Great White Shark becomes the great disrupter of Tour golf 

Liam Kelly

Greg Norman (Photo by Oisin Keniry/Getty Images)

Liam Kelly

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Is Greg Norman the most hated man in professional golf? If we are to judge by the attitude of key establishment figures in the game, the answer is yes. 

Jay Monahan, the PGA Tour Commissioner, wasn’t taking Greg’s calls about the LIV Golf Invitational scenario that plans to deluge the pro game with a starting outlay of $275 million dollars’ worth of competition and player incentives. He also threatened lifetime bans to PGA Tour players who join the new organisation.  

Norman countered, saying: “What is the Tour afraid of by LIV coming along and offering a new opportunity for independent contractors to play?  

“We’re not asking players to make a choice on one tour or another, they can play both.” 

This venture, backed by the Saudi sovereign Investment Fund, starts in June and will present a programme of eight 54-hole events in Europe, USA and Asia featuring team and individual formats. 

The top brass of the PGA and DP World (formerly European) Tours may be rocked on their heels by the audacity of the two-time major champion but I have no doubt that within the ranks of the top 60-100 players on the World rankings, many will be rooting for Greg. 

The reason? Money, money, money.  

It’s the lifeblood of professional sport, and no male golfer worth his salt is going to pass up the chance of an additional earner. 

Right now, the big stars who were intrigued and interested and keen to be a part of Norman’s LIV Golf plans are laying low because of the publicity, backlash and a threat of suspension from the PGA Tour if they jump ship. 

Phil Mickelson came a cropper big time when a quote he gave to writer Alan Shipnuck in November became public knowledge in February when the Saudi/LIV Golf controversy was hitting the headlines.  

Shipnuck, whose biography of Phil is due to be published soon, quoted Mickelson as saying of the Saudis: “They’re scary motherf—–s to get involved with. 

“We know they killed [Washington Post reporter Jamal] Khashoggi and have a horrible record on human rights.  

“They execute people over there for being gay. Knowing all of this, why would I even consider it? Because this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reshape how the PGA Tour operates. 

“They’ve been able to get by with manipulative, coercive, strong-arm tactics because we, the players, had no recourse.  

“As nice a guy as [PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan] comes across as, unless you have leverage, he won’t do what’s right.  

“And the Saudi money has finally given us that leverage. I’m not sure I even want [the Saudi golf league] to succeed, but just the idea of it is allowing us to get things done with the [PGA] Tour.” 

Phil tried to claim this was off the record. Shipnuck was having none of that. Phil then apologised and took a break from Tour play. He also lost some key sponsors, so that was a kick in the backside big time for the hitherto People’s Champion. 

Perhaps he might take some consolation from the $6 million dollars bonus he gained from the PGA Tour Player Impact Programme in 2021 – this, in addition to the $4.1 million dollars prize money and, wait for it…. estimated $42 million dollars Phil earned in other off-course income for 2021. 

So yeah, it’s monopoly money these guys at the top are playing for every week, month and year. 

One thing is certain – Greg Norman is not going to quit.  

He cannot be shamed or insulted or bargained out of his conviction that the LIV series as envisaged will eventually come into play. It could take some years, but the Aussie fighting spirit that enabled Norman to come back from very public crushing defeats on the golf course has not diminished. 

The Shark keeps presenting persuasive arguments (he hopes) that more money for players, their families, their caddies, their agents and management companies will be good for everyone in the game. It almost brings a tear to the eye. 

You’d swear the PGA Tour and DP World Tour players were struggling for a few bob instead of playing tournaments that offer $427 million dollars and $200 million dollars respectively in official prize money this year.  

No worries. Greg, old pro that he is, knows only too well that his fellow Tour golfers will turn up if they can avoid official sanctions and the opprobrium of the social media trolls. 

When it comes down to it, as Tony Soprano would say: “It’s just business.” 

Ethical arguments are tricky. The moral high ground in this situation is built on sand.  

No country of any substance has clean hands, particularly the Americans, British, Belgians, Chinese, French, Germans, Israelis, Russians, South Africa, ….these are just some of the countries which have historically inflicted, and in some cases, continue to inflict inhumane treatment on human beings. 

As for the Saudis, well, LIV has invested in, for example, Newcastle United.  

No complaints from Newcastle fans, no mass boycotts there. 

Manchester City? They are hailed for the quality of their football, funded by Abu Dhabi. 

Oh yes, Qatar. Venue for the 2022 World Cup. No mass boycott by the teams who have qualified. No blackout of the television coverage by the broadcasters. Definitely no refusal by millions of soccer fans to turn off their televisions when the matches are being played. 

Don’t get me wrong: I hold no brief for Greg Norman or LIV Golf.  

I believe the money levels are breathtakingly outrageous but let’s be realistic: ultimately sport sells because we, the people, want to watch the top stars perform at the highest level.  

If Greg and his Merry Money Men get the product right, the big names will turn up and the golfing public will turn on and tune in. Such is life. 

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