If Greg Norman actually cared about what people thought, then he wouldn’t have agreed to lead one of the most controversial developments in world sport this century.
Maybe once upon a time he cared – a time when the numbers said he was the best player in the world, but the four weekends a year that really mattered didn’t matter .
But for four decades, Norman has endured far too much criticism and been the butt of far too many jokes in the United States to care about the opinions of others.
Which is only a good thing for the head of LIV Golf, because there’s been a lot of heat for him.
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“Listen, I’m not paying attention,” said Norman foxsports.com.au in an exclusive interview last week.
“Hate, jealousy, vindictiveness – whatever it is – that people have against you for whatever reason – they don’t know who I am. These people never sat down and talked to me for a minute.
“So they have their opinion and I give them their right to their opinion. But at the same time, I just pushed them aside.
“I’ve seen it all. Some of the people who make negative comments about me haven’t been around for 45 years.
Norman is well aware of the crucial momentum he has gained for LIV Golf in recent months.
In February, the breakaway tour – which is being funded by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund – seemed dead on arrival as a wave of would-be signatories were scared off to join.
Today, LIV Golf’s list includes several big winners like Dustin Johnson, Phil Mickelson and Brooks Koepka, as well as European Ryder Cup captain Henrik Stenson.
If reports are correct, it could soon also include world number 2 and golf champion of the year, Cameron Smith.
Next year, LIV Golf plans to expand from an eight-event invitational to a 14-event global league, complemented by a handful of tournaments hosted in partnership with the Asian Tour.
Meanwhile, some PGA Tour players were parachuting into Tiger Woods last week to rally the troops and devise a strategy against LIV Golf.
He may be playing with house money, but there’s no denying that Norman has pushed LIV Golf much further in six months than anyone imagined – other than himself.
When asked when he knew LIV Golf was going to take off, he replied, “It was my signature on my employment contract on August 30 last year.
“When I tested the business model in the best possible way with my staff that I know in economics and law, franchising and branding, no one could break the model. ”
Still, despite all the confidence and challenge, Norman doesn’t feel like he’s driving solo.
If there’s one person whose opinion really matters to Norman, it’s former Australian media mogul, Kerry Packer.
And Norman is already sure to have the approval of his old friend, who died in 2005.
“I can tell you everyday, with my hand on my heart, everyday I know Kerry Packer has his hand on my right shoulder as an old friend – may God rest his soul – saying, ‘Greg , you are on the right path. Stay the course. You are doing what is right for the sport, for the players and for the fans.
Norman and Packer became close friends in the 1980s when the golfer turned to the business world and started a company in his name.
Packer, meanwhile, was an avid golfer who shone at Norman, who became the world No. 1 in 1986, the same year he won his first Claret Jug.
Together, Norman and Packer won the Pebble Beach pro-am in 1992 with a then-record score of 42 under par. Norman then designed for Packer his own private golf course at Ellerston, which has consistently ranked among the best and most exclusive in Australia.
Away from the course, Norman would sit and talk with Packer until the wee hours of the morning about golf and business – the two not necessarily being mutually exclusive.
With his millions, Packer had already transformed the game of cricket by the 1970s, recognizing its true commercial value and potential in the age of color television.
Cricket at the time was played almost exclusively in the five-day Test format, Australian matches were shown in black and white on the ABC, while players earned little money.
Having initially failed to transfer the television rights to ABC cricket to his Nine Network, Packer created his own competition in an all-new image, calling it World Series Cricket.
Players wore colorful clothing, matches took place at night, while the series defended the rarely used limited format.
Above all, the players were well paid. So much so that top international captains such as Tony Greig, Clive Lloyd and Greg Chappell all joined.
Cricket purists were angry, viewing WSC’s radical new methods as a disgrace to the game they loved.
Nevertheless, after only two seasons, the establishment gave in. Packer had won the television rights to cricket and ultimately changed the game forever.
Unsurprisingly, Norman sees the parallels in his current mission.
Norman has long been inspired by Packer and WSC, believing that, as in cricket, golfers’ earning power has been hampered.
In 1994, Norman pushed for a World Golf Tour in which eight lucrative events would be held around the world for the top 40 players in the game. The concept was brutally torpedoed by the PGA Tour.
Nearly 30 years later, Norman has found himself in touch with an investor who has the immense wealth needed to bring his Packer-inspired vision to life.
Today, he considers Packer to be one of the two “North Stars” of his professional life.
“Remember, I grew up during that time. I was a good friend of Kerry Packer. I designed a golf course with Kerry Packer,” Norman said.
“We talked golf, golf, golf from midnight to 3 a.m. sometimes because he was a sponge as to where golf was going to go and how he was going to get there.
“I had this massive, powerful figure in Australia with his hugely powerful view of what he’s done for cricket. When you’re involved in that…it obviously stays with you. It’s rooted in you because you’ve heard it. Because you sat on a couch with him. Because you had a Diet Coke with him, and you just talked about golf and the opportunities it offers.
“It’s no different than what we do today with LIV. At LIV we look at all sports outside of golf, and all the opportunities like Kerry did with cricket, and what we can do here for golf.
It is important to note here that the nature of the controversy that surrounded WSC and that which now surrounds LIV Golf are very different.
Packer was a ruthless figure in the business world and as such was heavily ridiculed by the public. However, the moment his fortunes came closer to human rights issues was when he recruited actors from apartheid South Africa.
The Saudi government, meanwhile, has an abysmal human rights record that includes beheadings, suppression of free speech and discrimination against women.
His growing involvement in global sport – for example by hosting an F1 race, buying Newcastle United in the Premier League or funding LIV Golf – is seen by many as ‘sportswashing’.
Nonetheless, Norman says his mission is to grow the game of golf globally, as his entrepreneurial spirit targets gaping holes in the market.
He says his other “North Star” is former Augusta National manager Billy Payne, who aimed to tap into the Asian market with a series of mastery initiatives.
Today, LIV Golf is doing the same by committing $300 million (A$435 million) to the Asian Tour through funding from the international series.
Norman says he remains open to sitting down at the table with the US PGA and DP World Tours to discuss the future of golf.
However, any meeting of minds seems unlikely in the near future, with the PGA Tour instead focusing on how to fight LIV Golf through increased purse money and its own global swing.
Both results suit Norman, who says he has the utmost confidence in LIV Golf’s business model.
“So when people give me shit and shoot me for what I do with all they mean, happy days, mate,” Norman said.
“Go ahead, because you don’t know what you’re talking about.”