Greg Norman

Greg Norman Frozen Out In Golf’s New Cold War

The R & A sent a strong message when LIV ringleader the Shark was uninvited to the Celebration of Champions.
So what should we make of it all?

By Michael Bamberger
July 9, 2022

The opening salvo came by way of email from the R&A. The heading alone was ominous:

STATEMENT ON THE R&A CELEBRATION OF CHAMPIONS

The Celebration of Champions is a parade of golfing greats, heading down the 1st and 2nd holes of the Old Course and then playing their way home on 17 and 18. How on God’s pale-green earth could that require a statement?

It actually did, and the terse four-sentence announcement may be regarded as the first public salvo in a golfing war that is starting to look like this: the Golf Establishment v. the Outlaw Tour. Not on the legal front, but on something that will ultimately resonate more meaningfully than that: the social front.

The R&A statement, in all its Oxbridge glory:

“In response to enquiries regarding The R&A Celebration of Champions field and the Champions’ Dinner, we can confirm that we contacted Greg Norman to advise him that we decided not to invite him to attend on this occasion. The 150th Open is an extremely important milestone for golf and we want to ensure that the focus remains on celebrating the Championship and its heritage. Unfortunately, we do not believe that would be the case if Greg were to attend. We hope that when circumstances allow Greg will be able to attend again in future.”

These are the people who bring you, “On the tee, from U.S.A., Patrick Reed.” Without a hint of sarcasm.

These are the people who bring you, on Sunday night, in the most spectacular baritone you’ve ever heard, “The winner of the gold medal, and the Champion Golfer of the Year, is Louis Oosthuizen.” With the most exquisite and perfect pronunciation of his Afrikaners’ surname there could be.

In other words, these people do proper like nobody’s business. Uninviting a person to a public event and a private dinner to which he has earned the right to attend (twice!) is a serious, serious statement.

What it is saying is this: You, Greg Norman, though you have won this great championship two times, though you are one of the most accomplished figures in the history of the game, are now a golfing pariah because of your central association with this LIV Golf Series, which is not just a disruptor, but a game-changer.

On a personal note, I don’t see it. Augusta National had the good grace to represent that the club did not disinvite Phil Mickelson to this year’s tournament. The truth, as I know it, is he was persuaded to see what he could ultimately see himself: It would do neither him, nor the tournament, any good for Mickelson to play this year.

It would have been awkward, maybe, to have Norman at the dinner in St. Andrews, alongside Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods. But he had the right to be there. So why are Mickelson and Oosthuizen, former champions and LIV defectors, still on the invitation list? They, unlike Norman, are not the face of this upstart tour.

As for the golf, Norman would have just played the four holes and waved to the crowd. He might have worn a LIV emblem. He wasn’t going to carry a placard that said, “Make LIV, Not War.”

Some months ago, when Fred Ridley, chairman of Augusta National, declined to take a meeting with Norman, who wanted to explain the whole LIV series to him, that was a statement. The divide was announced, in exquisite privacy. But this is as public as public can get.

I don’t think it will work. I don’t think the R&A is helping its cause here. Golf has never been about Us. v. Them. Now it clearly is. If this move does anything, it will make public sentiment lean in LIV’s direction.

You snobs!

But you have to admire that the R&A is standing straight up for what it believes.

There’s more here than meets the eye. Rory McIlroy, in a recent interview with the BBC, suggested that golf is in a place where there might need to be some sort of compromise and melding between the needs and desires of the PGA and DP tours and the LIV Series. True, the R&A would not have a seat at that sort of meeting, just as the USGA would not. Neither would the PGA of America.

But the bigger picture is this: The leaderships of the R&A, the USGA, the PGA of America and the European and American tours, plus Augusta National, are ultimately joined at the hip. In the end, they speak as one. They have stood as one on every major issue golf has ever faced, from the size of the ball to nondiscrimination standards for clubs that want to host events. (Though it must be noted that Augusta National was granted plenty of time to finally admit women members.) If the R&A is already saying it will have nothing to do with Norman as a person and LIV as a golfing enterprise, the other bodies will say the same.

Does that mean the major events will find a way to keep LIV players out of their fields? Yes, by way of World Golf Ranking points. (LIV events, at 54 holes, will ultimately not qualify for points, is my guess.)

The LIV tour will have two events at Trump courses this year. Next year, when the schedule expands to 14 events, it could be more than two. The PGA of America, the PGA Tour and the R&A have already frozen out Trump. A road to détente, as McIlroy suggests, is already complicated by the LIV-Trump Golf relationship. And complicated is a bit of British understatement.

The statement was neat and tidy. The stormy sea beneath it is rising.

Michael Bamberger welcomes your comments at [email protected]

22 thoughts on “Greg Norman Frozen Out In Golf’s Cold War”

    1. Guess Norman is learning that you can’t have your cake and eat it too. His scripted sound bites on wanting to grow the game and players being able to play where/when they want are disingenuous. Any LIV players skipping LIV events to play in their national opens? (McDowell). Take your ball, go home and bugger off Norman. Golf is much bigger than you

    2. Norman runs a tour that is invite only, he can invite whoever he wants to play and excluded whoever he wants.

      R&A doing the same.

  1. I assume Keith Pelley will still be attending The Open and relevant functions even after his collaborations with the Saudi’s… Oh the hypocrisy

  2. There is a backstory to this. Norman got into an argument with the R&A. Something happened behind the scenes but that dirty laundry was not aired. That’s what I think happened.

    It’s the same with Trump. He thought he could control the R&A, and they said no.

    1. The R & A is well within there right to do this and I applaud them. The Circus around Norman at this event in no way celebrates 150 years of this championship! The game is bigger than Greg Norman.
      I hope the Masters and the other majors take a similar position starting next year.

      1. By making a public statement they are creating a bigger story than already exists. Now the discussion will be who is right and wrong in this specific gesture.

  3. Did Norman really think he could call Jack Nicklaus a hypocrite, and think there would be no repercussions? That comment was in public, who knows what he’s been saying in private.

    The Great Disruptor after years and years of this (it didn’t start with LIV) is finally getting the comeuppance he deserves. I don’t feel a bit sorry for him. Perhaps Jim Bishop does, though.

    1. He is a hypocrite . Mr Nicklaus is working on a large development in SA today. No where in his company announcement did I see he was donating his time and name. He’s getting paid by Saudi oil money, just like Mr Norman.

  4. Oh the FirePit Collective ‘Read’ page, this post is credited to Alan Shipnuck. It should be Michael Bamberger.

  5. The R&A are hypocrites. Ban Mickelson and all LIV former Open winners or none. Norman is getting so much unwarranted criticism. He is not the brightest bulb but he is decent and honest.

  6. Disgraceful behaviour from the R&A. Norman was good enough to win two Opens and deserves to be there by right. They need to rise above all this stuff, as should the other majors. I’m ashamed of them to be honest. Truly appalling.

  7. Three cheers for the R&A! Norman and his ego have been trying to destroy professional golf for decades. He should be treated as the idiot he appears to be.

  8. Was this a petty move by the R&A? Yes. But did Norman have it coming, especially in light of the whole BS publicity stunt he pulled a few months ago when he wrote requesting an exemption into the field that he should have known was going to be denied and then trying to take them to task publicly by announcing that he was “disappointed” in the R&A’s (incredibly predictable) decision? Also yes.

    1. They are making at least two special exemptions this year. Why is Mr Norman out of line for asking for a third?

      1. No, the only thing close to a “special” exemption they issued this year was an allowance to Calcavecchia to play his final Open since his past champion exemption would’ve expired in 2020 when the Open was canceled and he was injured last year. Not to mention that Calc had been using his exemption for most of his 50s, while Norman’s went unused after 2009 through his 60th birthday.

        If Norman really wanted to get into the field and wasn’t trying to make a cheap publicity stunt out of it, he could’ve – and probably should have – entered final qualifying to earn his way in, like another past champ in his 60s tried to do this year (Sandy Lyle).

    1. I like this one. The DOJ looking into the PGA tour’s response to the 17 players kicked off the tour as we speak for potential anti-trust activity.

  9. THIS SEASON WILL BE DIFFERENT

    The R&A has every right to control their own tournament and the silly accompanying pageantry. Their written statement makes a lot of sense and is reasonable. To this reader, it essentially says this year is not the year for Norman to be here, as it will create an unwanted distraction – if and when this cools down, he may be invited back. Dollars to donuts the R&A approached Norman and privately suggested or asked him not to attend (as Augusta National did with Phil), and he told them go pound sand. The idea this move will shift public sentiment toward LIV is a bit far fetched but stranger things have happened I suppose. Money makes people do odd things, even those who are drowning in it.

    When is the next LPGA event again?

  10. So ridiculous for the tour to cave and say they won’t play at courses owned by a former POTUS. The irony is that most American players probably voted for Trump.

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