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In his new position as CEO of LIV Golf Investments — a group backed by the Public Investment Fund, operating on behalf of the government of Saudi Arabia — Greg Norman has revived his concept to rival the PGA Tour, offering guaranteed money to a select few of the game’s top players through a limited schedule.
As the organization’s frontman, Norman recently doubled down when discussing whether or not he sees any issues in partnering with a Saudi regime that has been widely scrutinized for human rights violations.
In an article published in the Financial Times, the former World No. 1 insisted he’s not being used by the group to clean up its image.
“No, I have not been used for sportswashing because I’ve been to Saudi Arabia, and I’ve seen the changes that have taken place,” Norman told the Financial Times.
Norman also equated racial issues in the United States with social issues in Saudi Arabia.
“Every country has done horrendous things in the past … just look at America with racism, for example, it’s just so embedded here, it’s just ugly,” he said.
LIV Golf Investments has created a firestorm of speculation about which PGA Tour stars might compete in Saudi-backed events and how the top two established tours, the PGA Tour and the European Tour, might react to seeing their best players poached.
The rival league led by the Saudis looked to partner with the European Tour this spring. In May a group made multi-million dollar offers to several of the game’s best players, including then-world No. 1 Dustin Johnson, Phil Mickelson, Adam Scott, Brooks Koepka, Bryson DeChambeau, Rickie Fowler and Justin Rose, with some offers reaching the neighborhood of $50 million.
Soon after, the PGA Tour partnered with the European Tour and announced a new pot of $40 million called the Player Impact Program to “recognize and reward players who positively move the needle.”
LIV Golf Investments instead partnered with the Asian Tour and has committed more than $200 million to a series of events over the next 10 years. Norman and the Saudis unveiled a glimpse of their vision in a private meeting attended by a handful of golf media outlets in New York City.
The PGA Tour has continued to fight back the threat of the new rival Saudi league, planning a huge increase in player bonuses in 2022 and also boosting prize money at limited-field events significantly, Golfweek reported Nov. 22. The Tour’s most lucrative cash grab – the FedEx Cup bonus pool – will lavish even more money on top players, jumping to $75 million from $60 million last season.
Despite those increased bonuses and prize funds on the PGA Tour, a group of notable golfers – including stars such as Mickelson, Johnson and DeChambeau – on Nov. 29 appeared on a list of players committed to compete in the Saudi International as part of the Asian Tour. The PGA Tour and European Tour – recently rebranded as the DP World Tour – have promised undetermined consequences to any of either tours’ players who do play in rival LIV events on the Asian Tour without receiving exemptions, which the PGA and Euro tours have vowed not to approve.
Norman was a natural choice to front the new series. In 1994, he proposed the World Golf Tour, a series of eight no-cut events intended to bring 40 players together. The plan was shot down by the PGA Tour, and then-commissioner Tim Finchem announced the World Golf Championships in 1997 adhering to many of the same principles.
The Australian still believes the PGA Tour doesn’t properly compensate players and believes the new series could offer a better solution.
“You look at that value that’s been generated through other sports, for other players and other franchises. Golf has never recognized that or had the ability to capture that market,” Norman told the Financial Times.
Interestingly, Tiger Woods was asked about the potential for a new rival league during a press conference Tuesday in advance of his Hero World Challenge.
When asked if a player sought his advice on whether or not to play, Woods said that decision would be up to the player, although he will remain faithful to the PGA Tour.
"It's going to be his decision. I've decided for myself, and I'm supporting the @PGATOUR. That's where my legacy is … I have an allegiance to the PGA Tour."
— Tiger Woods on what he'd tell a player considering leaving for a Saudi-backed series.
— Golfweek (@golfweek) November 30, 2021
“I understand that some of the comparisons are similar to when Arnold and Jack broke off from the PGA of America to start the Tour. I don’t see it that way,” he said. “I think the Tour has done a fantastic job, (commissioner Jay Monahan has) done an unbelievable job in a very difficult time. During the pandemic, there was ample opportunity for players to leave. We were the first sporting tour to start, so with that, yes, did we have some protocol issues at times? Yes, we learned on the fly. But Jay and the staff have done an incredible job of that. I think the Tour is in great hands, they’re doing fantastic and prize money is going up, it’s just not guaranteed money like most sports are. It’s just like tennis – you’ve got to go out there and earn it.”