Four months before LIV Golf held its inaugural event outside of London, LIV CEO Greg Norman sent a scathing email to PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan.
With the subject line “You can’t ban players from playing golf,” Norman knew the PGA Tour would battle the Saudi-backed tour in the following months.
“Sure you’re kidding,” Norman wrote to Monahan on Feb. 22, 2022. “And sure, your lawyers on the PGA Tour have to hold their breath.”
“As has been widely reported, you have threatened the players on the PGA Tour, all of whom are independent contractors, with lifetime bans if they decide to play golf in a non-Tour sponsored league.”
The Saudi Public Investment Fund (PIF), which reportedly has over $720 billion in assets, invested nearly $1 billion to launch LIV Golf in 2022.
Due to Norman’s worldwide international fame and his long-standing desire to create an international golf league, the PIF selected the Australian to act as the figurehead of the start-up league.
As part of its investment, the PIF paid millions to top PGA Tour players to join the start-up league, hoping to give it international recognition and celebrity in the sports world.
Phil Mickelson, Brooks Koepka and Bryson DeChambeau accepted Norman and PIF’s offer, which gave each player generational wealth. Many more major champions, such as Sergio Garcia, Martin Kaymer and Cameron Smith, also bolted for LIV in the summer of 2022, leaving the PGA Tour.
“Players have the right and freedom to play where we want,” Norman wrote. “I know for a fact that many PGA players were and still are interested in playing for a new league Besides to play for the Tour. What is wrong with that?”
Two days before Norman sent this email, Joaquin Niemann of Chile won The Genesis Invitational hosted by Tiger Woods at Riviera.
Niemann was a budding young star on tour.
That summer, however, Niemann took his talents to LIV Golf.
As a result, the PGA Tour suspended the young Chilean and anyone else traveling to play on the Saudi-backed tour Norman envisioned in February 2022.
“Simply put, you can’t ban players for playing golf,” Norman wrote.
“What’s wrong with letting players make their own decisions about where to play and how often to play? What’s so wrong with player choice? Why do you feel so threatened that you would resort to such a desperate, unwise and unenforceable threat?”
Since then, LIV has clearly threatened the PGA Tour and forced it to change its ways.
The tour tried to compete with the extensive LIV purses by increasing their own purse sizes and rewarding top players with lavish bonuses.
But that model was financially unsustainable for the tour, and with millions spent on lawsuits against LIV Golf and former PGA Tour players, Monahan and the tour felt compelled to turn to the PIF to try to bridge the gap.
Thus, after weeks of discussions, Monahan and Yasir Al-Rumayyan, the PIF’s governor, announced to the world on June 6, 2023 that the PGA Tour and the PIF agreed to enter into a commercial partnership with each other.
A month later, on July 11, 2023, two PGA Tour officials, Ron Price and Jimmy Dunne, testified before the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations (PSI) to discuss the background to this deal.
As part of the hearing, PSI released a 276-page document which included Norman’s email to Monahan on February 22, 2022. The full memo can be found at Annex 1.
Golf’s key stakeholders are still trying to piece together the future of professional golf and are working to create a unified landscape.
It can take months to develop a solution because there are so many intricacies to work out.
But from the start, Norman knew that LIV Golf would disrupt professional golf.
“Competition in all aspects of life, sport and business is healthy and players deserve to be well compensated, which is why so many players have expressed interest in joining a new league,” Norman added in his e- mail.
“But when you threaten to end players’ careers and when you engage in unfair labor practices with your web of player restrictions, you show exactly why players are open-minded about joining a league that treats players well, respects them and compensates them according to their true value.”
“Commissioner – this is only the beginning. It is certainly not the end.”
Now the end may be coming for Norman, as the July 11 hearing revealed that LIV Golf may fire Norman as part of the PGA Tour-PIF deal.
But whatever happens to the former number one ranked player in the world, he was right from the start.
Norman foresaw Monahan’s ban and is to be commended for doing so.
Jack Milko is a golf staff writer for SB Nation’s Playing Through. You can follow him on Twitter and Instagram @jack_milko for more golf coverage. Don’t forget to check out @_PlayingThrough too.