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Greg Norman: LIV Golf Investments CEO says golf series not a threat to PGA Tour and dismisses links to Saudi government

The former two-time major winner is the chief executive of LIV Golf Investments, which will stage its inaugural invitational tournament worth a record $25m at the Centurion Club near St Albans between June 9-11

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Gregg Norman told Jamie Weir that LIV Golf Investments is independent and will not answer to the Saudi government or Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud.

Greg Norman says his new Saudi-backed invitational golf series is not trying to destroy the PGA Tour, hoping instead that the new venture offers players more choice and grows the game.

Norman is the chief executive of LIV Golf Investments, which will stage its inaugural tournament worth a record $25m at the Centurion Club near St Albans between June 9-11.

In an exclusive interview with Sky Sports News' Jamie Weir, Norman also defended the source of the $2bn financial backing that comes from the Saudi's Public Investment Fund, insisting "I do not answer to Saudi Arabia" amid accusations of 'sports washing' given the country's human rights record.

Golfers who have already sought permission to play the inaugural Centurion event include six-time major winner Phil Mickelson and English stars Lee Westwood and Richard Bland. Others rumoured to be interested include Sergio Garcia, Ian Poulter and Martin Kaymer, but Norman has refused to label the LIV Series a 'breakaway' tour.

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Lee Westwood says many players have requested a release from the PGA Tour and DP World Tour to play in the new Saudi-backed LIV Golf Invitational Series.

'My goal for 45 years has been to grow the game of golf'

Norman would not confirm any participants but said he was "very proud" at the number of top golfers LIV has got to commit.

"The releases having been submitted, and we're going to see what happens with the European Tour and the PGA Tour, but I can tell you this though: 36 of the top 150 players are playing, there's 19 of the top 100, and six of the top 50 in that first event. Which is pretty impressive.

Image: Phil Mickelson (L), pictured here chatting to Greg Norman, is one of the likely participants in the new Saudi-backed series

"And pretty impressive because there's been a lot of white noise saying players wouldn't even show up.

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"I've been very proud that players have been making their choices as independent contractors, to make a decision to go and play golf wherever they want to go and play golf.

"I'm very proud of the fact that we've given them this opportunity. Me as a player, it's been my goal for 45 years to grow the game of golf for players and fans and stakeholders around the world."

Norman: I do not answer to Saudi Arabia

The two-time major champion was asked how he felt working with the Saudi regime considering their human rights issues and alledged murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi embassy in Turkey back in 2018.

Norman said that he understood people's concerns about the source of the money funding the tour and the human rights violations in Saudi Arabia, but added that the country was making a "cultural change from within" and that he specifically has no ties to the government.

"100 per cent [I understand]," Norman said. "And it's reprehensible what happened with [Jamal] Khashoggi. Own up to it, talk about it.

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Golf Channel's Eamon Lynch says Lee Westwood is complicit in sports-washing after requesting to be released from the PGA Tour to play in the first Saudi-backed golf event.

"But if you go back into Saudi Arabia, they're making a cultural change from within to change that. They don't want to have that stigma sitting over there.

"The generation of kids that I see today on the driving range, they don't want that stigma going on into generations and their kids. They want to change that culture and they are changing it.

"And you know how they're doing it? Golf."

Image: Greg Norman insists he does not answer to the Saudi Arabia government in his role as CEO of LIV Golf Investments

Norman added: "I'm not going to get into politics, I don't know what the Saudi government does. I don't want to get into that. Every country has a cross to bear.

"They're not my bosses. We're independent. I do not answer to Saudi Arabia. I do not answer to their government or MBS [Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud].

"I answer to my board of directors, and MBS is not on that. Simple as that. So that narrative is untrue."

'We're not trying to destroy the PGA Tour'

The new LIV Golf Invitational Series includes plans for a 14-tournament global super league within two years' time, but Norman was again keen to stress that this could run alongside the PGA Tour.

"We're not a breakaway," Norman said. "We're additive to the golf eco-system.

"When the players understand that, they get more confidence in the voice that they have, and in the choice that they have.

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After PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan said the tour was about 'legacy and not leverage' after rumours of a Saudi-backed golf league, Jaime Diaz looks at what golf needs to keep the fans interested.

He added: "Isn't competition a good thing? isn't competition the best thing for business in sport? You don't have the best soccer team without competition.

"There hasn't been competition against the PGA Tour for 53 years, so a monopolist is going to sit back and go: I've got to protect what I've got.

"What are they scared of? We're not demanding anything out of the players. They can play one, two, four events, they can play whatever they want to play. It's their choice.

"Their commitment to the league when it gets to 2024 is because they will own part of a franchise. They'll be able to go: Okay, I want to be traded for 'X'. They will be creating value within that team. The value today that doesn't exist for any player, anywhere in the world.

"It's up to them to make that decision. Personally, I wish I had this opportunity.

"We are not trying to destroy the Tour. 100 per cent not. I will fight to my death on that one. I'm still a lifetime member of the PGA Tour."

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