Greg Norman and the Saudi Arabian LIV initiative threaten to severely disrupt professional golf.
Norman has been there before. In 1994 he formed an alliance with the Fox Network and announced his own World Golf Tour. He announced eight WGT events to be televised and underwritten by Fox starting in March 1995. Prize money would be set at US$25m, a far higher level than the PGA Tour. WGT planned to sign 30 of the game’s top players for these events. The new organisation aimed to schedule four of their own events in the week before each of the four majors. WGT’s tactics were designed to destabilise and disrupt the established PGA Tour. One further WGT objective was to protect a small group of golfers who had their best playing days behind them.
The 1994 Norman initiative never quite got off the ground. He had only signed one player – Greg Norman. The announcement of his World Tour initiative was premature. The then PGA Tour Commissioner, Tim Fincham, in a swift counterpunch, announced the formation of a “federation” that would sanction three World Tour style of events to be added to the 1999 PGA Tour.
Arnold Palmer joined the fray on Fincham’s side. He addressed the PGA Tour players at the Shark Shootout on the 16th of November 1994 telling them ‘’you should all do a lot of thinking before you decide to do anything’’. ‘’The King’’ had spoken – and the players listened. Rory McIlroy seems to be filling a similar role in 2022.
The Presidents Cup started on the 19th September 1994 and became the scene of a bitter head-to-head showdown between Norman and Fincham. Norman cornered Fincham in the lobby of a hotel in Virginia during the event. A spectacular row between the two men ensued. Following this, Fincham’s announcement of the three WGC events took the wind out of Norman’s sails.
The following day Norman commented on Fincham’s initiative ‘’it’s the end of the rope for me. He hung me out to dry.’’ Fincham had secured his own relationship with Fox, at the same time hijacking part of Norman’s concept. Norman’s World Golf Tour was dead and buried - until 2022. Fincham had won, and commented rather lamely ‘’hopefully, Greg and I can work through this.’’
The Washington Post did not hold back in commenting ‘’maybe Greg Norman really is a shark at heart. And that’s no compliment. Norman’s gall and greed stunned much of golf’’.
Norman has a better chance of recruitment success in 2022, with an unlimited Saudi bankroll. Unlike the situation in 1994, there seems little that the PGA Tour can do to stop players signing on to the LIV events for massive cash incentives.
In response to the signings, tour Commissioner Jay Monaghan published a list of LIV players that were ‘’suspended or otherwise no longer eligible to play in PGA Tour tournament play, including the Presidents Cup’’. LIV described the PGA Tour announcements as ‘’vindictive and that the bans deepen the divide between the tour and its members’’. Norman commented back in February ‘’surely you jest’’ when referring to the threatened bans.
Some of the players don’t seem too concerned about being banned. Dustin Johnson, for example, seems perfectly happy with his revised schedule of about 8 LIV events and the majors. ‘’DJ’’ joked he ‘’may go fishing for the rest of the year’’. The PGA championship is controlled by the PGA of America, not by the PGA Tour. Entry into the Masters is by invitation. Entry into the U.S. Open and the Open Championship is by qualification, so all four majors may continue to be accessible to the outcast LIV players.
It is difficult to judge where the present rift in world golf will end. Veteran broadcaster Jim Nantz was quoted as using the word ‘’betrayal’’ when discussing decisions made by Mickelson and Johnson. The battle lines are drawn. Nine major winners have joined LIV – Rick Reilly from The Washington Post observed ‘’the trickle of golfing ratfinks is turning into a fire hose’
Greg Norman is in the front line of the present conflict, as he was in 1994. Norman has a bottomless war chest and an old grudge to settle. He has only just started in his second quest to demolish the PGA Tour.
There is only one certainty – golf will never be quite the same again.