Greg Norman, the flagship of the Saudi-backed LIV Golf Series, has defended the competition after widespread criticism from high-profile figures from across the sport.
Golfers like Norman, Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson who have chosen to join the breakaway series have been criticized for the Saudi regime’s human rights abuses. In the US, celebrity sportscaster Bob Costas offered a scathing assessment of the LIV series. “This is Saudi blood money,” he said last week. “We know everything we need to know about the royal family and what they’ve done. It is not just [Jamal] Khashoggi, it’s not just the ongoing oppression of women and gay people, they are — according to US and UK intelligence — directly or indirectly linked to 9/11.”
The PGA Tour suspended golfers who joined the LIV series. During an appearance on Fox News on Saturday, Norman said the decision was hypocritical given the tour’s own ties to Saudi Arabia.
“Look, if you want to put it in the prism, why does the PGA Tour have 23 sponsors within the PGA Tour doing over $40 billion worth of deals with Saudi Arabia? Why is it OK for the sponsors? Why is it okay…that there is a Saudi sponsor, Aramco, the largest sponsor of women’s golf in the world? Why is it okay with her? Why is it not okay for these players? Will [PGA Tour commissioner] Jay Monahan going to each and every one of these CEOs of the 23 companies investing in Saudi Arabia and suspending and banning them? … The hypocrisy in all of this, it’s so loud. It’s deafening.”
Rory McIlroy, who dislikes the LIV series, recently took a shot at Norman and said he took particular delight in surpassing the Australian’s total of PGA Tour wins. However, Norman said that Gulf has been keen to work with Saudi Arabia for a number of years.
“The European PGA Tour… [has] a golf tournament, the Saudi International, that’s still going on as of 2019,” Norman said. “And during that Saudi International there were players on the PGA Tour who were given rights and waivers to play there. So if golf is good for the world, golf is good for Saudi and you see that growth internally; it is extremely impressive.”
This month, Mickelson was forced to defend himself after families of 9/11 victims attacked his decision to join the Breakaway League. Norman insists the league can bring benefits to golf.
“I saw the value and what golf can bring to the world,” he said. “From there I said, ‘Yes, this is a great platform and it’s a commercial operation.’ We are in it for a reason: to make golf and develop golf at a successful level and on behalf of the players – they are independent contractors. Give them the opportunity to expand their wealth at will. But at the same time, maybe our platform is a little better because it gives them more time with their family, like Charl Schwartzel did with his wife and kids. Their platform gives them that opportunity and it is a choice.”
After its inaugural event in London, the series moves to the United States with tournaments in Portland and Bedminster. The Bedminster course belongs to Donald Trump, who is currently under investigation for his role in the Jan. 6 attack on the US Capitol.