Greg Norman, leader of the controversial Saudi-backed LIV Golf Tour, faced conservative criticism Tuesday after meeting with a group of House Republicans behind closed doors on Capitol Hill.
Norman, who had traveled to Washington as part of a PR campaign to sell lawmakers the benefits of the PGA Tour’s new rival, was also quizzed about Saudi funding for his league during the Republican Studies Committee meeting.
LIV Golf is backed by the Public Investment Fund (PIF) of Saudi Arabia – a sovereign wealth fund chaired by Mohammed bin Salman, the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia – and has pledged to award a total of US$250 million in prize money.
Rep. Chip Roy, a Republican from Texas, suggested he wouldn’t mince words with Norman, who told the Republican the goal of his tour was “competition” — a claim Roy felt was “nonsense,” although he said he’d like to sit down with Norman and talk about it further.
“Don’t sell us ‘This is all about competition’ unless you pay like $1 billion to buy PGA players, resulting in $1 billion in PR for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” Roy told CNN could violate the Foreign Agents Registration Act.
LIV Golf has spent staggering sums poaching top PGA Tour players, reportedly offering nine-figure sums for individuals just to sign with the new league and enormous purses for its tournament winners. In early August, Norman confirmed on Fox News that golfing legend Tiger Woods turned down an offer worth about $700-$800 million to join LIV Golf.
Rep. Jim Banks, the chair of the Republican Studies Committee, told CNN it was a “lively discussion” and overall Norman was “well received by our members.”
The Indiana Republican noted that Norman asked to meet with his group, which regularly meets with outside guests.
“Some members have raised the issue of funding being backed by Saudi Arabia. That came up in the discussion and Mr. Norman addressed those issues,” said Banks. “He explained how the mutual fund is structured and other investments they have made in the United States. He promised to sit down with the members individually.”
Banks said “there was no request” from Norman for Congress to act on behalf of the league and that the purpose of the meeting was more “public relations” than anything.
Banks added, “If Tiger Woods wants to come in and talk about the PGA and his struggles with LIV Golf, we’d love for him to come too.”
LIV Golf players have not been allowed to play this week’s Presidents Cup, a biannual competition that pits an international team against a US team, which tees off on Thursday.
For national team captain Trevor Immelman, that spelled a selection headache as players like Open champion Cameron Smith, Chilean Joaquin Niemann and South Africa’s Louis Oosthuizen were ruled out of the game.
“I would say enormously disruptive is probably an understatement,” Immelman told CNN Sport’s Don Riddell. “It was certainly an interesting process.”
The US team faced the same problem as Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka and Bryson DeChambeau were all unavailable after moving to the LIV Golf series.
But opposing captain Davis Love III arguably has more depth at his disposal than Immelman, who bemoaned the absence of some “incredible players” from the team.
The international team has an unfavorable record in the Presidents Cup, having won just once in 13 editions of the competition.
“Over the past year, when these rifts (between LIV Golf and the PGA Tour) occurred, every single player on our roster knew the rules and the decisions to make in order to have the opportunity to play in the Presidents Cup “, he added.
When asked if he would miss players like Smith, Niemann and Oosthuizen, Immelman said: “These guys are incredible players. They are players who have played Presidents Cups. You have the experience of being in that cauldron and understanding what it takes. But you know, like I said, they knew the choices they had to make to qualify for the Presidents Cup.
“All of this information was part of their decision-making process. So the communication was very open. Everyone knew exactly where they stood and they made the choices that they felt were best for them and I respect their choices.”
This year’s Presidents Cup will be held at Quail Hollow in Charlotte, North Carolina and will conclude on Sunday.