Phil Mickelson’s criticism of the Saudi-backed LIV Golf Invitational Series ‘hurt’ the breakaway tour according to its CEO, Greg Norman.
In an interview in February, Lefty described the Saudis as “scary motherf****** to be involved with” and questioned the country’s human rights record all the while revealing his involvement was purely for leverage against the PGA Tour and its proposed stance with player media rights.
The 51-year-old subsequently issued a public apology stating: “I used words I sincerely regret that do not reflect my true feelings or intentions. It was reckless.” He is yet to make a competitive return to golf and missed his first Masters in 28 years.
Speaking with ESPN, Norman revealed just how damaging Mickelson’s comments were: “There’s no question (it) hurt,” he 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.”
The Shark added: “Quite honestly, we were ready to launch (in February). 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.”
Despite Mickelson’s comments, Norman and LIV Golf Investments formally announced the LIV Golf Invitational Series to the world. The Series consists of eight events, beginning at London’s Centurion Club in June – one week prior to the US Open. Players will compete for an unprecedented $255m throughout with the first seven ‘regular’ events carrying a total purse of $25m. The season-ending eighth event will be a Team Championship with a $50m total prize fund.
The introduction of the Series has been met with mixed reviews with some citing it as an attempt to ‘sportswash’ Saudi Arabia’s reputation, whilst others view it as legitimate competition to the PGA Tour and DP World Tour. Both organisations have remained firm in their stance in that any member wishing to participate in the Series will face suspension from the respective tour.
“I’ve been very pleasantly surprised,” Norman said. “What has been talked about in the media and what is reality are two different things. We know what’s happening with a lot of interest expressed. From an expectation standpoint, we’ve got a lot of interest from significantly named players.”
Those expected to take part in the Series include Robert Garrigus, who was the first to request a formal release from the PGA Tour, and Phil Mickelson, who confirmed his intention to play in the Series opener as well as defending his PGA Championship title. The American duo are reportedly joined by Sergio Garcia and a total of 20 PGA Tour players who reportedly requested release from the PGA Tour prior to the conflicting event deadline.