LONDON – Just this spring, Greg Norman, who lifted the Claret Cup twice to win the British Open, sought a special exemption to play in this week’s tournament in St Andrews in Scotland.
The answer was unequivocal: No.
And it’s not just that Norman, whose role in the new LIV Golf series has made him an outcast in some golf circles, has no place on the field for Norman, it turns out Norman wasn’t even invited to dinner.
R&A, which organizes the Open, over the weekend became the latest golf corner to say it threw Norman into exile, temporarily removing him from even the traditional dinner-time gathering of former Open Championship champions. The move made this week’s tournament, the last of this year’s four major golf tournaments, the latest flash point as players and executives publicly clash on LIV Golf, the Saudi-funded Rebel league that once made Norman’s sport emphatically ruled.
In a polite but firm statement, R&A made it clear that it had chosen a side. She said she called Norman “to inform him that we have decided not to invite him to attend on this occasion.”
“The 150th Open is a very important milestone for golf and we want to ensure that the focus remains on celebrating the tournament and its heritage,” said R&A. “Unfortunately, we don’t think that will be the case if Greg attends. We hope that when conditions permit, Greg will be able to attend again in the future.”
Leaf Golf, the main financial backer of the Saudi sovereign wealth fund, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. But Norman, chief executive of LIV, told Australia Golf Digest he was “disappointed” and thought the decision was “trivial”.
“I would have thought the R&A team would have been above all because of its position in world golf,” said Norman, who had his singles wins in Grand Slam openings in 1986 at Turnberry and in 1993 at Royal St. George.
The public tangle between Norman, 67, and R&A began in April when he expressed confidence in the Australian news media that he could get an exemption from the Open rules – which allow former champions to enter this qualification on their own if they are 60 years old. Or less — and play in the 150th round of the tournament, set to begin on Thursday at Old Stadium in St Andrews, Scotland.
Word soon returned that R&A would not offer Norman such an exemption. (The board is flexible: it has agreed to accept Mark Kalkavica, the 62-year-old professional who won the Royal Tron in 1989, because the Open Championship that was expected to be his farewell in 2020 was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic. He was recovering from surgery last summer.)
But interest in—and scrutiny on—Norman only increased in the months he brokered, attracting major champions like Dustin Johnson, Phil Mickelson and Patrick Reed to the LIV series, severing their ties to the PGA Tour and turning golf into a cauldron of sharpness. His comments in May, refusing to kill Saudi Arabia and dismember a Washington Post journalist, by saying, “Look, we’ve all made mistakes,” drew fresh criticism.
Norman isn’t the first major champion to miss a handful of previous winners this year due to outrage linked to Saudi Arabia. Mickelson, a three-time Masters champion, was absent from the event when it was held at Augusta National Golf Club in April after denouncing Saudi Arabia’s “horrible human rights record” but said the LIV was a “once in a lifetime opportunity to reshape how it operates.” PGA Tour”.
Mickelson is expected to play at St Andrews this week.
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