NAPLES, Fla. — The most polarizing figure in golf is not at the event he founded 34 years ago. Yet his Fingerprints remain all over the course.
The QBE Shootout at Tiburon Golf Course was known as the Shark Shootout until it was decided Greg Norman — The Great White Shark — had to step away because of his involvement with the controversial LIV Golf series. While Norman said he was “asked not to attend,” tournament director Rob Hartman said Wednesday it was “a very collaborative decision,” that involved discussions with Norman.
Still, that doesn’t mean Norman has been wiped clean from the event. That never will happen with something he founded, is played on a course he designed and basically named after him.
“Tiburon” means “shark” in Spanish. The course’s logo features a shark fin and the grandstands overlooking the 18th green continue to be called the Shootout Shark Club.
Almost everything sold on the property is a reminder of Norman, including a neighborhood. You pass Norman Estates before entering the clubhouse.
“To not have him around is kind of a weird deal,” said Steve Stricker. “But understand the situation it has come down to and how polarized some of these entities are against each other.”
Norman is the CEO of LIV Golf, the Breakaway league financed by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund. LIV and the PGA Tour have become bitter rivals after several players defected from the tour to join LIV. What has followed is a lot of rhetoric and name-calling along with lawsuits and court battles.
Norman, who lives in Palm Beach Gardens, clearly has a vendetta against the PGA Tour going back decades. Teaming with the Saudis to create LIV Golf was more than “growing the game of golf.”
Exclusive Q&A:Greg Norman’s vision for LIV Golf, PGA Tour players creating ‘firestorm of controversy,’ and more
Sign up for our sports newsletter: All the sports news you need to know delivered right to you!
So Norman’s involvement in a tournament sanctioned by the PGA Tour was not going to happen. Ironically, the QBE Shootout is as close to a LIV format as you will get on the PGA Tour. The tournament is 54 holes (or LIV holes) with a team format — 12 two-person teams. LIV’s events comprise 12 four-man teams.
“We sat down months and months ago with him and our corporate partners,” Hartman said. “We had several discussions. The decision was made for Greg to step back and really allow the focus to be on our charitable partners.”
Defending Champions Jason Kokrak, Kevin Na also missing
Norman’s is not the only glaring omission. Defending Champions Jason Kokrak and Kevin Na are ineligible for any PGA-sanctioned event after joining LIV.
The participants, of which there are 24, are not surprised Norman is not on-site. LIV dominated sports headlines this summer, especially its feud with the PGA Tour, and it was ugly.
“You kind of understood what was going to happen and the separation,” Matt Kuchar said. “It’s been a bit messy at times, the division between the PGA Tour and the LIV tour. You’ve got a couple of stubborn sides that are being stubborn.
“It’s a shame,” Kuchar continued. “What he started is great. I think his Legacy will continue on. I think people will remember Greg is the one who started this.”
Stricker, who is playing in his 14th shootout, said earlier this season that “morally” he doesn’t think he could play on the LIV tour. But he added that’s the 55-year-old Stricker talking, not one who was being offered “a crap load” of money in his prime. If that happened, he said, he is not sure what he would do.
“It’s just a strange time in golf in general,” Stricker said. “Greg has been a fixture with this event.
“It kind of makes me sad to see groups like this fighting in a sport where we’re gentlemen, we’re supposed to get along, right? Hopefully, they come up with a solution and a common ground.”
Lexi Thompson still thinks highly of Norman
Lexi Thompson, who lives in Delray Beach, is one of two women in the field, along with world No. 2 Nelly Korda. Thompson, No. 7 in the world, is returning for the sixth time. The only other woman to participate in the event was Annika Sorenstam in 2006.
“I didn’t really know what to expect,” Thompson said. “It’s been kind of a whirlwind with what’s happened and what’s going on. I knew the tournament would do great things with (Norman) or without him.
“Greg’s great. He’s done amazing things for the game of golf. It’s definitely a little bit different.”
Norman posted a statement on social media in September, when it was announced he would not attend. He continued to defend his position with LIV.
“I have been asked not to attend,” he wrote. “Why one might ask? Perhaps it is because I am helping to give golf a new heartbeat, creating new value and delivering a new product that is loved by players, fans and Broadcasters alike.”
He added he is “finally giving players their rights as independent contractors” and the “evolution and innovation of the professional golf product has been needed for decades.”
Norman’s future involvement in the tournament that has been as much a part of his Legacy as anything he’s done in golf — until this summer — is very much in jeopardy.
While Kuchar, for one, believes the two Leagues Someday will align — “100 percent, I think there is no doubt,” he said — that seems very unlikely.
And if that is the case, whatever you believe about Norman, the work he did with the Shootout and the money raised, more than $15 million for charity, most notably CureSearch for Children’s Cancer, cannot be overlooked.
This article Originally appeared on Palm Beach Post: LIV Golf’s Greg Norman not at QBE Shootout for first time in 34 years