Greg Norman pointed to Phil Mickelson’s comments as the trigger point that led to several PGA Tour players pulling out of plans to join the Saudi backed rebel golf league.
Norman told ESPN at least 30 percent of the top 50 players in the world had committed to play in the new league, with plans to launch the same week in February that Phil Mickelson’s controversial comments about the PGA Tour and the golf upstart were published, which caused many committed players to back out.
“There’s no question (Mickelson’s comments) hurt,” Norman said. “It hurt a lot of aspects. It hurt the PGA Tour. It hurt us.
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“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.”
Mickelson was panned by fellow players for the comments, in which he called the Saudi Arabians “scary motherf—ers” and said he was only willing to get involved with the new league to have leverage with the PGA Tour. Within days golf’s biggest names pledged their loyalty to the tour.
“Quite honestly, we were ready to launch on the Tuesday or Wednesday of Genesis,” Norman said. “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.
“To this day, we still have players under contract and signed,” he added. “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.”
The saga hurt Mickelson, who hasn’t played in a tour event in more than three months. Last month, he skipped the Masters, which he has won three times, for the first time since 1994.
Mickelson’s agent, Steve Loy, announced last week that he has registered to play in three tournaments, one of them being the first LIV Golf Invitational Series event in London in June. Despite asking for permission for a release to play in the new league, Loy said Mickelson hasn’t yet decided whether he will play in any of those events.
Norman said Mickelson is welcome to play in any of the newly formed tournaments.
“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’ don’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.”
Norman, the CEO of LIV Golf Investments, believes the tide will slowly turn but quicker than most suspect.
“I’ve been very pleasantly surprised,” he said. “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.”
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