Sometimes you get to a place where it feels pointless to vent. Like, if people are this gone, what does it matter if we tell them how far they have fallen?
Yeah, Greg Norman, I’m talking to you.
Norman, the former world top golfer a couple of decades back, has parlayed his fame into a ton of global business ventures. Wine, real estate, restaurants, clothes, golf course design, and a lot more, fall under the Norman business empire. He has put his Shark logo everrrrrywhere.
His latest venture, LIV Golf Investments, is where some curious stuff is going down. Norman is launching his own professional golf tour, with seven tournaments in 2022, and is trying to recruit PGA stars to jump to his joint. Most of the game’s big names are choosing to stay with the PGA Tour over the LIV, with one notable exception: Phil Mickelson. (And yes, we will get to the plight of Lost Lefty in a minute.) The PGA Tour has taken a hard stance on the start-up, telling pros they will need to pick a side - LIV or PGA. No waivers to play outside of the PGA Tour, a position recently laid down in stone.
Choose the LIV, and you are banned for life from the PGA Tour.
Mmmm-kay, so what will be the hook to get golfers to come to the Shark's side?
MONEY. A ton of it. The Daily Mail reported back in February that Bryson DeChambeau was allegedly offered $135 million to leave the PGA for the LIV. Others allegedly were offered $30-50 million. The LIV tour also promises bigger purses, plus some tweaks like 54-hole, no-cut tournaments, some different events like team, mixed, and such. Not being cut means you are guaranteed to make some money. So there we are again - bring the Benjamins.
Norman said Tuesday that the first event, in London from June 9-11, has 170 entries, with 19 players ranked in the top 100 in the world, and six inside the top 50. Mickelson, Lee Westwood and Sergio Garcia applied for waivers from the PGA Tour to show up at the LIV jamboree. All were denied. They haven’t said if they will appeal or pursue other options.
But enough of the golfy things.
This is where we cross over into the very bad stuff.
Meaning Norman. And why I am just thinking the guy’s been thoroughly bought.
The LIV Tour (also called the Saudi Golf League), with Norman as its CEO and lead shill, is a front for something else: the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman, and his super big bank account. The LIV Golf Investment paperwork that has been publicly filed in the kingdom shows it is majority controlled by bin Salman and the country’s Public Investment Fund.
A flashpoint in this LIV breakaway tour is the big Saudi involvement. The serious human rights issues in Saudi Arabia keep it on the outside of the world’s sports elite, such as hosting events. Individuals from the kingdom certainly have sunk their money into ventures around the world. But this is a twist on spread the money, with the de facto head of the country and his shadiness coming to the front of this world golf tour.
This is the same bin Salman who has denied any involvement in the October 2018 death (cough, alleged grisly, pre-meditated murder/hit) of Washington Post journalist and American Jamal Khashoggi.
Also the same bin Salman who runs a country that allegedly tortures and executes innocent people, restricts the basic rights of women, makes being gay a crime punishable by death, and has all the other awful things going on restricting human rights. (See the Amnesty International 2021 report on Saudi Arabia, the details are chilling.)
Norman, and Mickelson too, have been badly tap-dancing around the Saudi-human rights thing, trying to avoid the tag of sportswashing. You know, the basic question of, “Why are you so hot to do business and take money from people who are into some seriously shady shit?”
That question. The thing that is coming up over and over - THANK YOU SPORTS MEDIA TRIBE - and Norman is bombing the final every time.
So what up with the Saudi thing? All money is good as long as it goes in your pocket?
He was asked directly about his bosses, their human rights issues, and Khashoggi.
"From what I heard and what you guys reported, just take ownership of what it is," Norman said to the assembled media. "Take ownership no matter what it is. Look, we've all made mistakes, and you just want to learn from those mistakes and how you can correct them going forward."
Murder is a mistake. Gotcha. That will be the title of my next book. Or how about, “I need to justify some sick stuff: the money’s good.”
Longer and less snappy as a book title. But alas.
Not familiar with the sportswashing? It’s nothing new. It’s when sports are used as a PR cover up for what is happening in a country in terms of abuses, politics or other bad bad things. We have had sports washing before: Hitler with the 1932 Berlin Olympics. Mussolini’s patriotic spin with sports during his fascist era, Russia during the Cold War/Sochi Olympics, China in 2008/2022 Olympics, and coming to TV screens everywhere this fall, the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. We see what we want; the spectacle, fun, competition, and oh, the normalization of the bad stuff through the sports we love.
Norman’s recent cover for the Saudi’s comes on top of Mickelson’s explosive comments from a few months ago to golf writer Alan Shipnuck. TL:DR for Mickelson - the Saudi’s are bad, but they’re now his make-more-money-for-me bad.
“They’re scary motherf—–s to get involved with,” he said to the Firepit Collective. “We know they killed Khashoggi and have a horrible record on human rights. 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. They’ve [the PGA Tour] been able to get by with manipulative, coercive, strong-arm tactics because we, the players, had no recourse. As nice a guy as (PGA’s Commissioner Jay Monahan) comes across as, unless you have leverage, he won’t do what’s right. And the Saudi money has finally given us that leverage. I’m not sure I even want [the SGL] to succeed, but just the idea of it is allowing us to get things done with the [PGA] Tour.”
Mickelson walked back his comments, saying he was reckless, and needed some time in seclusion. But he still applied for a waiver to play in the LIV.
For their part, LIV Golf had to clean up Norman's mess on Wednesday through a statement:
"The killing of Jamal Khashoggi was reprehensible. Everyone agrees on that, including Greg, as he has said as such previously on many occasions. Greg also knows that golf is a force for good around the world and can help make inroads toward positive change. That is why he is so excited about LIV and that was the point he was making."
This whole thing is sad.
Norman has made hundreds of millions in his life, mostly off the course. Mickelson has made close to a $100 million in earnings, plus quadruple that in endorsements. Mickelson’s remarks from February caused a lot of sponsors to drop or pause their relationships with him.
This comes down to naked greed, and yet another country/regime using sports as a tool to change its image. The crazy thing is, I don’t think it really works. I don’t think people have altered their thoughts about China’s human rights abuses because of the Beijing Games.
Throw down the money, and greedy people like Norman will fool themselves into thinking their involvement is justified. But in the end, the only thing happening is all sides turning corrupted.
Which is why my head shaking won’t matter to Norman or even Mickelson. They’re beyond having shame.
See you Tuesday.
Open Court publishes on Tuesdays and Fridays, bringing you the stuff we need to talk about with author and sports journalist Joanne C. Gerstner.
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