Just how ready was the Saudi Golf League when Phil Mickelson made those comments in an interview with Alan Shipnuck?
Five days ago, Golf WRX published a story on the ‘will-he-won’t-he?’ saga involving the defending PGA Champion, his place in that field and/or at the first of the LIV Golf International Series events, with LIV chairman Greg Norman commenting that the furore was a ‘gut punch.’
Yesterday, ESPN released an interview with Norman, in which he explained just how damaging those published comments were.
“There’s no question (Mickelson’s comments) hurt,” confirmed Norman. “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.”
According to Norman, the league was prepared to launch a 14-event series during the Genesis Invitational, an event that started on February 17th. However, Shipnuck published the interview just two days before, on the 15th, causing the domino effect described by Norman.
Having been the most vociferous of supporters in favour of the league, Mickelson was reported as listing some human rights crimes before commenting, “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.”
That comment saw many of the top players distance themselves from the Saudi-backed initiative and pledge their allegiance to the PGA Tour, with speculation around exactly how many and who had actually signed up.
Norman confirmed the speed of the change:
“Quite honestly, we were ready to launch on the Tuesday or Wednesday of Genesis. 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.”
However, despite the continual threats of legal action, the threat of bans from tours and losing public face, Norman said that the eight-event tour is still full and ready to go.
“To this day, we still have players under contract and signed,” he 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.”
Whilst Mickelson still has yet to decide exactly what his next move will be, Norman confirmed he will always be welcome to join:
“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.”
He continued by suggesting that LIV Golf has received over 200 registration requests for its first tournament, to be held at Centurion Golf Club in London on June 9-11, a list that includes around 15 of the world’s top ranked 100 players, and two players who are ex-world number one.
“I’ve been very pleasantly surprised. 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.”
With the PGA Tour requesting players apply for ‘leave’ to play the first event, the DP World Tour (ex-European Tour) is also seeing a threat to its format, with several of the LIV events taking pace opposite long-standing tournaments such as the Irish Open.
DP World Tour CEO, Keith Pelley, released a memo a couple of weeks ago, advising members that:
“Conflicting events, regardless of how attractive they might appear to you personally, potentially compromise our efforts in these areas and could significantly hurt your tour in both the short and long term. Please continue to bear this bigger picture in mind.”
Norman doesn’t seem that bothered, commenting:
“The European tour is starting to pound their chest a little bit with the players. 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.”
He concluded the thought: “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.”
Is Norman concerned at all about the threats surrounding the approaches, contracts and players’ rights with only five weeks to go until lift-off?
“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.”We believe the players are independent contractors and have a right to go play wherever they want to go play.”
The next month should be fun!
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May 3, 2022 at 12:34 pm
I expect the bone saw mafia will go active here shortly on those who quit, regardless that they gave the worthless paper back.
May 3, 2022 at 12:36 pm
** will go active here shortly on those who quit for giving the worthless paper back.
May 3, 2022 at 7:44 am
Wherein we are reminded that there isn’t anyone Greg won’t throw under the bus while he’s busy stuffing his pockets with cash.