Greg Norman’s new golf league was prepared to launch the same week in February that Phil Mickelson’s controversial comments about the PGA Tour and Saudi Arabia were published, which caused many committed players to back out.
At the time, Norman told ESPN on Monday, at least 30% of the top 50 players in the world had committed to play in the new league.
“There’s no question [Mickelson’s comments] hurt,” said Norman, a two-time winner of The Open and CEO of LIV Golf Investments. “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.”
Norman said the proposed league, which was being financed by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, was prepared to launch its 14-event schedule and roster of committed players during the week of the Genesis Invitational, Feb. 17-20. But author Alan Shipnuck published an interview related to his upcoming unauthorized biography of Mickelson on the website FirePitCollective.com on Feb. 15.
In the interview, which Shipnuck said took place in November, Mickelson called the Saudi Arabians “scary motherf—ers” and said he was only willing to get involved with the new league to have leverage with the PGA Tour.
“… They killed [Washington Post reporter and U.S. resident Jamal] Khashoggi and have a horrible record on human rights,” Mickelson said in the interview. “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.”
Mickelson was heavily criticized for the comments, and several PGA Tour stars, including Jon Rahm, Dustin Johnson, Bryson DeChambeau and others, pledged their loyalty to the tour in the next few days.
“Quite honestly, we were ready to launch on the Tuesday or Wednesday of Genesis,” Norman said. “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.”
Norman said a handful of the players who had previously signed with LIV Golf have remained committed to play in the series, which now includes eight events — including five in the U.S.
Total prize money for the eight events will be $255 million, according to LIV Golf Investments, and the seven regular-season tournaments will have total purses of $25 million, which would be the richest in professional golf, with $20 million in individual prizes and $5 million for the top three teams.
The top three individuals after the seven regular-season events will also share a $30 million bonus.
The season-ending team match-play championship, scheduled for Oct. 27-30 at Trump National Doral in Miami, will provide another $50 million in prizes.
“To this day, we still have players under contract and signed,” Norman said. “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.”
Mickelson, a six-time major champion, hasn’t played in a tour event in more than three months. Last month, he skipped the Masters, which he has won three times, for the first time since 1994.
Mickelson’s agent, Steve Loy, announced last week that he has registered to play in this month’s PGA Championship, an event he won last year, and the U.S. Open in June. Loy said that Mickelson had also requested a release from the PGA Tour to play in the first LIV Golf Invitational Series event in London in June.
Loy said Mickelson hasn’t yet decided whether he will play in any of those events.
Despite Mickelson’s comments, Norman said he would be welcome at any LIV tournament.
“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.”
Norman said LIV Golf has received more than 200 registration requests for its first tournament — June 9-11 at Centurion Golf Club in London — which will include 48 players competing on 12 four-man teams. He said the list of players who have registered includes about 15 of the top 100 players in the Official World Golf Ranking and two players who were previously ranked No. 1.
“I’ve been very pleasantly surprised,” Norman said. “What has been talked about in the media and what is reality are two different things. We know what’s happening with a lot of interest expressed. From an expectation standpoint, we’ve got a lot of interest from significantly named players. Our mission is to be patient, and we’re going to deliver these events and it’s up to the players to make their decision on what they want to do as independent contractors.”
Because the LIV Golf Invitational in London conflicts with the RBC Canadian Open, PGA Tour players will have to be granted a release from the tour to play in the other tournament. Norman said several players from the DP World Tour, formerly the European Tour, have also registered for the LIV Invitational.
“The European tour is starting to pound their chest a little bit with the players,” Norman said. “What I’m hearing from the players is that [the DP World Tour] is saying there are going to be serious consequences if you go play without a release, and if you do put in for a release, you’re not going to get one. That’s logical rhetoric coming from the European tour. But the pure fact is they’re now partners with the PGA Tour, so they’ve got to sing the same song that the PGA Tour was singing.”
PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan told players after the PGA Championship in May 2021 that anyone who joined the Saudi-financed league would be suspended and potentially face a lifetime ban from the PGA Tour.
“I can only speak on information given to me by our legal team, and I have an extremely talented legal team in antitrust and anti-competitive laws, and we believe we’re in the right position,” Norman said. “We believe the players are independent contractors and have a right to go play wherever they want to go play.”