Bohannan: Greg Norman, Saudi Arabia-backed golf tour still stirring up issues despite big players saying no

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You would think by now that the idea of the LIV, the Saudi Arabia-backed golf league that wants to rival the PGA Tour, would have slipped quietly away. The biggest names in golf have turned their backs on the idea, saying they will stay with the profitable PGA Tour. And one of golf’s biggest names and one of its best all-time players, Phil Mickelson, is in a kind of self-exile from the game at the moment over why and how he supported the idea of the LIV.

But with all of that weighing against the LIV and its commissioner Greg Norman, the LIV still manages to make some news. This week the news is a batch of names who are recognizable but far from the elite of the tour that the LIV pursued earlier in the year.

The rumor mill still has European stars Lee Westwood and Ian Poulter involved with the LIV. The other names aren’t necessarily new, but they are intriguing. Two-time Masters champion Bubba Watson is among those names, and so are Kevin Na and Jason Kokrak.

In what seemed like a response to the rumors, Watson posted his summer schedule on Twitter, without mentioning the LIV and without listing any of the LIV tournaments on his agenda.

Was that just a way to turn off the rumors, or had Watson been persuaded to change his mind because of backlash to even the rumor of him signing with the LIV? Several players seemed to pledge their support to the PGA Tour in February after Phil Mickelson’s comments on the league were leaked and Mickelson was hit with a huge backlash.

Watson’s name is particularly interesting because he has embraced Augusta National, home of the Masters, by not only playing in the tournament as a past champion but showing up at the pre-tournament Drive, Chip and Putt event each year.

If you believe Norman, still the face of the LIV, he was left off the invitation list to the Masters this year he believes because of his backing of the LIV. Would Watson want to risk that in his career?

PNC Championship 2020
PNC Championship 2020

Greg Norman at the 2020 PNC Championship in Orlando. (Photo: Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press)

It’s probably not fair to say the other names wouldn’t particularly be missed if they stopped playing PGA Tour events, because most players have their fans who love to see them play. But Na and Kokrak are far from Rory McIlroy and Dustin Johnson, some of the names the LIV expressed interest in early in the planning stages. McIlroy never supported the LIV, Johnson was among those saying no as recently as February and Tiger Woods has given the LIV concept a flat-out no.

The league that won’t go away

So why does the LIV live on? Part of it is the PGA Tour has been instituting many changes in the last year, and some of them seem to be direct responses to the threat of the LIV. Those changes include increased purses at most tournaments, the institution of a Players Impact Program that gives bonuses to important and popular players and even talk of a new Fall Series team concept, kind of along the lines of what the LIV has proposed.

The other reason the LIV lingers on is Norman himself. For now at least, Norman has refused to accept defeat, even in the face of the best and biggest names in the game giving the LIV the cold shoulder. In a series of interviews this week, Norman doubled down on his belief that the PGA Tour can not ban players from its tournaments for signing up with the LIV, and that he believes the LIV will play on no matter who is in the field. He added that better players will eventually want to play for the LIV’s money, knowing they can beat the golfers signed up for the league.

The PGA Tour and the status quo in golf can feel good about the Masters last week, the cementing of world No. 1 Scottie Scheffler with a Masters victory and the idea that Tiger Woods remains the biggest and most appealing attraction in golf. The LIV wasn’t even an afterthought at Augusta National.

Will there be a death blow for the LIV in the coming weeks? Norman certainly seems intent on keeping the league around, even at the cost of careers and legacies.

Larry Bohannan is the golf writer for the Palm Springs (Calif.) Desert Sun, part of the USA Today Network. He can be reached at larry.bohannan@desertsun.com or (760) 778-4633. Follow him on Facebook or on Twitter at @larry_bohannan. Support Local journalism. Subscribe to The Desert Sun.