Norman: Superstar turned pioneer

Former top golfer watches from the sidelines as LIV series kicks off


AFP June 09, 2022

LONDON:

Former world number one Greg Norman watched from the sidelines on Thursday as stars including Phil Mickelson launched a controversial bid to revolutionise golf.

The Australian two-time major winner is the figurehead of the Saudi-funded LIV Golf Invitational Series, which is challenging the sport's status quo.

But it is not the first time the golfer-turned-businessman, 67, has been a disruptor.

In 1994, Norman was at the forefront of plans to establish a World Golf Tour featuring the top players, an idea that failed to get off the ground in the face of opposition from the golfing establishment.

Now he has returned as part of a project bankrolled by enormous Saudi funds.

Forty-eight players teed off at the Centurion Club in St Albans, near London, with $25 million -- the biggest-ever prize purse for a golf tournament -- on offer.

It is the first of eight tournaments in the inaugural LIV series -- with plans to expand over the coming years.

There has been strong pushback from golf's establishment, including the US PGA Tour, which has threatened players with sanctions, and the source of the funding has proved controversial.

But Norman is bullish, with a growing number of global stars coming on board, including six-time major winner Mickelson and Dustin Johnson.

"We've got $2 billion backing us," Norman said at last month's launch event. "We've got an incredible legal team, and we're still going to defend the rights of the players going forward."

Norman believes golfers should be free, as independent contractors, to play where they like and should not be ruled by the established tours.

The charismatic Australian raises the profile of the LIV series but it has not all been plain sailing in the build-up to the launch event.

Norman, dubbed the "Great White Shark", cut a dashing figure on courses across the globe with his flowing blond locks, winning his first professional event in 1976 at the age of 21.

He began competing on the US PGA Tour full-time in 1983, winning 20 titles, and became one of the most dominant players in the world in the 1980s and 90s.

Norman went on to win 91 professional tournaments in total, including two British Open titles.

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