On Wednesday this week Greg Norman, twice Open Champion and CEO of LIV Golf, gave an interview to his local newspaper, the Palm Beach Post. Interview by Tom D’Angelo
Q When did you first think about starting a new league?
A In 1994, ’95 I wanted to start one because I knew being a global player at that time golf had an opportunity. There was virgin space sitting there available for the players to have an equity stake in growing another tour for their own right. I always fought for players’ independent rights for decades.
Kerry Packer in Australia was one of my best friends. I saw what Kerry did for cricket and thought, ‘My God, if he can do that fir cricket, look at where it is today with franchise values in India in the billions of dollars for team cricket. So I got a lot of this education and foresight very early on in my career and I knew I could move the needle because of my playing ability and my personality.
Q Was recruiting players to join LIV easier or more difficult than you envisioned?
A I thought it wasn’t either one. It wasn’t difficult because once you sat down with the players, walking through the business model and seeing the opportunity from a franchise perspective, getting their agents was the difficult part. Once they grasped hold of it, done. Bingo.
Q Was the PGA Tour ripe for someone to come along and start a rival tour?
A 100 percent. They rested on their laurels thinking they’re the only game in town, they’re the monopolist, they can control the game and this is the way it’s going to be. From a player’s perspective I’ve always said the Tour works for us, we don’t work for the Tour. And I was in the minority with that voice.
Q Did you envision this level of backlash from the Tour?
A I knew their game plan before it even started because of what happened in ’94 and ’95. Obviously, the game is a little different because of the financial backer we have, because of the players looking at in a different prism, the fans are looking at in a different prism. I think the PGA Tour, I actually feel sorry for them because they’ve really hurt themselves by the rhetoric they’ve been spreading.
I’ve taken the high road. OK, you want to say these stupid things, go right ahead. Our business model has stood up to the players and they absolutely love it. Our product has stood up to the players and the fans and they absolutely love it.
Q Your reaction to the Department of Justice investigating whether the PGA Tour engaged in anticompetitive behaviour in the fight with LIV Golf?
A They brought it on themselves.
We haven’t done anything other than putting together a business model and giving independent contractors a right to earn a a living doing something else, as well as still being a member of the PGA Tour. The entire business model from the ground up was built to coexist within the ecosystem of golf, coexist within the majors, coexist with the DP World Tour, coexist with the PGA Tour. Allowing the players to play here and play there.
That is a testament to their stupidity, quite honestly. Instead of sitting down and taking a phone call from us and just say ‘hey, work this out. We can do it. .It’s an easy fix it’s ridiculous.
Professional Team Golf
Q Where did the team aspect come from?
A We did a 12-month survey on a global basis “What do the fans want?” Part of that survey was me going to the Ryder Cup and seeing that fan engagement from a team perspective and I said, ‘This is what it’s all about. This is what we got to do”. The fan survey came back saying that we want to see more team golf. The players want the individual side from a competitive standpoint, we need that. But how do you integrate and bring in more fan engagement, you create the team side. How do you create a team? You bring in a principal player, give them a franchise to build themselves. The league owns 75 per cent and they own 25 percent. A healthy team, a healthy league, no different than any other league, NFL, NBA, cricket. We’re going to monitor and help them build their team value.
Q So the ultimate goal is for 12 teams to run themselves, do their own marketing, sell their own sponsorships?
A Yeah, absolutely. (It’s the principal player’s) responsibility to manage that team. You have to bring in the people. You have to bring in the management. We’ll oversee that and we’ll help. And that’s how you build this value. The number of players that are. Principal players today that are excited about the opportunity is just incredible.. To see them engaging with our internal team is infectious.
Now when you see Carlos Ortiz holing a 40 footer (in Portland) and the team members erupting and making more money than they’ve ever made in one tournament, that’s what it’s all about… And wives and significant others coming up to me and saying, ‘I’ve never seen my husband so happy’. This is the stuff these people don’t see or hear.
Q How confident are you that you’ll be able to sell these teams?
A I’m very confident. Understanding that it’s never been done before in golf and understanding the popularity of golf on a global basis and understanding the virgin space sitting there and the lost opportunities the PGA Tour hasn’t taken control of… I think the chances of ultimate success are very high. The fans are embracing it after six rounds of golf, the energy level within is enough to say I’m very, very confident it’s going to be an easy product to get out there.
‘Firestorm of controversy’
Q Your reaction to the players who have been outspoken against LIV?
A Shame on (those) who create this firestorm of controversy when you look within their own system when they got 23 odd sponsors who do $40-plus billion dollars of business with Saudi Arabia. C’mon, seriously? If you’re going to go down this path just be ready to accept you’re going to get some stuff coming back your way. And it’s not hard to find it.
Billy Horschel made this comment about the hypocrisy of the (LIV) players. I’m sorry for Billy for saying that because I’ve sat down with Billy Horschel, I’ve talked to him…just be true to yourself when you’re making those comments. Because he has seen what LIV is all about.
Q So with the money coming from Saudi Arabia you knew there would be backlash?
A Let’s just take Saudi money away from it, it was going to happen irrespective because you’re going up against a monopolist. If It was a hedge fund out of New York, would it be any different? Maybe, because it was U.S. money. I can’t answer that question because it’s not the case. But I will say, the business model because it’s disrupting a monopolist, it would have happened.
Q Did you ever hesitate one bit because of where the money is coming from?
A Me, no. Why? Because I’ve been to Saudi Arabia. I’ve been building golf courses in Saudi Arabia. I was part of the internal change in their culture to some small, small degree because golf is a force for good on a global basis.
When I see the good the game of golf is doing within the country, it’s no different than Vietnam. Pick a country where I’ve built a golf course I can tell you point blank the value golf has brought to that country. We are building multiple golf course sin Vietnam. Vietnam is a third-world communist country. Vietnam recognises golf and its free market capitalism has been a godsend to them. It’s just exploded in that country and created a 6 to 1 tourism dollar improvement. And Saudi Arabia is doing the same thing using the game of golf as a force for good to open their country to tourism.
It’s just insanity to me people sit back and try to hurt the development of the game of golf through political or whatever reasons. It just disappoints me so much because I see the true value of what golf has done on a global basis.
Q What was your reaction when Golf Channel analyst Brandel Chamblee called for your removal from the World Golf Hall of Fame?
A I did find it laughable. Has Brandel Chamblee ever been to Saudi Arabia? Has he ever built a golf course in a third world country? He’s a paid talking bobblehead. That’s all he is. He’s got my phone number. He’s never picked up a phone and asked me a question. Sadly, you’re making yourself look like a jerk. It’s like water off a duck’s back to me.
LIV-ing in the pro golf ecosystem
Q Do you believe LIV golfers will earn World Golf Ranking points?
A WE have abided by all the technical rules committee’s request. We checked all the boxes. Our strength of field is there. The criteria for the ask is there. I hope as an independent organisation they remain independent for benefit of growing the game of golf. They’ve done it for other tours.
Q Two events in, has it exceeded your expectations?
A Going into Centurion, my expectation was OK, we’re not really in London, we’re at a golf course. Was it a great recognised golf course. Not really. How are we going to be received? We were received really well. So I would give London on a scale of 1 to 10, I’d give it a 7.5.
Then we’re getting ready for Portland and we’re all very nervous about Portland because of the Oregonian attitude towards Saudis. The elephant in the room, right? We had letters from the 11 mayors against us. From our CSR (corporate social responsibility) we got rejection, rejection, rejection. OK, this is going to be an interesting week.
We go in there expecting the worst and it turned out to be 11 out of 10 because the fans spoke. It was about the game of golf. It wasn’t about Saudi money. It was about Brooks Koepka, Bryson DeChambeau, Phil Mickelson. Portland, the northwest, was starved for golf. It was a resounding success. I walked three holes every day with the fans. I’m signing autographs and I’m going ‘Oh my gosh, this is real’.
Q Do you need a stronger field than two in the top 20 and about 20 of the top 100?
A We have more announcements coming. Out of respect to The Open we’re not going to make any announcement this week.
In the world of business you got a competitor coming to challenge you, understand what your competitor’s got by sitting down and signing an NDA, having a conversation and see (what) works for us.
It just baffles me they haven’t even had the decency to do it. We opened the door for them a couple of times and they didn’t want to come in.
Q Are you worried this will tarnish your image?
A I answer that this way, unless you truly understand the business model and the good LIV is going to do for the game of golf, then don’t even bring that up. Maybe my legacy had always meant to be this. My legacy on the golf course was – I love to play the game of golf, I could put bums on seats, I could hit a white golf ball from point A to point B better than most. And I was proud of doing it.
Maybe the lost opportunity in the game of golf has been brought to another place because of my vision, my belief, my commitment. And it’s not just me – I have executives from all around the world, they’re not involved with sports but they’re the smartest business people I’ve ever been around – it’s just because I’m the CEO. I’m extremely proud of it. It doesn’t bother me how people have their opinions because they don’t know the facts.
Written by Tom D’Angelo, Palm Beach Post. firstname.lastname@example.org