Greg Norman blames Phil Mickelson’s Saudi Arabia comments for golfers bailing on his Tour

Greg Norman's LIV Golf Invitational Series will officially kick off next month in London after months of controversy.

Though several of the biggest names in golf have distanced themselves from the Saudi Arabia-backed league and Norman, there were apparently plenty who were on board before Phil Mickelson’s comments surfaced in February.

"There's no question [Mickelson's comments] hurt," Norman said on Monday, via ESPN’s Mark Schlabach. "It hurt a lot of aspects. It hurt the PGA Tour. It hurt us. It hurt the game of golf. It hurt Phil. So yeah, across all fronts. It wasn't just specifically to us. But it definitely created negative momentum against us."

Mickelson, of course, said in an interview for a book that he was willing to stand with the Saudi’s despite them being “scary motherf***ers.” He was fine with overlooking all of the horrific things they either have done or have been accused of doing — including killing Washington Post reporter Jamal Khashoggi, their record on human rights and more — because “this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reshape how the PGA Tour operates.”

Mickelson’s comments drew immediate backlash, and resulted in him apologizing before taking a step back from golf altogether.

Norman, though, insisted that the league was set to launch just days before The Genesis Invitational kicked off. That week is when essentially every top golfer distanced themselves from Mickelson, Saudi Arabia and LIV Golf.

"We had enough players in our strength of field, or minimal viable product, ready to come on board,” Norman said. “And when all of that happened, everybody got the jitters, and the PGA Tour threatened people with lifetime bans and stuff like that."

Still, even now with the LIV Golf series set to start next month, Norman insists they have enough big players committed — even though there were plenty who he admits backed out.

While their launch clearly didn’t go as planned, Norman is willing to take his time.

“From an expectation standpoint, we've got a lot of interest from significantly named players,” Norman said. “Our mission is to be patient, and we're going to deliver these events and it's up to the players to make their decision on what they want to do as independent contractors."

What about Phil Mickelson?

Mickelson still hasn’t played since he apologized for his comments and took a step back from the PGA Tour earlier this year.

He has, though, applied to play in the first LIV Golf Invitational Series in June and the PGA Championship later this month in Oklahoma.

Though he’s willing to leave it up to Mickelson, Norman said he’d be welcome at any event on his series whenever he wants.

"He's always going to have an open door," Norman said. "It's going to be his decision, his decision only. He's got a few things he has to work out himself, obviously, with the PGA Tour and where he wants to go with them and how he wants to go with them.

“I can't read Phil's mind because I haven't spoken with him. From our perspective, I'm always going to be consistent in that I respect Phil. I respect what he's done for the game of golf, and he's always going to have an open door to any golf tournament he wants to go play as far as I'm concerned."

Phil Mickelson
Phil Mickelson still hasn't played since he apologized for his Saudi Arabia comments earlier this year. (Oisin Keniry/Getty Images)