Greg Norman’s Saudi program could force golfers out of the shadows

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The true extent of a peddler’s toxicity is never apparent in the cost of his reputation – by definition he has little to defend – but rather in the ease with which he jeopardizes the honor of anyone who associates himself. to him. After two years of speculation and rumour, the day is near when we will finally learn which of the world’s best golfers are willing to sacrifice their position on Greg Norman’s amoral altar.

Since he is clearly shameless, let’s assume it was out of respect that Norman waited three days after Saudi Arabia executed 81 men for crimes such as “deviant beliefs” to unveil a schedule for the LIV Golf Invitational, a series of tournaments funded by this same regime solely for the purpose of washing things like mass summary executions at home and war crimes abroad.

In multiple media interviews – many of which border on self-serving panegyrics – Norman has continued to prove himself to be a cowardly apologist for the abusers.

“I’m not getting into that political dialogue,” he told Gary Williams, who was among the few to push the big white pilot fish on human rights issues during his 5 Clubs podcast. . “I’m staying focused on what I’m doing and developing the game of golf…I’m not even going to go down that road trying to get into a political discussion about it.”

Imagine a maid cleaning a hotel room that looks like a slaughterhouse without caring how she got to that state. Norman may think the heads rolling in the squares of Riyadh or in a consulate in Istanbul are above his salary, but the stain of his association is undeniable and indelible. And he can’t wait for other top players to take on the same brand.

From June 9-11 in London will be the first event of the LIV Golf Invitational (decide for yourself if the name is a Roman numerical reference to its 54-hole formats or a macabre joke about what the regime does not allow critics to make) . The second tournament is scheduled for July 1-3 in Pumpkin Ridge, Oregon, whose members have simultaneously been hit by a dues hike to upgrade facilities and news that they have been drafted into a sports wash drill.

The policy requires PGA Tour members to obtain permission to participate in events hosted by other tours. Releases are regularly granted to those wishing to bring a silver-looking wheelbarrow home from Asia, Europe and the Middle East, but there are set parameters. The PGA Tour has never granted a waiver to its members to play a tournament held in the United States against its own schedule, and there is no reason to believe that Commissioner Jay Monahan will rescind this policy for invitations to the Norman’s bone saw.

Denial of waivers can trigger litigation that has been unavoidable from the start. In antitrust law, the action could have two fronts: if the PGA Tour erects unfair barriers to prevent a competitor from entering the market, and if the Tour can prevent independent contractors (players) from working for another entity. .

In antitrust, public language matters. That’s why Norman’s March 15 letter to players announcing the series and inviting their participation was probably not written by Norman. The untimely screed he sent to Monahan last month displayed such superficial intellect it should have been scribbled on in pencil. This letter was carefully crafted, stating that LIV Golf would complement the existing ecosystem while providing fans with an enhanced product. The wording is remarkable.

Antitrust law focuses on what is best for the consumer, with three pillars: more options, better quality and lower costs. It’s easy to laugh at the letter describing the Saudi company as a “start-up,” as if it were a scrappy venture aiming for conventional return on investment, but this framing is meant to suggest that a young business is blocked by the Monahan Monolith.

It is debatable whether LIV Golf can claim to provide consumers with a better product given that it provides fewer events, fewer players, fewer holes and fewer viewing opportunities. But even if the PGA Tour is found liable for antitrust violations, the Saudis would have to prove the harm inflicted, which the story says is no easy task.

In the 1980s, the USFL filed a lawsuit accusing the NFL of antitrust violations somewhat similar to what LIV Golf might allege against the PGA Tour. The USFL won but was awarded damages of only $1. By the time the NFL cut a check, the USFL had long been closed. The award was so paltry because the jury felt that the USFL’s inept mismanagement had contributed greatly to its own failure. It would take ingenious advice to defend the naïve awkwardness that has defined the Saudi project over the years. Norman may want to familiarize himself with King Pyrrhus’ “victory” at the Battle of Asculum.

Naturally, the public interest will focus on the player(s) who come forward to be the face(s) of a Saudi-funded lawsuit over their freedom to play wherever they choose. . This too will be long and complex. Monahan doesn’t tell Tour members they can’t play for the Saudis; he tells them they can’t play for the Saudis and still play on the PGA Tour at the same time. To do so, it needs a “pro-competitive rationale” for imposing restrictions on independent contractors. And an argument for that exists.

The PGA Tour lawyer could argue the need to protect its brand image by avoiding confusion over who is playing on which tour, or the need to protect its investments in players – their skills, their health, their potential stress linked to competition on multiple circuits – at best delivering its product, which is competitive golf at an elite level. In short, the PGA Tour’s ability to continue to deliver a product that consumers recognize as their own requires aligned player commitment. These are reasonable legal positions to take, albeit positions poorly conveyed by the Tour, that have allowed a narrative to take root on threats of lifetime bans, which only play into Saudi claims of unjust barriers. .

As hesitant as players must be to become the public faces of a Saudi hijacking of professional golf, there are office buildings full of lawyers salivating for the billable years to come. Any player who demands the right to play with the Saudis and the PGA Tour simultaneously faces a long and lonely road as public sentiment, sponsors and peers turn against them, as Phil Mickelson can attest. PGA Tour pros often peddle a sentimental cliché that the way they play the game reflects their integrity. There is something to that. But in this particular period, it is nonetheless the testimony of the character of a man for whom he plays the game.

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