While the announcement Tuesday morning of the details regarding LIV Golf Investment’s $300 million infusion into the Asian Tour was significant, it also left unanswered a bigger question:
What does it mean for the rumored new Saudi-backed golf league which has a leader in LIV Golf Investments CEO Greg Norman and several impressive C-suite executives but no announced players, official format or schedule?
There were indications last fall that the new league, built on a number of top professionals signing on, would begin play sometime this spring. To this point, however, the new league remains a curiosity rather than a reality.
Asked Tuesday morning about the rumored league, Norman sidestepped the specifics.
“This is not a one-off journey,” Norman said without elaborating on what may come next.
“You want to sit back and see the evolution and how this is all building out, it’s going to be an incredible (journey).”
The Tuesday announcement isn’t directly about the so-called “super league” that’s expected to be created. This is about underpinning the Asian Tour with an eye toward bigger things, including the league concept.
The announcement of the Asian Tour investment, which includes an increase of $100 million over the original total announced last fall, comes with details of when and where the “International Series” events will be played during the 2022-23 tour season.
“If (the PGA Tour wants) to be upset with us, that’s their choice. We’re not upset with them. We’re not picking a fight.” – Greg Norman
The first International Series event will be played in Thailand March 3-6 with a $1.5 million purse (as a source of comparison, Luke List took home $1.52 million as winner of the Farmers Insurance Open last Saturday). The second event in the series will be played in London in June followed by tournaments in South Korea, Vietnam, Indonesia, the Middle East, China, Singapore and Hong Kong with purses up to $2 million per event.
The 10-event series will be played each of the next 10 years on the Asian Tour.
The first event in the International Series will be played the same week as the PGA Tour’s Arnold Palmer Invitational while the second will be played in London where the DP World Tour is headquartered. The PGA Tour also plays a second event – the Puerto Rico Open – the same week as the Arnold Palmer Invitational, neither of which will be significantly impacted by the Asian Tour events.
The announcement came in advance of the PIF Saudi International, the Asian Tour’s $5 million showpiece event driven by the Saudi-backed Public Investment Fund. The tournament has six of the top 20 players in the world ranking in a field that includes defending champion Dustin Johnson, Bryson DeChambeau, Phil Mickelson, Patrick Reed, Sergio García and others.
It has become clear that LIV Golf Investments’ entry into the higher levels of professional golf is seen as a direct challenge to both the PGA Tour and the DP World Tour. Norman’s group has attempted to meet with PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan but, according to various reports, Monahan has not responded to those requests.
“Look, they’re upset for their own reasons. From our perspective, we have our game plan about how we’re going through it. We’re executing extremely well across all sectors of the ecosystem,” Norman said. “If they want to be upset with us, that’s their choice. We’re not upset with them. We’re not picking a fight. We don’t want to do anything, like I explained before.
“Our process is this: LIV Golf Investments is investing into the International Series. That’s what we’re focused on now today. Will there be things announced in the future? Absolutely there are going to be things announced in the future. But right now our focus is on this. Our mission is to make sure this platform is firmly cemented in the world of golf and where we see it sitting, and we’ll focus on that, and then there will be another announcement, and then there will be another announcement.”
Set against the backdrop of Saudi Arabia’s human rights record, players who have accepted large appearance fees to play this week as well as LIV Golf Investments’ Saudi backing has fueled controversy and raised questions about whether players should look beyond their own interests in these situations.
“Obviously there’s no hiding from the people writing about this tournament or what they’re saying about us going to play, but at the end of the day for me, I’m not a politician, I’m a professional golfer,” Shane Lowry said Tuesday.
“I earn a living for myself and my family and try and take care of those, and this is just a part of that, and I need to go there. … The top players are looked after going (to Saudi Arabia), and that’s great, but top players have got looked after all over the world over the last number of years, whether it be whatever country they go to.
“But I’m happy to go there. I’m happy to earn my living going there and going and playing good golf and hopefully win a tournament. I think for me as a golfer, I’m not a politician, I’ll let everyone else take care of that, and I’ll go and do my job.”
Norman, who challenged the PGA Tour with a proposed world tour in the 1990s, has cast his group’s interest in the Asian Tour as a business opportunity.
“In a nutshell, what have we really done? We’ve identified a new opportunity out of a lost opportunity, and I mean that in all sincerity. The lost opportunity people should be embracing, other institutions should be embracing,” Norman said.
“We are very, very respectful and will always be open, and I’m always going to be a healthy, friendly competitor, and that’s important to know, because the market is huge and it’s open for everybody, and we’re going to have these open pathways.”
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