Golf Doctor

Another rival tour threatens PGA, this time from Saudis and Greg Norman

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Just when we thought rumors about rival professional golf leagues were quieted, then along comes Greg Norman with another of his world golf proposals. In early December, it was announced that Norman is the CEO and commissioner of LIV Golf Investments, a venture backed by mega-millions funded by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, with plans to start a new 10-tournament series that will replace the Asian Tour as it currently exists.
A lot of us still remember how Norman tried to form a global golf tour in 1994, only to be rebuffed by then-PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem, and ultimately led to the World Golf Championships a few years later. Norman has been brooding about that snub ever since. While Norman turned over operations of his clothing business to associates, but still continues to work on his golf course design business, he devotes most of his attention to LIV Golf Investments, which is largely funded by the Saudi-based Public Investment Fund that has assets of over $500 billion.
The Saudi Public Investment Fund has holdings in Boeing, Citigroup, Uber and Tesla, to name a few. So far the only announcements made about the LIV league tournaments is that there would be 10 events (per year) for 10 years with a $200 million commitment to the Asian Tour. Asian Tour head Cho Minn Thant called the deal “groundbreaking.” Norman has repeatedly claimed that the Asian Tour is “a sleeping giant.”

At this point, with no star players signed, no prestige golf courses, no dates and nothing tangible, there are far more questions than there are answers to yet another world pro league aimed to rival the PGA Tour. The only apparently secure thing for Norman seems to be money. One analyst wonders if the LIV idea would end up an another iteration of big-money exhibition golf. The PGA Tour has definitely been paying attention to the emergence of proposed upstart global golf leagues for several years. The expansion of FedEx Cup payouts to a total of 150 players, along with the Player Impact Program (dubbed as a Tweet popularity contest by some) totaling $40 million, are examples of the Tour reaching out to players to sweeten the pot and raise player loyalty. And in terms of a potential “stick” to go with those proverbial “carrots” PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan has stated for the record that any player who joins a rival tour would not be allowed to play on the PGA Tour. Star players like Rory McIlroy and Justin Thomas have said that their legacy is tied to the PGA Tour and that are not interested in any other tour.

Ever since the news came out about Greg Norman and the money coming from the Saudi nation’s wealth fund, which is chaired by Mohammed bin Salman, Saudi Arabia’s crown prince, questions immediately arose about what the Saudis were after. Notably, Salman has been linked to the 2018 murder of Saudi critic and Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi. When the Saudis bought the Premier League soccer team Newcastle United earlier in 2021, human-rights advocates were aghast given the Saudis’ terrible history, especially where it comes to treatment of women. Amnesty International called that pro soccer deal “a clear attempt by the Saudi authorities to sportswash their appalling human rights record.” The term “sportswash” is relatively new term for the attempt to attach popular and big-money sports to countries that wish to turn the media and public attention away from terrible abuses within their society. Norman should have paid closer attention to what he was getting involved in. Golf fans beware – sportswashing, especially by authoritarian and dictatorial type countries, is real and growing.

Finally, John Moriello, writing for sportscasting.com (12/02/21) had this choice observation: “Norman and LIV Investments are dangling big money in front of Dustin Johnson, Phil Mickelson, Bryson DeChambeau, Xander Schauffele, and more than 20 other big names in the sport. However, taking the money means they are taking a risk.” And I say a big risk.

Dr. Charlie Blanchard is a licensed psychologist specializing in sports and leadership. Contact him at docblanchard71@gmail.com.