Greg Norman’s LIV speculation draws shrugs at first LPGA major
THE WOODLANDS, Texas — LIV Golf has been a disruptive force in men’s golf over the past several years. But will the Saudi-backed tour attempt a similar coup in the women’s game? Rumors have swirled since last summer, and this week LIV CEO Greg Norman resurfaced the idea of expanding LIV’s footprint to feature the women’s in the coming years.
“That is a discussion we have internally on a regular basis,” Norman said at a press conference ahead of LIV’s Adelaide event. “I have personally had discussions with individual LPGA Tour players, LET Tour players, Ladies European Tour. They love what our product is showcasing. They ask all the time, how can we get involved, we’d love to see a LIV ladies series.”
In recent years, Saudi Arabia has become a major player in the golf space. Since the first playing of the Saudi International in 2019, the Public Investment Fund has invested billions into the game, including their controversial LIV funding.
The men’s side of the game has drawn the most attention in golf’s civil war, but there’s been an influx of Saudi dollars into women’s golf as well. Aramco, an oil company majority-owned by the Saudi government, has sponsored the Ladies European Tour-sanctioned Aramco Team Series since 2020, with top players such as Nelly Korda, Lexi Thompson and Brooke Henderson taking part. A handful of ladies — including Bronte Law, Carlota Ciganda and Anne van Dam — are sponsored by Golf Saudi and wear the logo on their apparel.
“We talk about [expanding LIV Golf to include ladies] internally,” Norman said. “And I have had discussions with individual lady players, professional players.”
Halfway across the world, those presumptive targets are teeing it up at the first LPGA major of the season — the Chevron Championship. And while Norman’s comments made their way into the headlines, LIV Golf is far from top of mind in Texas.
“I’m just really focused on doing the best I can on the LPGA,” said two-time LPGA winner Georgia Hall. “It’s like, the best tour in the world and where the best players compete, and I want to be amongst them.”
Multiple sources at Carlton Woods told GOLF.com that LIV representatives were in contact with certain players last year. But those talks have not carried over into 2023.
“I haven’t heard that there is discussions going on, especially recently,” Hall said. “A little bit last year but not anything recent.”
Lydia Ko told GOLF.com that Thursday was the first time she’d heard of any potential LIV Golf league for the ladies. And when asked for her thoughts on the potential of such a development, the world No. 1 was quick to downplay the chatter on hypotheticals.
“It’s so vague,” Ko said. “To talk about anything that isn’t really here yet is all speculation. So I’m happy doing my own thing right now.” When playing in the Aramco Team Series last fall, Korda was similarly hesitant to speak on the speculation. “Right now that’s kind of speculation,” Korda said. “As a player I don’t really know and that is not in my hands. That’s for the tour commissioner.”
LPGA commissioner Mollie Marcoux-Samaan has previously stated she would listen to pitches from LIV, but only if “it would achieve our aim of promoting women’s golf.”
The massive influx of cash that would come with a Saudi partnership would no doubt bolster the pocketbooks of women’s golf’s elite — but the source of that money is a point of contention. With Saudi Arabia’s questionable human rights record, some talent might be hesitant to join up.
“I have my things that drive me morally,” said LPGA veteran Ally Ewing. “I would probably have to say that I am not interested … I’m happy with where I’m at. This tour is in a great spot.”
Norman’s comments about adding ladies to LIV Golf certainly piqued some curiosity among those in the golf world at large, but at the Chevron Championship, that buzz hasn’t materialized. For now, the focus remains on the birdies and bogeys.