Former world number one Greg Norman is now chief executive of LIV Golf Investments
St Albans (United Kingdom) (AFP) - Greg Norman vowed Wednesday to fight for the rights of players who defect to a new tour that is threatening to tear golf apart.
The former world number one was speaking at a media briefing a month before the first event of the Saudi-backed LIV Golf Invitational Series.
Phil Mickelson and Lee Westwood are among the professionals to have asked for the required release from established tours to play the 54-hole event at Centurion Club, near London, which boasts an eye-watering prize fund of $25 million.
But it was reported in the United States on Tuesday that the PGA Tour was refusing to give players permission to take part.
Any golfers who go ahead and play in the June 9-11 event would be deemed to be in violation of Tour regulations, opening the door to possible suspension or exclusion.
Britain’s Daily Telegraph reported that officials on the DP World Tour (formerly the European Tour) had followed their US counterparts by taking a similar stance.
Norman, chief executive of LIV Golf Investments, said the PGA Tour was intent on “perpetuating its illegal monopoly of what should be a free and open market”.
“The Tour’s action is anti-golfer, anti-fan and anti-competitive,” he said.
“But no matter what obstacles the Tour puts in our way we will not be stopped. We will continue to give players options that promote the great sport of golf globally.
“No tour owns the game of golf and we feel we’re on the right side of history.”
The 67-year-old Australian added that he had offered unwavering backing to players who had expressed an interest in playing in the LIV Series – including paying their fines.
“If you so choose to want, as an independent contractor, to come and play with us, we’ve got your back,” he said.
- ‘Defend, reimburse’ -
“I’ll break it down to three very simple things – we’ll defend, we”ll reimburse and we’ll represent.”
Asked if his legal team had injunctions in place to protect players in the face of any bans, including potentially from major championships, Norman said: “Yes.”
“We’re going to back up the players, we’re going to be there for them, we’re prepared for that, whatever that is. We’re ready to go. We don’t want to go but we’re ready to go.”
The LIV Series will offer purses of $25 million per tournament – making each leg more lucrative than the richest event on the PGA Tour, with about double the prize money up for grabs at each of golf’s four majors.
The first year will feature eight tournaments across three continents, with players competing as individuals and in teams.
Norman said on Tuesday that an additional $2 billion in funding had been lined up for a 10-event series in 2023 and a league beginning in 2024.
Six-time major winner Mickelson has not played since triggering uproar in February following the publication of remarks made last year concerning the new series.
The 51-year-old described the Saudi financial backers of the LIV Series as “scary” with a “horrible record on human rights”, but said he was willing to deal with them in order to gain leverage to “reshape” the PGA Tour.
Mickelson subsequently apologised for the comments and announced he was taking some “desperately needed time away” from golf.
Hanging over any discussion of justice and legal reform in Saudi Arabia is the 2018 murder and dismemberment of critic and columnist Jamal Khashoggi in the kingdom’s Istanbul consulate.
A US intelligence assessment found de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman “approved” an operation to capture or kill Khashoggi, though Saudi officials deny this and say it was a “rogue” operation.
Norman was grilled over concerns about Saudi backing for the LIV Series on Wednesday.
“This whole thing about Saudi Arabia and Khashoggi and human rights, talk about it, but also talk about the good that the country is doing in changing its culture,” he said.
“Look, we’ve all made mistakes and you just want to learn by those mistakes and how you can correct them going forward.”