Greg Norman wanted to reiterate that he’s doing something no one has done before: “Tell me the last time someone managed to get a $2 billion investment in golf,” Norman said a few days ago in the Interview on Sky Sports – and in fact he was right about that: If it’s all about money then Greg Norman is doing a lot of good for a small group of golfers who decide to play in a series of tournaments starting this summer, which he heads as CEO. But the Super Golf League has long been about much more: it’s about the splitting up of a sport, about Saudi Arabia’s sports PR – and last but not least about Norman himself.
The Australian is currently taking on the rest of the golfing world, but not with the club as he once was: In the 1980s and 1990s, Norman was one of the best players in the world, leading the world rankings for a total of 331 weeks and winning overall 86 tournaments and later became a member of his sport’s Hall of Fame. But now “The Shark”, as he was nicknamed then and is surprisingly appropriate today, has turned away from the institutions that once made him great: He now regards the PGA Tour as a backward entity, Norman says he doesn’t just want golf in in the USA, but market it globally and thus open up new markets – and he wants to do all this with the help of a lot of Saudi Arabian money.
“The Shark” was once Norman’s nickname as a top golfer – today, amazingly, it still fits
Two billion dollars from the country’s public investment fund are thus available to Norman and his company LIV Golf. It is Saudi Arabia’s next financially strong attempt to promote so-called sports washing: the country’s image is to be modernized with investments in sports clubs and leagues. With Newcastle United, the Saudis have already successfully taken over a Premier League club, most recently Lionel Messi became the official tourism ambassador and now something is supposed to change in golf too. There are actually previously unknown sums that can be paid out to the starters with the Saudi money: At the first tournament at the Centurion Golf Club near London in early June, the winner gets four million and the last-placed at least 120,000 dollars. Not even the biggest tournaments on the PGA Tour can keep up.
The commissioner of the most important sporting league in golf, Jay Monahan, still has the upper hand, at least for the time being: If players want to take part in a LIV tournament, they have to get approval from the PGA Tour – and that comes with a high price. Anyone who changes is automatically no longer a member of the US tour, said Monahan, thus ensuring that the players now have to make a final either-or decision.
In any case, they will not be able to help themselves from both honey pots. Monahan relies on the fact that he has the moral and sporting supremacy with his equally financially strong product PGA Tour: The most important tournaments and the majors are in his hands, the best in the world will hardly want to do without them – and the moral question about the value of the new tour has been clarified again in the last few days.
Praise for Saudi Arabia’s golf sport – he prefers to oust the 81 recently executed men in the country
In the interview mentioned, Norman had told his most beautiful stories from Saudi Arabia at length, where according to his statement a whole generation of enthusiastic young golfers is now growing up – but then he maneuvered himself out of the game. “Look, all of us make mistakes and we all strive to learn from those mistakes and correct them in the future,” Norman said when asked about the Saudi government’s brutal murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. When 81 men were executed in Saudi Arabia in one day in March, he received a lot of news, but decided “just to keep going” because he was “not one to look back”. And when asked about the lack of LGBTQ rights in the country of his main financiers, Norman said he wasn’t sure he even had gay friends.
Norman has thus made it clear what kind of tour it is that he is organizing: It’s about money – more precisely, even more money than in golf anyway. How many of the best players in the world will travel to England despite Norman’s statements is currently unclear. The secured candidates include the American Phil Mickelson, the Europeans Sergio Garcia and Lee Westwood – and also Germany’s best-known golfer Martin Kaymer.
Kaymer’s management told the SZ that they had asked for permission to participate from the PGA Tour, but are still waiting to see how the American Tour and the European Tour would position themselves in the coming days. For Kaymer, who recently lost his permanent US eligibility, it would be a chance to return to global focus as one of the flagships of the new tour, with impressive financial prospects. Just as high would be the moral costs, which play an increasingly important role in the game between Norman and Saudi Arabia.