For a league that bills itself as “golf, but louder,” LIV Golf has been quiet on the course of late. It hasn’t held a tournament since October.
But that silence is about to end. The upstart circuit gets back in action Friday with its first event of the 2023 season, at El Camaleon Golf Club, in Mexico.
Some things have changed since 2022. LIV has new players on its roster and more events on its calendar. It also has a TV deal with the CW Network. But other things are much the same. Litigation is ongoing between LIV and the PGA Tour. A federal antitrust investigation of the PGA Tour continues. And questions linger over LIV’s eligibility for Official World Golf Ranking points, an important pathway for players into the majors.
Oh, and Greg Norman is still the commissioner and CEO of LIV, despite recent rumors that he would soon be ousted from the role. In January, shortly after Augusta National announced that LIV golfers would not be banned from this year’s Masters, GOLF.com sat down with Norman in Florida to ask about LIV players competing at Augusta, the importance of the OWGR, whether and when LIV might turn a profit and what he thinks about Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy’s assertion that he should step down.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
GOLF: The new golf season is underway, and one thing we know is that LIV players will not be banned from the Masters. Were you expecting that decision out of Augusta National?
Norman: Personally, I could never understand why they would not have the players, or any players of high quality, in any major. The majors should be Switzerland. They’re out there on their own. Without past champions or players who have qualified under the criteria, their strength of field would be lacking. So, if you look at it from a business perspective, from a broadcasting standpoint, from a sponsorship standpoint, Augusta National and the Masters are a brand of their own. You have to think about it that way and say, what’s best for the Masters? What’s best for the Masters is to have the best field possible, because it’s always been that way.
GOLF: Sounds like you were not surprised.
Norman: I think there were things going on behind the scenes and an understanding that if you look into the future and where the game of golf can and should be, cooler heads would prevail. And at the end of the day, you’ve got to look after your business.
GOLF: In announcing that there would be no ban, Augusta National chairman Fred Ridley also said he was disappointed at the fractures in the game. What would you say to him or anyone else who feels that way?
Norman: The best way to answer that would be that in any business transaction, you sit down and try to understand what’s on the table. You talk about it and you appreciate it and understand, okay, this entity over here has got this, and we have this. Can we somehow co-exist? Can we merge together? To not sit down right from the outset and understand what the LIV platform is and how it can and will sit within the ecosystem baffles me. But if you look back and see that over the past 53 years with the PGA Tour, it has only been the Tour — there have been no other options. And so I can see from Augusta’s standpoint how they want to protect that point of view. But from a competitive standpoint, it’s right to open the doors for other competition. It happens in all walks of life. We didn’t start the negative rhetoric. We wanted to do what’s best for the game of golf and for the independent contractors.
GOLF: How do you think that’s going?
Norman: Look, here we are. We had our beta season, and I thought that on a scale of 1 to 10, it was a 9.5. And the players coming into 2023 are more excited than they were at the start of 2022. Why? Because this year we unpack our franchise model. We unpack those teams. We unpack this whole new story that has never been done in the game of golf before.
GOLF: Is there anything you think will surprise or shock people?
Norman: I don’t think there are any real shocks. What I think you’ll see is just the process playing out. I think one thing that might interest people is all the other interested parties that want to understand what LIV is about.
GOLF: You mean other non-golf entities that are expressing interest in being part of LIV? Any industries in particular?
Norman: It’s all across the board. Very interested people asking, “How can I buy a franchise?” “Can I buy part of a franchise?”
GOLF: How much can I buy a franchise for?
Norman: I’ll just tell you that we are very comfortable in the place we’re in.
GOLF: It’s impossible to think about the majors without thinking about whether and when LIV players will get Official World Golf Ranking points. There’s no set timeframe for that decision. Is that a source of frustration for you?
Norman: My frustration is for the players. The fact that Dustin Johnson, I don’t know where he is rated right now [Ed. note: Johnson is currently ranked 51st]. But for Dustin Johnson to be rated that high is kind of a slap in the face. So from a player’s perspective, I feel for them. We’re fighting for it. We’ve applied for our points. And that might put a spotlight on [the OWGR] and their voting committee and who they are and what they represent. And are they truly fair?
GOLF: How badly do you need those points to be viable long term?
Norman: From what I’m hearing, I think there are a couple of other people coming up with another system. Why is that the OWGR is the only system? Why can’t there be others out there giving you options? We depend on the Weather Channel here but there’s also the European model. Which one is right? They deviate a little bit. But at the end of the day, the weather system always comes through. So, to me, there’s value in having other options to look at as well.
GOLF: I want to circle back to the Masters, which will be the first Masters since LIV has really gotten going. It seems inevitable that there will be people who see a game within a game: Tour players vs. LIV players. But Brooks Koepka told us he thinks that’s just a media-invented story. You’ve been a player. You’ve seen what goes on behind closed doors. Is Koepka right that there’s nothing there?
Norman: I think there’s nothing there with the majority of them. They’ve shared the tee before. They’ve shared locker rooms and competitions coming down the 18th fairway. They’ve roomed together. Their wives and girlfriends are friends. There will be a few guys who have probably been asked to be vitriolic against the LIV guys for whatever reason. But those guys who are being most vocally negative to us, they’ve never sat down to understand what LIV is all about.
GOLF: You’re saying that LIV critics aren’t really speaking their own minds? They’re being prompted to criticize?
Norman: Look, that’s my read on it. And my view is, until you know exactly what you’re talking about, don’t say anything, because the truth is always going to come out.
GOLF: You mean through depositions, litigation?
Norman: Absolutely. I mean, it’s part of the process right. It will all come out and we’re all going through his process and we all know there’s going to be a trial date set for January of next year. We’re on this road and hopefully there is going to be an offramp. It’s public knowledge. The judge has said we have to go to mediation on or before May 1.
GOLF: There have been some changes in LIV’s executive leadership (both COO Atul Khosla and director of franchises Matt Goodman have left the organization), and also rumors that you might be replaced. Any truth to that?
Norman: I’m still here. Simple as that. I have the full support of my investor. The full support of my board. Maybe just someone trying to start a rumor to try to collapse us internally. But that is 100 percent not true.
GOLF: A few voices, including Rory McIlroy, have said that negotiations are really only possible if you step aside. What do you say to that?
Norman: I think he was told to say that. They’re going to try to throw as much as they possibly can at you and try to undermine you, whichever way they can. All due respect, but Rory doesn’t know anything about LIV. He knows something about the PGA Tour. He sits on the PAC (Player Advisory Council). But Rory doesn’t know what he’s talking about with LIV because he doesn’t know the facts. And if he wants to throw out a comment like that — I’ve always been a fan of Rory’s but my advice to him would be to just sit back, just take stock, watch what happens and watch what you say. Because in the end, there may be a situation where he’ll be asked a few questions that he may not want to answer because of the way he’s come out and been vocal on that front.
All due respect, but Rory doesn’t know anything about LIV.
GOLF: You’ve talked about different tours coexisting in a golf ecosystem. What does a peaceable future in golf look like to you? Do you have a vision for it?
Norman: The answer to that is yes. I’m not going to disclose it. But at some point, you’ve got to sit down. There is an offramp, and you’ve got to be ready for it. My team has to be ready it. You have to work toward that goal. We want to make sure that LIV has its rightful position and to be able to build on this platform. Remember, we have an investor and he’s looking for an ROI (return on investment). We’ve got to build out these franchise models. We’ve got to create something that has never been created before. We are not going anywhere. We are going to be around for a long period of time, because of the investment and the ROI that we all see when we model this out internally.
GOLF: Do you have any timeline for when you get that ROI?
Norman: We have it all in our business plan.
GOLF: Any projections you can give us about timelines?
Norman: No, not really. But it’s not as long as you think, I can tell you that.
GOLF: How do you know what I think?
Norman: All I can tell you is that once we sign the production deal—
GOLF: —that’s the lynchpin?
[Ed. note: In the days after this interview was conducted, LIV announced a TV deal with CW Network.]
GOLF: What’s been the hardest part of the past year for you?
Norman: Just the vitriol, the hatred. It’s despicable to me. I’m still a lifetime member of the PGA Tour, and to see that the path that was decided to be taken with the hatred and vitriol, trying to destroy individuals. It tells me a lot. One day, when this is all over and done with, I’ll give you the answer that’s in my head today.
GOLF: Which is more specific examples?
Norman: More specific examples. Because when you see where we’ve come in nine months, where we’ve come in that short time period, the embracing of it on a global front, outside of the United States, it has been nothing short of amazing. When I go to Asia, it’s completely different than what you hear about in certain sections of the United States. And even here in the United States, people are starting to realize what LIV is all about. I can this this, not one person around the world has come to me and said, ‘This is the stupidest idea I’ve ever heard.’
GOLF: Purely from a business standpoint?
Norman: Competition. Game of golf. For the players. For all our stakeholders. Everything.
GOLF: Do you ever get the sense that there’s enough golf already? Do you think there’s really an appetite among fans for more than there is now?
Norman: Well, look, it’s a different style of golf, right? It’s product vs. product. That’s competition.