Greg Norman responds to critics, interview, Kerry Packer

If Greg Norman actually cared what people thought, then he wouldn’t have agreed to lead one of the most controversial developments in world sport this century.

Perhaps once upon a time he did care — a time when sheer numbers pointed at him being the world’s best player, but the four weekends a year that truly matter did not.

But over four decades, Norman has endured far too much criticism, and been the butt of far too many jokes in the US, to concern himself with the opinions of others.

Which is only a good thing for the chief of LIV Golf, because there has been plenty of heat out there for him.

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“Look, I don’t pay attention,” Norman told in an exclusive interview last week.

“Hatred, jealousy, vindictiveness — whatever it is — that people have against you for whatever reason — they don’t know who I am. These individuals have never sat down and talked to me for one minute.

“So they have their opinion and I give them their right to their opinion. But at the same time, I just cast them aside.

“I’ve seen it all. Some of the people who make comments about me in a negative fashion haven’t been around for 45 years.”

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There’s been plenty of heat out there for LIV Golf chief Greg Norman.Source: Getty Images

Norman is well aware of the crucial momentum he’s gained for LIV Golf in recent months.

In February, the breakaway tour — which is funded by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund — looked dead on arrival as a wave of would-be signatories were spooked out of joining.

Today, LIV Golf’s roster includes multiple major-winners in Dustin Johnson, Phil Mickelson and Brooks Koepka, and the now-dumped European Ryder Cup captain Henrik Stenson.

If the reports are accurate, it could soon also include world No.2 and Champion Golfer of the Year, Cameron Smith.

Next year, LIV Golf plans to drastically expand from an eight-event invitational to a 14-event global league, supplemented by a handful of tournaments run in partnership with the Asian Tour.

Meanwhile, select PGA Tour players were last week parachuting in Tiger Woods to rally the troops and devise a strategy against LIV Golf.

Playing with house money he may be, but there’s no denying that Norman has taken LIV Golf much further in six months than anybody thought imaginable — apart from himself.

Asked when he knew that LIV Golf was going to take off, he said: “It was my signature on my employment agreement back on August the 30th of last year.

“When I stress-tested the business model the best way I possibly could with my people that I know in the industries of economics and law, franchising and branding, nobody could break the model.”

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Nonetheless, for all the confidence, and defiance, Norman doesn’t feel as if he’s driving solo.

If there is one person whose opinion truly matters to Norman, then it’s that of former Australian media mogul, Kerry Packer.

And Norman is already certain he has the approval of his old friend, who died in 2005.

“I can tell you this every day, with my hand on my heart, every day I know Kerry Packer has his hand on my right shoulder as a past friend — god rest his soul — saying, ‘Greg, you’re on the right path. Stay the course. You’re doing the right thing for the sport, for the players, and for the fans.’”

Norman and Packer became close friends during the 1980s as the golfer cast his eye to the business world and created a company in his own name.

Packer, meanwhile, was an avid golfer who took a shine to Norman, who first became 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 later designed Packer his own private golf course at Ellerston, which has regularly ranked among the best — and most exclusive — in Australia.

Away from the course, Norman would sit and talk with Packer until the early hours of the morning about golf and business — the two not necessarily mutually exclusive.

Kerry Packer with Norman during the 1998 Holden International at The Australian Golf Club.Source: News Corp Australia

Through his millions, Packer had already transformed the game of cricket in the 1970s, recognising its true commercial value and potential in a colour television era.

Cricket at the time was almost exclusively played in the five-day Test format, Australian matches were broadcast in black-and-white on the ABC, while players earnt little money.

Having initially failed to take cricket’s TV rights from the ABC to his Nine Network, Packer created his own competition in an entirely new image, calling it World Series Cricket.

Players wore coloured clothing, matches went into the night, while the series championed the seldom-used limited-overs format.

Crucially, players were paid well. So well that leading international captains, such as Tony Greig, Clive Lloyd and Greg Chappell, all joined.

Cricket’s purists were up in arms, deeming WSC’s radical new ways as a disgrace to the game they loved.

Nonetheless, after just two seasons, the establishment caved. Packer had won cricket’s TV rights, and ultimately changed the game forever.

Unsurprisingly, Norman sees the parallels in his current mission.

Packer with West Indian cricketer Clive Lloyd at a party for World Series Cricket in 1978.Source: News Limited

Norman has long been inspired by Packer and WSC, feeling that, as in cricket, golfers’ earning power has been stymied.

In 1994, Norman pushed for a World Golf Tour in which eight lucrative events would be held across the globe for the game’s top 40 players. The concept was brutally torpedoed by the PGA Tour.

Almost 30 years later, and Norman has found himself linking up with an investor that has the vast wealth to bring his Packer-inspired vision to life.

Today, he considers Packer as one of just two “North Stars” in his business life.

“Remember, I grew up in that era. 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 3am at times because he was a sponge to know where golf was going to go, and how it was going to get there.

“I had this massive, powerful figure in Australia with his vastly powerful vision of what he did for cricket. When you’re involved with that … it obviously stays within you. It’s ingrained within you because you heard it. Because you sat on a couch with him. Because you drank a diet coke with him, and you just talked about golf and the opportunities in golf.

“It’s no different to what we’re doing 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.”

Cameron Smith has been heavily linked with joining LIV Golf.Source: AFP

It’s important to note here that the nature of the controversy that surrounded WSC, and that which now surrounds LIV Golf, are vastly different.

Packer was a ruthless figure in the business world and, as such, was heavily-derided by the public. Nonetheless, the closest his fortune came to being associated with human rights issues was when he recruited players of apartheid South Africa.

The Saudi government, meanwhile, has an appalling human rights record that includes beheadings, suppressing free speech and discrimination against women.

Its increasing involvement in world sport — such as by hosting a F1 race, buying Newcastle United in the Premier League, or funding LIV Golf — is considered by many as ‘sportswashing’.

Nonetheless, Norman says his mission is to grow the game of golf globally, as his business mind targets gaping holes in the market.

He says his other “North Star” is former head of Augusta National, Billy Payne, who aimed to tap into the Asian market with a series of Masters initiatives.

Today, LIV Golf is doing the same by committing $300 million ($A435m) to the Asian Tour through the funding of the International Series.

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Norman says that he remains open to sitting down at the table with both the US PGA and DP World Tours to discuss the future of golf.

Any meeting of the minds appears unlikely in the near future, however, with the PGA Tour instead focusing on ways to combat LIV Golf through increased money purses and its own world swing.

Either outcome is fine with Norman, who says he has the utmost confidence in the LIV Golf business model.

“So when people give me shit and just shoot me down for what I’m doing with whatever they want to say, happy days, buddy,” Norman said.

“Go for it, because you don’t know what you’re talking about.”

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