Greg Norman makes explosive claim in new interview

Greg Norman claims his Saudi-backed golf league poached at least 30% of the world’s top 50 male golfers before pulling out of Phil Mickelson’s comments.

The Australian great behind the rebel league said ESPN this week that the controversial breakaway was due to be launched in February before suffering the major setback.

Author Alan Shipnuck has released details of his interview with Mickelson, in which the six-time big winner called the Saudi government ‘scary f***ers’, acknowledged the country’s abysmal human rights record the man, but said he was ready to join to take advantage of the changing PGA Tour.

The comments fell like a lead balloon across the world. Players quickly distanced themselves from Mickelson, who has since taken time off from professional golf and requested his release from the PGA Tour.

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“There’s no doubt that (Mickelson’s comments) hurt,” Norman said. ESPN. “It hurt a lot of aspects. It hurt the PGA Tour. It hurt us. It hurt the game of golf. It hurt Phil. So yes, on all fronts. It wasn’t just specifically for us. But it definitely created a negative dynamic against us.

Norman, the head of LIV Golf Investments, which is funded by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, said the proposed league was to launch a 14-event schedule.

He said the players had committed ahead of the Genesis Invitational in mid-February before Mickelson’s comments were made public.

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“We had enough players in our field force, or minimal viable product, ready to join us,” Norman said. “And when all of that happened, everybody got nervous, and the PGA Tour threatened people with lifetime bans and stuff like that.”

LIV Golf appeared to have meteoric momentum that week when a handful of big names, including Australian Adam Scott, suggested they might be persuaded to quit the PGA Tour.

However, the publication of Mickelson’s comments – which the 51-year-old says were made in confidence – saw that momentum come to a screeching halt.

“They killed (Washington Post reporter Jamal) Khashoggi and have a horrible human rights record,” Mickelson said in the interview. “They execute people there because they are gay. Knowing all of this, why would I even consider it? Because it’s a unique opportunity to reshape how the PGA Tour works.

Over the next few days, the best golfers in the world pledged their allegiance to the PGA Tour.

Jon Rahm, Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas, Collin Morikawa and Bryson DeChambeau were among those who joined longtime critic Rory McIlroy in publicly rejecting Norman’s proposed league.

LIV Golf has jumped ahead with plans for a big-money rebel tour anyway – but it’s likely to be a watered-down product with few big names expected to be involved.

Only 15 of the world’s top 100 players, including two former world No. 1s, have requested release to play at the opening event of the LIV Golf Invitational in London from June 9-11, Norman said.

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Six events have been lost from the calendar, which now has eight, including five in the United States.

What hasn’t been lost, however, is the staggering prize money attached to the total pool for the eight events worth $255 million (A$361.5 million), according to LIV Golf. There is also a $30 million (A$42.5 million) bonus for the top three players after seven regular season events.

A match play final will then take place at the Trump National Doral, worth an additional $50 million (A$70.9 million).

“I was very pleasantly surprised,” said Norman ESPN. “What is talked about in the media and what is the reality are two different things.

“We know what is happening with a lot of interest expressed. Expectations-wise, we have a lot of interest from players with significant names. Our mission is to be patient, and we will deliver these events and it’s up to players to make their decision about what they want to do as independent contractors.

Michael C. Ford