Greg Norman will have expected the line of questioning at the media gathering for the first LIV Golf Invitational, so you might think he would have prepared a better answer.
The two-time Open champion is heading up the Saudi-backed series, which this year will feature seven individual events followed by a team championship across four countries, including England and the United States.
But when the questions on Saudi Arabia’s human rights record and, in particular, the murder of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi were asked, it couldn’t have gone much worse for Norman.
“Look, we’ve all made mistakes and you just want to learn from those mistakes and how you can correct them going forward,” the 67-year-old said, before presumably pausing to allow the noise of dozens of jaws dropping to pass.
“Everybody has owned up to it, right? It has been spoken about, from what I’ve read, going on what you guys reported. Take ownership, no matter what it is.”
The US authorities released a report last year which revealed Saudi Arabia’s crown prince Mohammed bin Salman was complicit in Khashoggi’s death, an allegation he has denied.
Norman added that he would have no issue if any golfers taking part in the LIV Golf series wanted to address the human rights topic. Some players already have, including Lee Westwood, who claimed that “Saudi Arabia know they have issues” and are “trying to improve through sport”.
“Every player is entitled to their opinion and their voice,” Norman said.
“This whole thing about Saudi Arabia and Khashoggi and human rights, talk about it, but also talk about the good the country is doing to change its culture.
“There are not many countries that can stand up and be proud of that. They can’t be proud of their past – there are a lot of countries in this world that have a cross to bear too – but they are looking after the younger generation.”
Norman added that he had never met Bin Salman, who also chairs Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund which has invested in multiple sporting events, including Formula 1, boxing and football, as well as golf.
When the subject finally did turn to golf, Norman was still left fighting fires.
A day before Norman’s media engagements, the PGA and DP World Tours dealt a huge blow to his hopes of having top-ranked players in his field when they said anyone taking part in the rebel tour face losing their membership to the main tours.
But Norman, who plans to announced the final field for Centurion on May 27, said LIV have injunctions “ready to go”.
He added: “We are going to back up the players. It will be the players’ choice. I’m not going to begrudge any player who makes a decision to play wherever he wants. We’re giving them the ability because we believe LIV is here for a long period of time.
“If you want to go exclusively to the PGA Tour, happy days, go do it. I guarantee that a lot of people will come eventually to play with LIV Golf.
“I’ve said to the players, ‘We’ve got your back, simple as that.’ We will defend, we will reimburse, and we will represent.”
Norman added that he tried to speak with PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan about but had no reply.
And when asked about players like Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy, who immediately went public with their loyalty to the PGA Tour, Norman simply said: “We don’t need them.”
He added: “If none of the top 20 come, it’s still going ahead.
“Imagine if a 15-year-old kid out of Asia won the first event. He’s the next superstar. That would be the greatest moment in golf because it shows there’s the next generation.”
Everyone’s entitled to our opinions, but it’s safe to say Norman’s vision of “the greatest moment in golf” is slightly different to the rest of us.
We’re not sure golf writers of the future will be looking back fondly on Ouimet’s underdog story, Jack’s 18th, Tiger’s first, and a teenager winning a 48-man invitational in the home counties.
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