LIV Golf Investments CEO Greg Norman says around one third of the world’s top-50 ranked golfers gave back their money and ditched his Saudi-backed breakaway tour at the final hour following Phil Mickelson’s comments in February.
In an interview with ESPN, Norman explained how Mickelson’s comments – that among other things labelled the Saudis as “scary motherf—ers”, slammed the PGA Tour’s “obnoxious greed”, acknowledged the “sports-washing” motivation behind the series, and admitted to using the league as leverage against the PGA Tour – had hurt, not only Mickelson, but the LIV Golf Invitational Series that had acquired the signatures of a number of the game’s best players prior to Mickelson’s tell-all interview.
“There’s no question [Mickelson’s comments] hurt,” Norman told ESPN.com. “It hurt a lot of aspects. It hurt the PGA Tour. It hurt us. It hurt the game of golf. It hurt Phil. So yeah, across all fronts. It wasn’t just specifically to us. But it definitely created negative momentum against us.”
Indeed, the reaction was swift. Soon after Mickelson’s comments came to light, Dustin Johnson and Bryson DeChambeau were among a number of players to pledge loyalty to golf’s existing tours having stayed quiet to that point. Norman says that 15 of the world’s top-50 had committed to the breakaway tour but given the PR disaster that Mickelson created, many backed out at the last minute despite having “had money in their pockets” before ever hitting a ball.
“Quite honestly, we were ready to launch on the Tuesday or Wednesday of Genesis,” Norman says.
“We had enough players in our strength of field, or minimal viable product, ready to come on board. And when all of that happened, everybody got the jitters, and the PGA Tour threatened people with lifetime bans and stuff like that.”
“To this day, we still have players under contract and signed. The ones who wanted to get out because of the pressure of the PGA Tour gave back their money and got out. Guys had money in their pockets.”
Instead of 15 of the world’s top-50 signed up, Norman now claims to have 15 of the world’s top-100 registered for the opening $25 million event of the eight-tournament, limited-field, 54-hole no-cut series set for Centurion Golf Club in London from June 9-11.
And Mickelson’s management team revealed that the six-time Major winner is amongst them with Norman confirming that the door will remain open for ‘Lefty’ despite the headaches he’s clearly caused the Great White Shark’s wealthy start-up.
“He’s always going to have an open door,” Norman said.
“It’s going to be his decision, his decision only. He’s got a few things he has to work out himself, obviously, with the PGA Tour and where he wants to go with them and how he wants to go with them. I can’t read Phil’s mind because I haven’t spoken with him.
“From our perspective, I’m always going to be consistent in that I respect Phil. I respect what he’s done for the game of golf, and he’s always going to have an open door to any golf tournament he wants to go play as far as I’m concerned.”
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