The upstart Super Golf League (SGL) backed by Saudi Arabia was at one point looking to pluck some of the game’s best players from the PGA Tour.
But now infamous comments from Phil Mickelson changed everything, LIV Golf Investments CEO Greg Norman told ESPN Monday.
“There’s no question [Mickelson’s comments] hurt,” Norman said. “It hurt a lot of aspects. It hurt the PGA Tour. It hurt us. It hurt the game of golf. It hurt Phil. So yeah, across all fronts. It wasn’t just specifically to us. But it definitely created negative momentum against us.”
In a November interview with author Alan Shipnuck, Mickelson said that Saudi Arabians were “scary motherf—ers” and said he was only willing to get involved with the new league to gain leverage with the PGA Tour.
“… They killed [Washington Post reporter and U.S. resident Jamal] Khashoggi and have a horrible record on human rights,” Mickelson said. “They execute people over there for being gay. Knowing all of this, why would I even consider it? Because this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reshape how the PGA Tour operates.”
Mickelson’s comments sent shockwaves throughout the golf community, including his fellow competitors. Rory McIlroy, Dustin Johnson and others publicly called Mickelson out, and his chief sponsor, KPMG, dropped him.
At the time of the Genesis Invitational, Feb. 17-20, Norman said that at least 30% of the top 50 players in the world had committed to play in the SGL. That percentage is now down to a handful who Norman said have signed with LIV Golf.
“Quite honestly, we were ready to launch on the Tuesday or Wednesday of Genesis,” Norman said. “We had enough players in our strength of field, or minimal viable product, ready to come on board. And when all of that happened, everybody got the jitters, and the PGA Tour threatened people with lifetime bans and stuff like that.”
According to LIV Golf Investments, the new league is set to host eight events in 2022, with a $255 million total purse. The first event is scheduled to take place June 9-11 at the Centurion Club in London, England.
Mickelson, who hasn’t competed in a PGA Tour event since January, has requested a release from the Tour to play in the event. Mickelson, meanwhile, has registered to play in this month’s PGA Championship, which he won last year.
PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan said in May 2021 that anyone who joined the new league would be suspended and face a lifetime ban from the PGA Tour.
“He’s always going to have an open door,” Norman said. “It’s going to be his decision, his decision only. He’s got a few things he has to work out himself, obviously, with the PGA Tour and where he wants to go with them and how he wants to go with them. I can’t read Phil’s mind because I haven’t spoken with him.
“From our perspective, I’m always going to be consistent in that I respect Phil. I respect what he’s done for the game of golf, and he’s always going to have an open door to any golf tournament he wants to go play as far as I’m concerned.”
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