Greg Norman has been accused by US lawmakers of “pimping a billion dollars of Saudi Arabian money” and of spreading “propaganda”.
Norman, the chief executive of LIV Golf, spoke with several high-ranking American politicians in his visit to Capitol Hill on Wednesday, and in some quarters his input was welcomed as the debate over the PGA Tour and anti-competition rules intensifies.
But some of those Congress representatives who consented to address the media following Norman’s 20-minute presentation to the Republican Study Committee were not at all complimentary about his lobbying for the Saudi-funded circuit.
"Don't come in here and act like you're doing some great thing, while you're pimping a billion dollars of Saudi Arabian money," Chip Roy, a representative of Texas said.
"I respect Greg and his [right] to go out and do whatever he wants to do. But it's not as simple as he tries to make it out to be… this isn't about pure competition. Don't come in here and try to sell me something that is not what you're actually selling.
'It's not Congress' business to settle a fight between a bunch of billionaires over a game of golf'
"You're selling something that is very much in bed with the Saudis, so the Saudis can accomplish their objective and Greg can accomplish his. He's always wanted to have a rival operation to take on the tour, and he's been unable to do it until he got a billion-dollar sugar daddy known as the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia."
Another representative, Tim Burchett, told ESPN he walked out of Norman’s talk, in which the Australian attempted to give "both sides of the story for them to understand what LIV is all about".
"It's propaganda," Burchett said. "I don't want to hear about that. It's not Congress' business to settle a fight between a bunch of billionaires over a game of golf."
Burchett also posted on Twitter to reference Saudi connections to the 9/11 attacks and the Kingdom’s role in the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a US citizen.
— Tim Burchett (@timburchett) September 21, 2022
Norman might have been surprised to encounter such opposition from the right-wing think tank, particularly as it has close ties with former President Donald Trump. Burchett put his name to a lawsuit filed at the Supreme Court trying to overturn the results of the 2020 election.
'They don't want to talk about Saudi Arabia'
Trump has a stake in LIV with two of his courses hosting £20 million events this year, including the grand climax in Miami next month. Roy mentioned Trump’s involvement in his claim that Norman had ducked the sportswashing concerns.
"They honestly didn't want to talk about Saudi Arabia," Roy said. "It was pitched as something to come in there and kind of explain that and talk about it – but I felt it was very clear they didn't want to. Former President Trump, who by the way is financially interested in LIV, has said this is a billion dollars of publicity for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. They're just kind of dismissing it."
In a post on social media, Norman thanked the politicians for meeting him. "To the 100 bipartisan lawmakers I met within the past 24 hours on The Hill: thank you," he wrote. "Freedom of speech and free enterprise form the bedrock of what this country was founded on. Competition is a vital part of the DNA of the USA."
(Pt.2) of the DNA of the USA. Competition breeds excellence. Without competition, there is no capitalism.
I enjoyed meeting each & every one of you and sharing our vision of golf diplomacy. On a national level as well as a global level this is true: golf is a force for good. pic.twitter.com/a67UOoaYfa
— Greg Norman (@SharkGregNorman) September 22, 2022
According to reports Norman told lawmakers he would testify to Congress, if the issue ever gets that far. The Department of Justice has opened an investigation into whether the PGA Tour is illegally trying to block competition, while LIV Golf and several of its golfers have filed motions against the Tour for suspending members.
Matt Gaetz, one of Trump’s principal allies in Congress, praised the two-time major winner for his pledge.
"I'm very encouraged that Mr. Norman offered to give testimony to the House Judiciary Committee during my discussion with him today," Gaetz said in a statement to ESPN. "He has a wealth of knowledge regarding the role of golf in culture and in the world. I believe the country would benefit from hearing more about his perspective."