Los Angeles (AFP) – Greg Norman had his share of big disappointments on Sunday.
This could rival any loss on golf’s biggest stages, whether it’s Augusta National, Shinnecock Hills, Inverness or the Royal Tron. At least then he had a baton in his hand.
All he could do on Sunday was listen as his hopes of the Saudi-funded “Premier League Golf” took one hit after another as the top players left him.
“I’m totally committed to the PGA Tour,” said Dustin Johnson.
“I want to make it clear that as long as the best players in the world play the PGA Tour, so will I be,” he said on Twitter a few hours later.
This was followed by four words – “dead in the water” – from Rory McIlroy, who two years ago had become the first of golf’s biggest stars to reject the idea of a rival league funded primarily by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund.
He started the week with a grumble that Norman and his team, LIV Golf Investments, were close to the 20-man goal before finally announcing confirmed details of what they had and where the league is headed. By Sunday afternoon, it was hard to imagine anyone joining the league that McIlroy described as the “pre-champions tour”.
“Who is left. Who is left to go?” McIlroy said, the numbers backing him up. None of the top 12 players in the world rankings indicated any interest.
“Greg Norman had to fill in the field,” McIlroy said. “I mean, seriously, who else would? I don’t think they can get 48 men.”
Calling her dead would have been premature because that would have assumed she had life at all, when over the course of months everything produced was rumors and speculation. However, the threat was real – and given the funding source, it probably still is – even though Norman Group announced only who was filling the C-Suite, not the tee.
The alleged plan was said to be 12 four-man teams competing in 54-hole events. Players will be offered huge contracts to join – one report offered DeChambeau $130 million, which he said was a “mistake” – and wallets would be in the $20 million range.
No one seems to have any answers.
“I feel like the two organizations, the PGA Tour and the League, are kind of playing a game of chess and we’re kind of pawns in it,” Xander Schauffele said. “I feel like we’re just waiting for someone to make a move.”
And it wasn’t just players. One of the biggest unknowns was whether the Augusta National would still invite players to the Masters if they were part of this rival league. The PGA Tour made it clear that players cannot be a part of both. There have been serious implications for the Ryder Cup, which explains why Europe has not chosen a captain.
Even without anyone taking a shot or cashing a check, this was devastating.
So was Phil Mickelson.
His words were among the week’s strongest in an interview last fall with Alan Shipnock, formerly of Sports Illustrated and now part of a group called the Fire Pit Collective. He’s writing an autobiography on Mickelson in May.
Mickelson blasted the Saudis and the PGA Tour with equal doses of poison, then said he didn’t care whether the Super Golf League worked as long as it allowed him to push for the changes he wanted to see on the PGA Tour.
It’s a scary (expletive) mom to get involved with,” Mickelson said. We know that they killed (Washington Post reporter Jamal) Khashoggi and they have an appalling human rights record. They execute people there for being gay. Knowing all this, why am I even thinking about it? Because this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reshape how the PGA Tour works.”
Justin Thomas described the comments as “arrogant”. McIlroy used that word and more.
“I don’t want to kick someone while he’s frustrated,” he said, “but I thought they were naive, selfish, conceited, ignorant.” “It was so amazing and so disappointing. Sad. I’m sure he’s sitting at home kind of rethinking his situation and where he’s going from here.”
The broader question is where does Norman go from here.
The PGA Tour has a previous players meeting on Tuesday at Honda Classic. Mickelson has not played since the Saudi International Tournament two weeks ago, nor has he played in the Honda Classic or the PGA Tour Champions in Arizona that he played a year ago.
There was talk at the beginning of the week that Norman announced his roster during the Florida Swing, which was then said to be after the Masters, and then after the PGA Championship. He promised a “new beginning” when he revealed his engagement four months ago, and now it’s starting to feel like the end.
Twice Joaquin Nieman has chosen not to say anything about the Saudi League, which has fueled speculation that he is considering it. He sounded a different tune after winning two shots on a court with the world’s top 10 players.
“There’s nothing better like how I feel right now,” Neiman said. “Winning the PGA Tour, getting a trophy, having Tiger there, all the history behind it, there’s nothing that can rival him.”
— Doug Ferguson, golf writer for The Associated Press