the deal would see the creation of a new entity, backed by Saudi funds but under the control of the PGA. They insisted they would not give over control to PIF or the Saudis.

“We will not move to a definitive unless the PGA tour is in complete control of the new entity,” said Price, who has been acting in place of PGA Commissioner Jay Monahan, who is on sick leave.

Blumenthal pushed back, noting PIF would put up a sizable amount of money — Price said the current number is “north of $1 billion” — and would likely want control.

Specifically, he said Saudi Arabia was using PIF to improve its public image through the purchase of sports teams and leagues, a practice known as “sportswashing,” and he suggested the PGA is being complicit.

PIF has also purchased an 80% stake in New Castle United, a top English soccer team, as well as four soccer teams in Saudi Arabia. One of those teams, Al-Nassar, last year signed Cristiano Renaldo, one of the world’s top soccer players.

PIF also has minority stakes in ride-share company Uber, concert distributor Live Nation, video game developers Capcom and Nexon and other U.S.-based companies.

“Today’s hearing is about much more than the game of golf,” Blumenthal said. “It’s about how a brutal, repressive regime can buy influence — indeed even take over — a cherished American institution simply to cleanse its public image.”

He noted the current framework includes a non-disparage agreement, one he characterized as “broad” and warned could prevent PGA golfers and employees from criticizing Saudi Arabia.

Blumenthal suggested the tour could seek other investors or become publicly traded if they were worried about keeping up with LIV golf financially. While the PGA considered those options, Price said the deal was not about money. It was about trying to control a rival group willing to spend whatever was needed to overtake the PGA.

Price said the PGA expects to make $2.1 billion in revenue from events this year, with nearly $1 billion going back to the players in the form of prize money.

Some Republicans on the subcommittee seemed to take the PGA’s side.

“If you don’t offer them a seat, they’ll take their $700 billion — a portion of that — and they’ll … keep picking off players one-by-one until they destroy the game of golf at the highest level,” said subcommittee ranking member U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wisconsin.

While some big names like John Rahm, Tiger Woods, and Rory McIlroy have turned down offers and stayed with the PGA, LIV has been able to lure many top golfers with big pay days.

Others questioned why the subcommittee was even having the hearing. They suggested the Senate should investigate other issues.

Sen. Ron Paul, R-Kentucky, also suggested the hearing was a form of hypocrisy since the Senate has rebuffed his efforts in the past to halt the practice of selling ammunition to Saudi Arabia. He also said it was unconstitutional.

“We have no business asking the PGA about their business or what they might do,” Paul said. “It’s not the business of government.”

Several family members of victims of the 9/11 attacks were in attendance for Tuesday’s hearing and participants spent time debating whether the Saudi government had a hand in the incident.

Dunne, who is also vice chairman and senior managing principal of investment bank Piper Sandler, seemed to come to Saudi Arabia’s defense when the issue of 9/11 came up.  Dunne became emotional when he recalled that 66 of his friends and colleagues died in the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center. He also praised the military for killing Osama bin Laden.

“Anyone that is involved with that thing has answered justice,” he said.

Dunne also said he taught his children that it’s wrong to blame others simply “because someone has the same skin color or religion as the people — the criminals that were involved in 9/11.”

Blumenthal cut him off, making a distinction between the Saudi royal family and the county’s residents.

The royal family has denied wrongdoing and the FBI and CIA have said there’s no evidence connecting them to the terrorist attacks. Blumenthal, though, said there’s “mounting evidence, I think persuasive evidence, that the Saudi government was complicit in the 9-11 attack.”