“Doubt is not a pleasant condition, but certainty is an absurd one,” wrote the eighteenth-century French philosopher Voltaire, who apparently lacked the foresight enjoyed by twenty-first-century propagandists Greg Norman and Phil Mickelson.
Uncertainty is the sole currency circulating in the golf world right now. About whether the PGA Tour’s Framework Agreement with the Saudi Arabian Public Investment Fund will be consummated. About how radical the realignment of the game’s ecosystem will be. About the timeframe for obtaining clarity. About how private investment fits into the schematic. About the degree of dilution the Saudis will accept before losing face. About what the players on the Tour’s board will support. Ask any informed person about these issues and the one response you won’t get is confident assurances. They simply don’t know. The only precinct where bombastic certitude is the coin of the realm is LIV, as evidenced by comments from Norman and Mickelson this week at Trump Doral.
Since the announcement of the Framework Agreement almost five months ago, Norman has been so uncharacteristically muted that his ultimate employer may have enjoined him to silence, though not as permanently as he did Jamal Khashoggi. Clearly, the flaxen-haired finger puppet hasn’t spent those months in quiet contemplation of troubling facts. “All indications show you that the position of LIV has never been stronger and the position and success of our players and our brand has never been in a better place,” he said in Miami.
What those indicators are, he didn’t share. In reality, his product still has no audience of scale, has attracted no announced buyers for team franchises, despite Bubba Watson insisting he’s besieged by interested parties, and presents a risible broadcast that makes North Korean state television seem comparatively nonpartisan, and for which it no longer publishes viewership figures. The only thing LIV can boast, in abundance, is something that seldom galvanizes genuine fans in any sport: cash.
“The business model works,” Norman added, displaying the kind of bulletproof confidence he could have used on many a second Sunday in April. Perhaps LIV has “never been stronger,” but that owes less to Norman’s management or product quality than to the fact that its sole benefactor views it as a useful (for now) vehicle to legitimacy in the sport.
Mickelson, for his part, deserves a Rosie the Riveter-style poster in his likeness, so dependable is he in shilling for the cause. “I’m excited about who’s coming for next year,” he said last week. “Over time, we’ll just keep getting better and better, and getting better players.”
That’s as proximate to a truthful statement as Mickelson has been for some time. There will be new players because LIV announced that at least four members of the current roster will be relegated. It’s also accurate to claim that the quality of players will improve since any new recruits presumably won’t stink as much as those being benched. Asked on Wednesday if he thinks there will be a new movement of players to LIV, Mickelson replied: “Do I think that? No, I know that’s going to happen. When players look at LIV, they want to be a part of it.”
The issue is, of course, the caliber of any new recruits. Is there a single needle-mover willing to make the leap?
Greg Norman, commissioner of LIV Golf ahead at The Grange Golf Club on April 20, 2023 in Adelaide, Australia. (Photo by Sarah Reed/Getty Images)
Norman said he’s targeting seven top stars. “The players on the PGA Tour that we are speaking to today want to be liberated. Those conversations are ongoing,” he said.
Norman didn’t say that last week.
He said it a year ago, at the same tournament.
Last week’s version of the script went like this: “Personally myself, I’m speaking to numerous players who want to come on with LIV … So we’re getting a lot of expressions of interest from individuals.”
His recitation has become golf’s Waiting for Godot, in which he anticipates the arrival of a central character who never shows.
It’s feasible that an elite star is out there and ready to sign with LIV. The Framework Agreement had a clause halting LIV’s poaching of players, but that stipulation was dropped after Department of Justice scrutiny. Yet what are the odds a top player will jump now amid such ambiguity on the future relationship between the tours? And how likely are the Saudis to imperil negotiations by making such a play? Whoever joins LIV over the winter probably won’t be anyone who sells tickets or draws eyes. The only league signing stars is TGL, the tech-centric outfit backed by Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy and partnered with the PGA Tour. Almost every player on Norman’s wish list has committed, which suggests that any team component in a future ecosystem will be seeded from TGL, not LIV. The cocksure bluster of Norman and Mickelson on LIV’s prospects is less a credible promise than mere posturing to comfort the players they have stranded in competitive irrelevance.
The future of professional golf has never been more uncertain or more volatile, a reality that impacts every tour and its members. And just about the only thing all of those players can be sure about is that anyone who “knows,” who claims to see many chess moves ahead, is simply manufacturing a self-serving fantasy.