If you were going to receive a verbal kicking in the world of golf then the two people that you would least like to be on the other end, with their spikes grinding you into the dirt, would be Tiger and Rory. One played nine competitive rounds of golf in 2023 but continues to move the needle while the other is fast becoming the face (and voice) of the PGA Tour.
For all the superstars in the US Ryder Cup team the 33-year-old from Northern Ireland is the go-to guy when the Tour want to get a message out there. For all his multi millions Rory’s the one who talks the best game and the one most of us can relate to; he speaks our language, he gets things right and he’s the No. 1 player in the world.
In recent weeks McIlroy has claimed that Greg Norman ‘needs to exit stage left’ and that any compromise, whatever that looks like, won’t happen until ‘there’s an adult in the room that can actually try to mend fences’. Last week Woods said something very similar, almost verbatim, citing the upcoming lawsuits and the need for the Aussie to go. The underlying message being that the PGA Tour would seemingly be keen to get round a table and talk but that Norman would not be part of any chat.
In an ideal world this would probably be the precursor to some conversation but this is LIV Golf and this is Greg Norman. If you want the perfect leader to brush off any criticism then you’ve got it in Norman. The 67-year-old has made a career out of being a polarising figure in the game and not seemingly giving two hoots about anyone’s opinion. He’s already responded to Tiger’s comments and he’s going nowhere. If you want to shove anyone in front of the world’s media and have them deliver the same message, again and again, then it’s Norman. He’ll put his foot in it, he’ll be factually incorrect but he’ll keep on going. Most of us would call it arrogance, he’d likely describe it as strong leadership.
Just imagine for a second if LIV Golf had gone for someone less divisive than Norman. Imagine, and this is a big leap of faith, that they had somehow got hold of Fred Couples and he was the face and the voice behind the breakaway circuit. Imagine how, with an easy smile and less aggressive tone, more people might have listened more at the start of all this. All the big statements of world domination and the ‘force for good’ nonsense would have been diluted to something slightly more palatable.There would be no public beef with Tiger, there would be talk of ‘disappointment in Freddie’ and more inroads would have been made on a face-saving front.
On the flip side, in many ways, Norman’s played a blinder. If you read the same websites and follow the same voices on social media then, like politics and anything else, you’ll hear the same thing. Any praise of LIV Golf is written off as merely ‘bots’ getting in front of us but it’s worth a reminder that the first LIV event at Centurion took place in June. Just six months ago.
Back then we all tittered at the lack of stardust in the field which was quite apt given the nature of the Centurion course. A bit like LIV, we thought, it started promisingly but there was vert little substance to the whole thing. We giggled and were outraged in equal measure at Andy Ogletree picking up $120,000 for shooting +24 over three rounds alongside a cluster of names who we’d never heard of.
But in the final LIV event of the year there were 19 different new faces to those in June and they included major winners Patrick Reed, Brooks Koepka, Bryson DeChambeau, Henrik Stenson and most notably Cam Smith. In time we’ll discover how all of these moves were originally set but a huge chunk of praise should go to Norman albeit when hundreds of millions of dollars are being waved in front of the players’ faces.
When Sergio Garcia had some early doubts over LIV Golf and a possible lifetime ban he would be texting ‘Sharky’.
For the players we know it’s all a money/lifestyle thing, for the fans it’s a new tour that is fronted by someone who many of us loved to watch for years. For all the talk of demographics and a younger audience being brought into the game this is still golf and, for many, Norman was the superstar of his day. He was the most exciting player on the planet with the film-star looks and ability to pound his driver better than anyone else on the planet.
He was the one who was on the wrong end of some of the most outrageous shots in major history as well as playing some of the twitchiest golf at the business end of things on the biggest of stages. Norman might never have been more popular than when Sir Nick Faldo reeled him in at August in ’96 and he took it all brilliantly. He should have won half a dozen majors and he ended up with only two.
We don’t know what the LIV Golf schedule and how the franchises will look like in 2023 but we do know that there will be at least one event in Australia. Ticket sales have been reportedly strong for Adelaide in April and, if you were a betting person, then you would probably have a sizeable punt on Norman being in place for it. There has been talk of the former CEO of TaylorMade-Adidas Golf Mark King taking over from Norman but, while he might be a household name in the sports marketing industry, he’s relatively unknown to the fans behind the ropes. The nature of being divisive, as Norman surely is, is that there will be others who love the brashness of his character. In truth many won’t even care about a sporting hero’s personality, what they do in front of their eyes will be more than enough.
If Norman was to have an end-of-year appraisal with the Saudi Public Investment Fund, which you don’t suppose that he will, you would guess that it would be largely, if not wholly, favourable. And, if you were to listen to Norman for a summing up of his own efforts, then it would be as bullish as it was predictable.
“No mater where I go in the world, nobody – not one person – has said what I’m doing is stupid or wrong.”
Mark has worked in golf for over 20 years having started off his journalistic life at the Press Association and BBC Sport before moving to Sky Sports where he became their golf editor on skysports.com. He then worked at National Club Golfer and Lady Golfer where he was the deputy editor and he has interviewed many of the leading names in the game, both male and female, ghosted columns for the likes of Robert Rock, Charley Hull and Dame Laura Davies, as well as playing the vast majority of our Top 100 GB&I courses. He loves links golf with a particular love of Royal Dornoch and Kingsbarns. He is now a freelance, also working for the PGA and Robert Rock. Loves tour golf, both men and women and he remains the long-standing owner of an horrific short game. He plays at Moortown with a handicap of 6.
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