Norman is disruptive, but not always wrong

Mark McGowan
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Donald Trump, Yasir Al Rumayyan, Greg Norman, CEO and commissioner of LIV Golf, and Majed Al Sorour, CEO of Saudi Golf Federation, (Photo by Chris Trotman/LIV Golf via Getty Images)

“I think Greg needs to go. I think he just needs to exit stage left. He’s made his mark but I think now is the right time to sort of say, look, you’ve got this thing off the ground but no one is going to talk unless there’s an adult in the room that can actually try to mend fences.”

Those were the words of Rory McIlroy at his press conference ahead of the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai.

Rarely one to shy away from controversy, McIlroy’s disdain for Greg Norman has been well publicised since the man nicknamed ‘The Shark’ took on the role as the public figurehead of the Saudi-funded breakaway tour, but the world number one’s latest jibe is a clear indication that the hatchet wielding is far from over.

That Norman is persona non grata at PGA Tour HQ is no secret following his attempted ‘coup’ with the World Golf Tour back in 1994, and it’s also crystal clear that the Australian has alienated many of the game’s top players and most influential media down through the years, including Tiger Woods.

The concept was to have the game’s elite players, in limited fields, playing for elevated purses, and appearing all over the world. The cynical view is that this was a cash grab from the already extremely wealthy Aussie, but his defence was that it would grow the game.

But here’s the rub. Whatever his motivation, Norman wasn’t wrong.

Golf is, and should be, a global game, yet the best players on the world very rarely compete on a global stage. One can hardly blame Tim Finchem – the then PGA Tour Commissioner – for acting in the best interests of his organisation by delivering suspension ultimatums to any PGA Tour members who lent their support to the proposed venture, but – and this is solely my opinion – golf would be in a much better place had the World Golf Tour been allowed get off the ground.

Instead, the PGA Tour’s monopoly flourished, thanks in no small measure to a certain Californian who burst onto the professional scene in 1996 – the same year of Norman’s infamous Masters collapse to Nick Faldo – but Woods was going to be a star regardless.

Irish golf fans are fortunate in many ways. Events staged in the United States occupy prime-time television slots for the most part, and the game’s finest have competed for golf’s oldest – and arguably most prestigious title – on our very shores.

But what if you’re Australian, like Greg? It may have been a blessing in disguise that The Shark’s Augusta horror show began unfolding around 4am in Perth and 6am in Sydney – and it was Monday morning there – but there would’ve been few casual fans tuning in to see Adam Scott pick up his Green Jacket and fewer still to see Cameron Smith lift the Claret Jug at around 6am in the nation’s most populous region.

TV window times for Seoul, Tokyo, Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong are even worse.

‘Growing the game’ is a phrase that’s carelessly thrown around and very little thought given to what would actually grow the game.

The World Golf Championships (WGCs) that eventually arrived and were co-sanctioned by the various professional circuits, were a cheap imitation, too heavily centred in the States, and not offering sufficiently enhanced prize funds to consistently draw top-quality fields to far-flung destinations.

To truly grow the game, you need to bring it, promote it, and showcase it all over the world.

The truth is that most golfers are spoiled. Take tennis for comparison. This year alone, Novak Djokovic has played in nine different countries – not including Monte Carlo – as widespread as Canada and Kazakhstan and had famously travelled to Australia before being denied entry. Tennis players travel. They must if they’re to play in the big-money events and get the big rankings points.

For all its faults – and there are many – we know that LIV’s marquee names will tee it up in the US, Australia, Singapore, England and Spain next year. And I’d wager that if they secure a few more big-name defectors over the coming months, the tour will also probably take on a more international feel in years to come.

Whether this does much for the game remains to be seen, but the time for negotiation and genuine growth has probably come and gone. Maybe twice.

Rory’s not wrong. The Shark is a disruptive factor, but with chum in the water he was always going to go into a feeding frenzy.

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