The true scale of a huckster’s toxicity is never apparent in the cost to his reputation—by definition, he has little to defend—but rather in how easily he imperils the honor of anyone who associates with him. After two years of speculation and rumor-mongering, the day is near when we’ll finally learn who among the world’s best golfers is willing to sacrifice his standing on Greg Norman’s amoral altar.
Since he is clearly bereft of shame, let’s assume it was out of respect that Norman waited three days after Saudi Arabia executed 81 men for such crimes as “deviant beliefs” to unveil a schedule for LIV Golf Invitational, a tournament series financed by that same regime solely for the purpose of sportswashing things like summary mass executions at home and war crimes abroad.
In multiple media interviews—many of which verged on ego-stroking panegyrics—Norman continued to reveal himself to be a craven apologist for abusers.
“I’m not getting into this political dialogue,” he told Gary Williams, who was among the few who pushed the great white pilot fish on human rights issues during his 5 Clubs podcast. “I’m staying focused on what I’m doing and growing the game of golf … I’m not even going to go down that path of trying to get into a political discussion about it.”
Imagine a housekeeper cleaning a hotel room that resembles a slaughterhouse without concern for how it reached that state. Norman may think heads rolling in the squares of Riyadh or a consulate in Istanbul are above his pay grade, but the stain of his association is undeniable and indelible. And he’s eager for other prominent players to assume the same mark.
June 9-11 in London will see the first event in the LIV Golf Invitational (decide for yourself if the name is a Roman numerical reference to its 54-hole formats or a ghoulish joke about what the regime doesn’t permit critics to do). The second tournament is planned for July 1-3 at Oregon’s Pumpkin Ridge, whose members were simultaneously hit with a dues increase to upgrade facilities and news that they’ve been conscripted into a sportswashing exercise.
Policy requires PGA Tour members to obtain permission to compete in events staged by other tours. Releases are routinely granted for those who wish to wheel a barrow of appearance cash home from Asia, Europe and the Middle East, but there are established parameters. The PGA Tour has never issued a waiver for its members to play a tournament held in the U.S. against its own schedule, and there’s no reason to think commissioner Jay Monahan will rescind that policy for Norman’s bonesaw invitationals.
The denial of waivers may trigger litigation that has been inevitable from the outset. In antitrust law, the action could have two fronts: whether the PGA Tour is erecting unfair barriers to prevent a competitor from entering the market, and whether the Tour can stop independent contractors (the players) from working for another entity.
In antitrust, public language matters. This is why Norman’s March 15 letter to players announcing the series and inviting their participation likely wasn’t authored by Norman. The intemperate screed he sent Monahan last month displayed an intellect so shallow it ought to have been scrawled in crayon. This letter was carefully crafted, stating that LIV Golf would complement the existing ecosystem while offering fans an enhanced product. The wording is noteworthy.
Antitrust law centers on what is best for the consumer, with three lynchpins of greater options, higher quality and lower costs. It’s easy to laugh off the letter describing the Saudi venture as a “start-up,” as though it’s a scrappy enterprise aiming for a conventional return on investment, but that framing is intended to suggest a fledgling outfit being stymied by Monahan’s monolith.
It’s debatable if LIV Golf can claim to provide consumers with a better product given that it plans fewer events, fewer players, fewer holes and fewer viewing opportunities. But even if the PGA Tour is found liable for antitrust violations, the Saudis would have to prove harm inflicted, which history shows is no easy task.
In the 1980s, the USFL filed suit accusing the NFL of antitrust violations somewhat similar to what LIV Golf might allege against the PGA Tour. The USFL won but was awarded damages of just $1. By the time the NFL cut a check, the USFL was long shuttered. The award was so paltry because the jury found that the USFL’s inept mismanagement contributed greatly to its own failure. It would require resourceful counsel to defend the artless bungling that has defined the Saudi project over the years. Norman might want to familiarize himself with the ‘victory’ of King Pyrrhus in the Battle of Asculum.
Understandably, public interest will center on what player(s) will step forward to be the face(s) of a Saudi-funded lawsuit over their freedom to play where they wish. That too will be drawn-out and complex. Monahan is not telling Tour members they can’t play for the Saudis; he’s telling them they can’t play for the Saudis and continue to play on the PGA Tour at the same time. To do that, he needs “pro-competitive justification” for placing restraints on independent contractors. And an argument for that exists.
Counsel for the PGA Tour could argue a need to protect its branding by avoiding confusion about who plays on what circuit, or a necessity to protect its investments in players—their skills, their health, their potential stresses from competing on multiple circuits—to best deliver its product, which is competitive golf at an elite level. In short, that the PGA Tour’s ability to continue delivering a product that consumers recognize as theirs requires an aligned commitment from players. Those are reasonable legal stances to take, albeit positions poorly messaged by the Tour, which has allowed a narrative to take root about threats of lifetime bans, which only plays into Saudi claims of unfair barriers.
As hesitant as players must be to become the public faces of a Saudi hijacking of professional golf, there are office buildings full of lawyers salivating at the billable years ahead. Any player who does step up to demand the right to play with the Saudis and the PGA Tour simultaneously faces a long and lonely road as public sentiment, sponsors and peers turn against them, as Phil Mickelson can attest. PGA Tour pros often peddle a sentimental cliché that how they play the game reflects their integrity. There’s something to that. But in this particular time, it’s no less testimony to a man’s character for whom he plays the game.
What an article, you’ve gotta respect Eamon Lynch’s ability to write one hell of a piece. Greg Norman has never cared about what people thought, just inquire about his reputation around Jupiter, FL. This Saudi venture just doesn’t seem like it will ever take off as nobody is going to turn on the PGA Tour. They’re obviously just trying to use the massive purses to coax players over to the LIV but the PGA Ture’s purses are at an all-time high and showing no signs of slowing down. The USFL comparison was the perfect example and reminds me of how Marcus Dupree got duped into playing that league as opposed to the NFL. That move never allowed him to achieve is true potential.
Any player under the age of 40 that’s dreamed of playing the PGA Tour since childhood will sign with this Saudi break-off league. How can the LIV last more than one season? They aren’t naming any players because they’re short list surely lacks any kind of star-power (except for Phil and maybe Bryson). One season may be a stretch actually, I personally think the 1st event will be a wash in London and the league will fold immediately. What a disaster it would be to see Phil go all-in on this league, ruin his reputation more than it already is, then end his career in disgrace. Phil has been America’s brash gun slinging champion since he won in Phoenix as an Am in 91′. Golf needs Phil… here’s to hoping he releases a real apology in the form of a Tom Rinaldi interview. Only Tom’s heart felt way of asking important questions can fix this.