How impactful were Phil Mickelson’s controversial comments last February about the PGA Tour and its Saudi-backed rival league? According to Greg Norman, very.
Norman, CEO of LIV Golf Investments, told ESPN.com on Monday that the startup league, the LIV Golf Invitational Series, was set to launch the week of the Genesis Invitational, but Mickelson’s bombshell interview with The Firepit Collective dropped Feb. 15, two days before the first round at Riviera Country Club, and caused several committed players to balk.
"There's no question [Mickelson's comments] hurt," Norman told ESPN.com. "It hurt a lot of aspects. It hurt the PGA Tour. It hurt us. It hurt the game of golf. It hurt Phil. So yeah, across all fronts. It wasn't just specifically to us. But it definitely created negative momentum against us."
Norman said that 30%, or 15, of the top 50 players in the world were committed prior to Mickelson’s comments, where he called the Saudis “scary motherf---ers” and said he was only using the new league as leverage against the PGA Tour. Some of those players, Norman said, already “had money in their pockets” at the time and ended up giving back that money after receiving pressure from the PGA Tour.
While the names of those players are unknown, several top stars, including Dustin Johnson and Bryson DeChambeau, all released statements in the following days pledging their loyalty to the PGA Tour.
Instead of a grand unveiling of a 14-event schedule and roster full of top-100 players, Norman and LIV Golf delayed their announcement about a month. They released an eight-event schedule on March 16 but no names of who would play those tournaments.
The first LIV Golf event will take place June 9-11 at Centurion Golf Club in London and feature 48 players competing on 12 four-man teams. To this day, the only known players who have filed for releases from the PGA Tour to compete are Mickelson and Robert Garrigus, though Norman told ESPN.com that “more than 200” players have registered, including “about 15” of the top 100 in the world rankings and two former world No. 1’s.