There was a lot to learn from the Phil Mickelson Saudi Arabia Whoopsie of February: The Saudi government’s murder of Jamal Khashoggi was bad; don’t talk about the evil stuff a country does if you’re taking their money; and make sure you know what “on the record” means. Greg Norman, former pro and would-be CEO of the Saudi-funded LIV Golf league, did not learn from Mickelson’s mistakes.
On Wednesday, Norman held a press conference in London to promote LIV Golf’s first event, and he demonstrated once again why the money in LIV Golf will always come with a followup question. When asked about the murder of Khashoggi, Norman said, “We’ve all made mistakes and you just want to learn from those mistakes and how you can correct them going forward.” Hell, who hasn’t lured a prominent journalist to a consulate under false pretenses in order to dismember them?
Even though Mickelson ruined his own year by talking about who funds LIV Golf, Norman did not take that as a sign to prepare better for interviews. Norman was asked about the recent news that the Saudi state executed 81 people in one day, and said he had no reason to dwell on such news. “I’m not going to get into the quagmire of whatever else happens in someone else’s world,” he said. “I heard about it and just kept moving on.” When pressed about Saudi Arabia’s harsh anti-LGBTQ laws, he said, “I’m not sure whether I even have any gay friends, to be honest with you.”
In an interview with Sky Sports, Norman was asked whether he understood golf fans’ concerns with “a brutal, murderous dictatorship” sponsoring LIV Golf. “100 percent,” Norman said. “That’s reprehensible, what’s happened with Khashoggi, right? Own up to it. Talk about it. But if you go back into Saudi Arabia, they’re making a cultural change within to change that. They don’t want to have that stigma sitting over there.” Yeah, and that might be why they’re funding your opulent golf tournament!
In the aftermath of Norman’s disastrous interview, LIV Golf issued a statement that wasn’t quite an apology:
“The killing of Jamal Khashoggi was reprehensible,” the statement said. “Everyone agrees on that, including Greg, as he has said as such previously on many occasions. Greg also knows that golf is a force for good around the world and can help make inroads toward positive change. That is why he is so excited about LIV and that was the point he was making.”
And what about the upcoming tournament Norman was supposed to be promoting? Several players requested to be released for the June LIV Golf tournament in England, but the PGA Tour denied those requests, and reiterated that it would discipline any player who took part in LIV Golf events.
It may seem that the LIV Golf tour has a fairly serious PR problem, but a respected titan of sports journalism thinks it would help to reframe our understanding. Rick Reilly has a new book out, titled So Help Me Golf. Today he released an excerpt, in which he tries to make the case that Mickelson is cooler and better than Tiger Woods, because Mickelson lets him hang out at his house sometimes.
“Is this what we’re doing?” Reilly wrote. “Hating Phil now and worshipping Tiger? Because Phil said some stupid stuff he now regrets about … golf tours?” Reilly has since edited that line and added this bit towards the bottom of the excerpt: “Phil, meanwhile, until this Saudi thing, has been largely scandal-free. But did he kill anybody? What he said was stupid and he regrets it. Dumb mistake. But did he roofie somebody?” Great point, Rick.