Greg Norman has defended his LIV Golf Investments relationship with Saudi Arabia and its Public Investment Fund (PIF), insisting that his focus is “on giving back to the game of golf”.
In a wide-ranging interview with The bunkered Podcast – his first major UK interview since launching the new LIV Golf Invitational Series this week – the two-time major champion described the Saudi Arabian regime’s murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018 as “reprehensible” but added that he is “proud” the country is “investing into the game of golf the way it is.”
Norman, who spent 331 weeks as world No.1 at the height of his career, launched his much-hyped new golf tour on Wednesday.
Featuring an initial run of eight events – taking place between June and October – the series will offer more than $255million in prize funds to its players, with $400million put aside in seed money to help launch the venture.
A significant proportion of that money is coming from the PIF, prompting widespread criticism.
“First of all, I’m not a political organisation, number one,” said Norman. “My focus is on giving back to the game of golf the best way I can. You talk about the Saudi money. The Saudi money has been involved in the game of golf since 2019 with the Saudi International.
"They’re spending money on the game of golf, growing the game of golf, internally, in their country, co-sanctioned by the European Tour by the way. Was it okay for the European Tour to be doing that at that time? Okay, where are the double standards here?
“They’ve invested heavily into growing the game of golf. Not only that, Saudi Arabia is the largest investor into women’s golf in the world. So they’re growing the game of golf not just on the men’s level. They’re growing the game of golf’s on the women’s level and in their country. And to see the number of kids out there playing the game of golf is a phenomenal deal.”
He added: “Quite honestly, golf is good for the world. It always has been. And golf is good for Saudi Arabia. So I’m proud of the fact that Saudi money is investing into the game of golf the way it is.
“What happened to [Jamal] Khashoggi was reprehensible. There’s not a person on this planet who would not agree with me. It’s reprehensible. But, at the end of the day, we’re not political. We’re here for the sport of golf and to build it out, and make the fanbase grow the game of golf across all platforms the best way we can.”
Norman also addressed the controversy surrounding Phil Mickelson, who was recently forced to issue a public apology for comments he made in relation to Norman’s new venture.
The Australian said he spoke to the reigning US PGA champion on the evening that the LIV Golf Invitational Series plans were published.
“I had not spoken to him since what he said came out in the press," he said. “I wanted to give him time to regroup and reflect, and he’s apologised.
“As a player, my respect for Phil Mickelson is extremely high for what he’s done for the game of golf and for the fanbase that he has. I saw a stat the other day that said 87% of his fanbase still supports Phil. You’re always going to get your haters, no matter who you are, the president of the United States, the prime minister of the UK, anyone. You’re always going to get your haters.
“The conversation with Phil, I said, ‘Phil, my friend, you always have an open door to the game of golf. Always. You’re great for the game of golf. Yeah, you’ve said things you shouldn’t have said but we’ve all done that.’ Every person on this planet wants to take back something they’ve said at some time in the past. Phil understands that and he has a place on the first tee as far as I’m concerned with LIV Golf.”
Asked if Mickelson had taken him on that offer, Norman replied: “He wants to speak to me again in the next couple of days, yes.
“What he’s done for the game of golf, people should not forget it.”
In the 30-minute chat, Norman also discussed when he expects to be able to announce which players are playing in his series, detailed the conversations he has had with the various organisations that run golf’s four men’s major championships, and added that he has been emailed by “one of the major corporations in the world” who wants to be the series’ lead sponsor.
Interestingly, Norman added that he hopes to expand the series in time to include women, too.
“We are going to keep our minds wide open," he said. “I’ve spoken to the Lexi Thompsons of the world and had conversations with them about ‘what would you think if...’
“It’s great to have these conversations. It’s empowering for them and empowering for us.”