Lynch: Greg Norman’s exclusion from the Open Championship at St. Andrews should be cheered—he’s earned it

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
·5 min read
In this article:
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

It’s a sign of how far Greg Norman has traveled on the low road to perdition that the major championships he once elevated with his presence have come to believe that even exhibitions and dinners can only benefit from his absence.

That sentiment was apparent in April when Augusta National didn’t send Norman an invitation to attend the Masters, which it customarily extends to all living (non-imprisoned) major winners. Now the R&A has declined to invite the Great White Pilot Fish to the Celebration of Champions exhibition in St. Andrews on Monday or to Tuesday’s champions dinner (not a consideration back in Georgia). Augusta National and the R&A are not organizations prone to discourtesies. They don’t do oversights, or at least not accidentally.

“We contacted Greg Norman to advise him that we decided not to invite him to attend on this occasion,” said the R&A. “The 150th Open is an extremely important milestone for golf and we want to ensure that the focus remains on celebrating the Championship and its heritage. Unfortunately, we do not believe that would be the case if Greg were to attend.”

“I’m disappointed. I would have thought the R&A would have stayed above it all given their position in world golf,” Norman said. “[It’s] petty, as all I have done is promote and grow the game of golf globally, on and off the golf course, for more than four decades.”

The it all to which Norman obliquely refers is relevant. While he’d like to peddle a narrative that the R&A is being picayune and ignoring his past accomplishments, what the governing body is actually doing is acknowledging his present activities. And those activities don’t involve the promotion or growth of golf but rather its wholesale whoring for the purposes of Saudi sportswashing, a difference that might not be as obvious to Norman as it is to folks who don’t conflate the good of the game with their personal enrichment and score-settling.

‘It’s the right thing to do’: Rory McIlroy explains his role in leading resistance against LIV Golf

The reality is that Norman’s current endeavors have considerably more bearing than his past achievements in determining whether he ought to be invited to events at which many attendees regard him with barely disguised contempt.

Despite Norman’s insinuation, this isn’t a case of the R&A reflexively choosing sides with the PGA and DP World tours in a commercial dispute with his Saudi-funded LIV Golf. The decision was selfish, sure, but it was made purely in the interests of the R&A, the Open and its ancillary events, not in the interests of Jay Monahan or Keith Pelley.

Norman has already shown an eagerness to use the 150th Open Championship for cheap stunts intended to raise both his profile and that of his new venture. As when he demanded a spot in the St. Andrews field at age 67, despite his earned exemption having expired at age 60, and gone unused since he was 54. Had he genuinely wished to compete, Norman could have followed the example of Sandy Lyle, the 64-year-old champion from 1985, who entered qualifying this year. Lyle didn’t make it but he tried the only route available. He didn’t demand an exemption to which he wasn’t entitled, but then Lyle isn’t known to have a larger-than-life bust of himself in his garden either.

The Celebration of Champions is a charming event particular to St. Andrews, where past winners play a short loop on the Old Course to kickstart the week on golf’s greatest stage. There will be a robust turnout of greats Monday afternoon. Anyone who believes that would be the case if Norman were also present knows nothing of how he is viewed by many of his fellow players. Similarly, fewer place settings would be needed for a champions dinner that included him.

The R&A’s decision signals something that, while increasingly evident, has not been stated explicitly. Which is that golf’s most powerful organizations will—when possible, without compromising their championships—impede the stooges who would auction the sport to MBS. Those bodies clearly grasp how ruinous LIV’s success would be to golf’s image and its broader economy as corporate marketing dollars search for safer harbors.

More: LIV Golf’s unspoken secret — players are ripping off the Saudis

Fred Ridley signaled his support for the existing order at the Masters. The PGA of America’s Seth Waugh, who runs both a major and the Ryder Cup, has repeatedly done so. Mike Whan, CEO of the USGA, couldn’t alter the U.S. Open’s criteria but suggested he was amenable to doing so in the future. And even prior to this week, the R&A’s Martin Slumbers fired a warning shot by removing the exemption into the Open previously granted to the winner of the Asian Tour’s order of merit, a move made after that circuit spreadeagled itself for Saudi cash.

Decisions have consequences, a lesson learned often by Norman at major championships.

LIV Golf is a tumor that grows by diminishing everything around it—major championships, established tournaments, tours, formerly estimable venues and, not least, reputations. The thing about ruined reputations is that, at a certain point, the owner of the sullied name becomes impervious to the stain, which instead smears those with whom he associates. It is to the R&A’s credit that it is willing to stiff-arm a man who aims to cheapen the entire sport just to enrich himself at the teat of a tyrant.