The words coming from Greg Norman on Monday were no different than the ones he’s spoken for the better part of the last six months. The difference with these words, however, was their intended audience.
As per usual, Norman stepped in front of media in Australia — as part of a press conference announcing the league’s future event in Adelaide — with a mix of bluster and exuberance.
Do you expect to have top 10, 20 and 50 players join you next year?
“Yes,” Norman responded with a grin.
Are they top 10, top 20 or top 50?
“Yes,” he repeated. “That might be the shortest answer I’ve given in my 45 years of doing media.”
This, as those who have followed Norman (and LIV) closely over in recent months, was not unusual. Norman has been LIV’s Chief Executive Teaser since the league’s inception, feeding the rumor mill a steady diet of breathless speculation and conjecture. It is to his benefit to do so — partially because no one can prove what he’s saying is untrue, and partially because a few well-timed rumors can offer LIV a rare bit of leverage.
In Monday’s presser, however, Norman’s audience appeared to shift before our eyes. When asked about the league’s efforts to attract more top-end talent, Norman didn’t amplify attention but deflected it, for the first time, toward his players.
“Look, I think that’s more of a Cam Smith decision, right?” Norman said when asked about LIV target Adam Scott. “Cam has got to build out his franchise. Cam is responsible for his franchise along with Marc Leishman. They’ve got to look at what’s best for them going forward.”
Pressed again, Norman bent but didn’t break.
“I’m not getting into the players who we’re targeting or not targeting,” he said. “We just had a conversation about Adam Scott before. Basically as we look into the future, it’s the franchises. They’re responsible to build out their franchises right now. So each and every one look at different players from a different perspective.”
For LIV, the decision to place the burden of LIV’s recruiting efforts on its players is a careful bit of calculus. For one thing, it emphasizes the importance of the league’s franchise structure, in which top-shelf players possess ownership stakes and are responsible for team-specific expenses. For another, it shifts the attention away from the controversial source of LIV’s money — the Saudi Public Investment Fund with which LIV has become synonymous — and toward the figurehead players that the league hopes will usher in a new era of professional golf.
But that’s not to say Norman is about to stop selling entirely. Even as he tried to delegate more responsibility on his constituents, he found himself fanning the flames around the league’s potential additions.
“I will say this: We will end up signing more players for sure,” he said. “There’s a lot of interest because of the success of what happened this year. There have been a few players sitting on the sidelines, and now that they’ve seen the success and seen what the play of DJ and the success of the 4Aces, it’s a very, very compelling opportunity.”
Norman knows that one of the best chances for LIV to catch on is through the team format. That goes for players as much as it does for fans.
“The other thing you’ve got to remember, too, these players still speak to each other,” Norman said. “They don’t hate each other like has been said in some of the narrative in the media. These guys are still locker room mates. They still play golf together. They still go back home and some live in the same city and go to the same golf course. They speak to each other. If it’s not the players, it’s the caddies speak to each other. If it’s not the caddies, the wives speak to each other.”
As with anything LIV, a larger question looms: Is any of this … true? It’s hard to say. On one hand, it’s likely LIV’s mega-paydays are at least interesting to someone of note in the world of pro golf. On the other, Norman’s last response about the league’s recruitment efforts might well qualify as Freudian.
“The people who have been the bystanders trying to sit on the sideline and watch,” he said, “they’re the ones who probably — not probably — they’re the ones who are knocking on our doors now.”