Greg Norman’s war on the PGA Tour only exists on paper
PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan is unlikely ever to respond to the letter he received this week from Greg Norman, for the same reason he probably wouldn’t hire someone wearing a paper hat. foil and screaming in the street. But if he did respond, Monahan could do worse than follow the example of James Bailey, a former general counsel for the Cleveland Browns.
In 1974, an Akron, Ohio attorney named Dale Cox angrily threatened to sue the Browns over the dangers posed by fans throwing paper airplanes around him in the stadium. Bailey returned the plaintiff’s letter with a reputedly terse response that has been widely publicized over the years.
“Dear Mr. Cox,” he wrote, “I think you should be aware of some asshole signing your name on stupid letters.”
The letter Norman signed his name to is not entirely useless beyond its obvious comic value. He promised a legal fight that could stretch far beyond the sell-by dates of the few remaining players who would be interested in joining Norman’s Saudi-funded Super Golf League, and even Norman’s and Monahan themselves. It also reinforced the perception that the SGL project was hampered by clumsy amateurism, mishandled by people who make a lot of bluster but lack detail.
After congratulating himself on having spent decades fighting for players’ rights to be properly paid – as opposed to the lesser rights of lesser people under his employer’s boot – Norman approached Monahan with a debating dexterity (and a mastery of capitalization) that would be the envy of an eighth grader.
“The Tour is the Players Tour, not your administration’s Tour,” he wrote. “Why do you call the crown jewel in all tournaments outside of the Majors ‘The Players Championship’ and not ‘The Admin Championship? “
“You are guilty of going too far, of being unfair and you are probably in violation of the law.”
If a man is not embarrassed to say these words on behalf of the Saudi government, we guess we should not be embarrassed for him.
The great white pilot fish insisted that Monahan could not ban golfers from playing golf. Monahan hasn’t, although his comments suggest he thinks he can decide if they play on the tour he’s leading, just as McDonald’s might think he has a say in the possibility. for independent franchisees to simultaneously sell Burger King on the same counter. Norman went on to say that top players still wanted to join the League and demanded that they be allowed to make a choice, perhaps forgetting that they had already publicly exercised that choice.
“Competition in all aspects of life, sport and business is healthy,” wrote the man whose boss rules by fiat and exacts revenge by the bone saw. As untimely public comments poured in, the letter smelled like a drunken Facebook post from a suitor turned down in the wee hours. It was a cheap joke disguised as a legal threat, but it indicates that Saudi history has a long way to go, if only out of spite.
Last week Rory McIlroy declared the League “dead in the water”, but that’s only correct if you believe the intention is to deliver a quality product fielding the best players in the world in events that engage the fans. If you instead think the whole business is about sports washing, then it doesn’t matter if the competitors are past their peaks. A Phil Mickelson and a Lee Westwood can be used to present the image of a normalized Saudi state as easily as a Jon Rahm and a Jordan Spieth. Suitability of players should only be measured against the Saudi goal, not the final quality of the product.
So what do Norman and his puppeteers do next?
Despite all the bleating in the letter to Monahan, the Saudis’ motives for a trial are unclear. It is difficult to establish an actionable injury by claiming that the PGA Tour prevents you from establishing a rival business if you have never actually declared your intention to start such a business. That changes if players sign up and then get banned by Monahan, but as of now the Saudis have no declared players and no declared intention to get started.
That leaves potential tactics more suited to irritants than competitors. The Saudis could use economic influence to undermine the DP World Tour schedule in the Middle East. There is a precedent. Last year’s announcement of DP World as the new title sponsor of the former European Tour was delayed for months by Saudi intervention. They could also hold an event in the United States and offer huge appearance fees for players. The PGA Tour has never granted member waivers to play events held in America outside of its own schedule. A refusal to allow members to play a Saudi event in the United States could be used as a Trojan horse to challenge the PGA Tour’s influence over its members and test the limits of independent contractor status.
None of these options represent a path to short-term success for the Saudis.
Until the product and players are revealed, the Super Golf League only exists on paper, much like the war Norman imagines he is waging. What we can infer from the sophomoric tone of his letter to Monahan is that the crown prince’s paper tiger realizes that his dream of launching a viable rival for the PGA Tour is no closer than it seems. was when it was last attempted three decades ago.