Critics of Norman’s moral threshold

The best interview I never did was with Greg Norman. Several years ago, I was a golf magazine editor, and Norman was an appropriate subject for a feature. The interview never took place, in person, because Norman’s “people” said he would only answer submitted questions, in writing.

To say I was reluctant and skeptical is an understatement. I’d never done such an interview, but it was better than nothing, if I chose to publish it. Norman’s responses were interesting if not exceptional, including one anecdote that his mother had more holes-in-one than he did. The story made the cut, because he had taken the time to answer questions in detail, in language that sounded like Greg Norman.

Full disclosure: I was impressed. It’s not popular these days to say nice things about Norman, the target of virtually everybody in traditional golf, for his association with LIV Golf, the rebel tour funded by the government of Saudi Arabia. He is vilified at every turn, because of the Saudis who bombed the World Trade Centre or murdered journalist Jamal Khashoggi. But to say Norman’s golf glove is soaked in blood seems an overreach.

Nobody in their right mind defends perpetrators of such atrocities but anybody ripping Norman for his Saudi ties must acknowledge other facts, such as that the Saudi government’s Public Investment Fund also has financial ties to Disney, Facebook, Citigroup, Boeing, Bank of America, Uber and Starbucks.

Should Norman critics who wouldn’t touch anything he hypes also refuse to fly on Boeing-built planes, to visit Disney World or to buy a Starbucks coffee? Do ordinary people on tight budgets refuse products from China, another country with human rights questions to answer?

Everybody has a moral threshold to cross, a price for looking the other way — I did, albeit minimally, with the written interview. Norman, seemingly driven by obscene riches and notoriety (and also by golf), is comfortable with his threshold. As are golfers who play in LIV events, for money many of them only dream of making on the PGA Tour.

And there are some hockey comparisons worth noting. In 1972, the World Hockey Association took on the NHL with its outlaw status. Bobby Hull was the Norman of his day, ostracized for joining an outlaw league…just for money. That was really the start of free agency in hockey. The NHL — which had its share of suspect owners though none accused of murder — took seven years to absorb the WHA (the PGA shut down Norman’s first attempt to create a worldly tour in months). No WHA then, no Winnipeg Jets today. Jon Rahm led golf’s money winners in 2021 earning $7.7 million. Many hockey players earn more.

Critics of greed in golf should remember: If a golfer plays badly, he earns nothing. The PGA doesn’t come to the rescue of golfers’ driving hundreds of miles in beat-up cars to try and qualify. The wealthiest golfers are irrelevant Norman critics. They don’t need to leave the PGA for LIV.

To be sure, Norman and his followers are open to criticism. However, if the golfers are being chastised for financial ties to Saudi Arabia, they have plenty of company far from the world of golf.