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Greg Norman says Australian tournament will be ‘global benchmark’ for LIV Golf rollout

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Sarah Blake
The Nightly
6 Min Read
LIV Golf CEO and former Aussie champion Greg Norman in Australia ahead of the LIV Golf tournament which starts on Friday.
LIV Golf CEO and former Aussie champion Greg Norman in Australia ahead of the LIV Golf tournament which starts on Friday. Credit: David Mariuz/The Nightly

He’s been slammed by traditionalists and critics who question the methods and ethics of his breakaway league, but Australian golfing great Greg Norman says he’s never “had a shadow of a doubt” about the wisdom of creating LIV Golf.

In much the same way his former mentor and friend — the late Australian businessman Kerry Packer — revolutionised cricket in the 1970s, Mr Norman said LIV had given golf new life and drastically improved the financial positions of players.

And, as our unofficial ambassador to the United States due to friendships with several American presidents, the Florida-based businessman said he and our newly installed man in Washington — former PM Kevin Rudd — are planning to catch up as soon as they can make their diaries match up.

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Speaking to The Nightly ahead of the launch of the second Australian LIV tournament, the nearly sold-out Adelaide event that has set an international benchmark for the league’s growing roster of tournaments, Mr Norman said he was “very, very proud”.

Launched in 2022, LIV Golf drew the ire of the establishment — offended by the staggering sums it was offering players to depart the PGA and its shakeup of the format — as well as critics concerned it was “sportwashing” for its controversial owners, the Saudi royal family.

Former President Donald Trump, left, talks with LIV Golf CEO Greg Norman on a green during the pro-am round of the Bedminster Invitational LIV Golf tournament in Bedminster, NJ., Thursday, July 28, 2022. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
Former President Donald Trump, left, talks with LIV Golf CEO Greg Norman Bedminster, NJ in 2022. Credit: Seth Wenig/AP

Mr Norman is commissioner and CEO of LIV Golf, which has 13 teams playing 54 holes across 14 tournaments, and he has continually shrugged off criticism of the upstart league.

He said it was the same sort of resistance that Mr Packer had faced when he introduced World Series Cricket in 1977.

“Kerry sits on my right shoulder every day,” Mr Norman said.

“I was in Melbourne a couple of days ago and Kerry’s name came up. And people say to me, ‘Kerry would be so proud of you’.

“If Kerry was around today, he’d probably be the first guy to be involved with this concept. He would probably be not the investor, but would want to be an investor.

“When you look at what he did with cricket, that’s exactly what we’re doing here today, giving the players value, and in their future, creating an opportunity that they’ve never had before.

“Because in golf, you’re just one player and if you don’t perform well, you’re not gonna get paid.

Greg Norman talks to Kerry Packer at the Australian Golf club in Kensington where players were practising for the Australian Golf Championships on 28th November 1999
Greg Norman talks to Kerry Packer at the Australian Golf club in Kensington where players were practising for the Australian Golf Championships in 1999. Credit: CRAIG GOLDING/Fairfax

“Here, you have team members support you and you have this value around your brand.”

While LIV’s huge and growing fanbase might offer a kind of vindication for his actions, Mr Norman said that was “the wrong word” to describe how he felt about its success.

“I think ignorance was the right word in the beginning because the people who were speaking out negatively about us didn’t understand,” he said.

“They never sat down with us and understood our business model,” he says of the naysayers.

“They never sat down and understood what the impact (is) we’re having for the players, for the fans, for the game of golf, not just specifically in a country but around the world.

“And now as it evolves out and starts to morph out and grow out, people are now going back and saying ooh, maybe I shouldn’t have said that.”

Mr Norman said he had deliberately not brought into the criticisms.

“We’ve stayed very true to ourselves, we’ve taken the high road,” he said.

“LIV has been very, very quiet in the background all the time because we know what we have is right.”

He said he had never had a “shadow of doubt” that what they were doing was right.

ADELAIDE, AUSTRALIA - April 24 2024:  Greg Norman during a media stop at the Grange Golf Club ahead of the Liv Golf tournament which starts on Friday. The Nightly Picture: David Mariuz
Norman says being able to roll out LIV Golf in Australia was “incredible”. Credit: David Mariuz/David Mariuz

“And when you can sit here with that confidence coming from me knowing that I was a global player and knowing I have a global brand, you go that is a powerful statement in its own right.”

He said the warm reception he received from players and fans at the Augusta National in mid-April after buying himself a ticket to attend the Masters contest as a punter had shown him that there was a broad appeal for LIV.

A former world number one who held the title for 331 weeks, Mr Norman has lived in the US since 1981 and is one of the most prominent Australians there.

In early 2017 he was instrumental in establishing a line of communication between the newly installed Donald Trump in the White House and then Australian prime minister Malcolm Turnbull. As an acquaintance of both men, he put them in touch through then-ambassador Joe Hockey and earned himself the moniker of our unofficial US ambassador.

Asked if he would be willing to repeat the process if necessary, Mr Norman offered a telling insight into his influence on the global stage.

“If I can pick up the phone and make a phone call and make it (a connection) happen, (it’s) fantastic,” Mr Norman told The Nightly.

“I actually invited Kevin to come down (to visit his US home) because he’s an ambassador, to Miami to spend some time down there and just to see what LIV was all about.

“We’re trying to get together and we will. I go to Washington DC often and his EA or people try to work with my people to try and find a date to do that. We will make that happen.“

Mr Norman said he was hoping to forge a connection between Mr Rudd and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the Saudi ruler who has led the country’s huge investment in sport such as buying UK soccer club Newcastle United and F1 teams, establishing LIV and bids for the FIFA World Cup and 2029 Asian Games.

“I think it’s important for Kevin to understand the power.. and the impact of what LIV is about with sport. But even beyond that, because of what our investor is and who he is, and what they represent not just in sport and indirect and direct funding,” he said.

“So there’s a lot more behind the scenes... Whether the conversation ever goes down that path, we’ll see.”

Mr Norman said it was an emotional return for him to Adelaide as it was where he had won his first professional title and the success of last year’s event had set a benchmark for LIV Golf as it expands internationally.

“I knew the value of Australia, what it could represent to the game of golf and what Australia lacked,” he said.

“The fans spoke in droves last year and they continue to speak this year.

Norman says he never had a “shadow of a doubt” that LIV Golf was the right way forward.
Norman says he never had a “shadow of a doubt” that LIV Golf was the right way forward. Credit: David Mariuz/David Mariuz

“To be able to do it here with the impact we’ve had, not only on the golf course, with the players commercially as well, economically… those are the things that people don’t really speak about too much.

“It’s just incredible.

“This event here from last year to this year is the benchmark for LIV. All the other events that take place around the world will take a look at what we’ve delivered here and what Adelaide’s delivered... and you go, it can be done.

“It’s hard to imagine we are less than one and a half years in and the impact we’ve had on a global basis.

“In such a short time... it’s been extremely powerful.”

He said he was most proud of the fact that LIV had turned golf into a “successful asset class” and of the returns it had delivered to its owners, Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund - and also to the players who had signed on.

Speaking beside South Australian Premier Peter Malinauskas, Mr Norman also confirmed that the Adelaide tournament would be the only outpost for the upstart league.

Mr Malinauskas said that given its outsize success, other Australian states were regretting not getting behind LIV in 2022.

“Now they want a piece of it.. that’s life,” Mr Malinauskas said at a press conference and that “the fans.. are speaking with their feet, they’re speaking with their hip pocket”.

Watch LIV Golf Adelaide live and free on Channel 7 and 7plus, from 11.30am-4.30pm (AEST) Friday to Sunday.

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