Greg Norman claims Phil Mickelson’s controversial comments caused delay in launch of Saudi-backed golf league

The launch of the Saudi Arabia-backed golf league almost went off without a hitch … until it didn’t. The rival golf league to the PGA Tour, led by CEO and golf legend Greg Norman, has been grabbing headlines for the better part of three months with those headlines mainly containing names of top stars who have bowed out of potential competition. On Monday, in an interview with ESPN, Norman revealed the league was set to kick off the week of the Genesis Invitational in mid-February, but controversial comments made by Phil Mickelson — the biggest name prominently tied to the new league — put a halt to the festivities. 

“There’s no question [Mickelson’s comments] hurt,” Norman told 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 yeah, across all fronts. It wasn’t just specifically to us. But it definitely created negative momentum against us.”

“Quite honestly, we were ready to launch on the Tuesday or Wednesday of Genesis,” Norman added. “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.”

For context on Mickelson’s comments, in a November interview with the Firepit Collective’s Alan Shipnuck, the 2021 PGA Championship winner was quoted as calling the Saudi Arabians “scary motherf—ers.” The six-time major champion’s motive for working with such people was simple: use it as a leverage point against the PGA Tour in order to negotiate a bigger piece of the pie for the players — namely the digital media pie.

“We know they killed [Washington Post reporter and U.S. resident Jamal] Khashoggi and have a horrible record on human rights. They execute people over there for being gay. Knowing all of this, why would I even consider it,” said Mickelson. “Because this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reshape how the PGA Tour operates. They’ve been able to get by with manipulative, coercive, strong-arm tactics because we, the players, had no recourse. As nice a guy as [PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan] comes across as, unless you have leverage, he won’t do what’s right. And the Saudi money has finally given us that leverage.”

These quotes were released the week of the Genesis Invitational, three months post-interview in unison with a pre-order link to Shipnuck’s book about Mickelson. It was then when Norman’s master plan hit a snag.

The two-time Open champion and CEO of LIV Investments claims 30% of the top 50 players in the world were committed to his league before Mickelson’s comments. While he has confirmed some players backing out, it remains to be seen which of the top players will come to Norman’s corner.

All of this should be answered in due time as the LIV Golf League is set to get underway June 9-11 at Centurion Golf Club in London. Forty-eight participants will compete in the league’s inaugural event as the registration list has surpassed 200 names, per Norman.

As for Mickelson, there is speculation that he has already committed to all eight events of the LIV Golf Invitational Series. Yet to be validated, all we know for sure is that the 51-year-old is keeping “all options open” as his agent, Steve Loy, has confirmed Mickelson’s registration in the PGA Championship, U.S. Open, and the first LIV Golf Invitational.

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