Greg Norman: Golf superstar turned pioneer

·3-min read

Former world number one Greg Norman will watch from the sidelines on Thursday as stars including Phil Mickelson launch a controversial bid to revolutionise golf.

The Australian two-time major winner is the figurehead of the Saudi-funded LIV Golf Invitational Series, which is challenging the sport's status quo.

But it is not the first time the golfer-turned-businessman, 67, has been a disruptor.

In 1994, Norman was at the forefront of plans to establish a World Golf Tour featuring the top players, an idea that failed to get off the ground in the face of opposition from the golfing establishment.

Now he has returned as part of a project bankrolled by enormous Saudi funds.

Forty-eight players will tee off at the Centurion Club in St Albans, near London, with $25 million -- the biggest-ever prize purse for a golf tournament -- on offer.

It is the first of eight tournaments in the inaugural LIV series -- with plans to expand over the coming years.

There has been strong pushback from golf's establishment, including the US PGA Tour, which has threatened players with sanctions, and the source of the funding has proved controversial.

But Norman is bullish, with a growing number of global stars coming on board, including six-time major winner Mickelson and Dustin Johnson.

"We've got $2 billion backing us," Norman said at last month's launch event. "We've got an incredible legal team, and we're still going to defend the rights of the players going forward."

Norman believes golfers should be free, as independent contractors, to play where they like and should not be ruled by the established tours.

The charismatic Australian raises the profile of the LIV series but it has not all been plain sailing in the build-up to the launch event.

Amnesty International last month criticised Norman over "wrong and seriously misguided" remarks about Saudi Arabia's human rights record and the 2018 murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Norman, when quizzed by reporters at the Centurion Club, referred to past "mistakes".

Saudi agents killed and dismembered Khashoggi, an insider turned critic, in the kingdom's Istanbul consulate in October 2018. His remains have never been found.

Fallout from the killing continues to mar Saudi Arabia's image, especially in the United States.

- Great White Shark -

Norman, dubbed the "Great White Shark", cut a dashing figure on courses across the globe with his flowing blond locks, winning his first professional event in 1976 at the age of 21.

He began competing on the US PGA Tour full-time in 1983, winning 20 titles, and became one of the most dominant players in the world in the 1980s and 90s.

Norman went on to win 91 professional tournaments in total, including two British Open titles.

He won his first major at the 1986 British Open at Turnberry, repeating the feat at Royal St George's in 1993.

He was world number one for 331 weeks -- the second-longest spell on record -- but also had many disappointments on golf's biggest stages.

His famous collapse at the 1996 Masters, where he was overtaken by Britain's Nick Faldo despite enjoying a six-stroke advantage ahead of the final round, was one of eight second-place finishes in majors.

Norman, inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2001, has also become a high-profile figure off the golf course.

He is the chairman and CEO of the Greg Norman Company, a global corporation with diverse interests including sportswear, wine and golf course design.

The Australian has been married three times, including a short-lived marriage to retired US tennis star Chris Evert.

Norman, who married interior designer Kirsten Kutner in 2010, has two children from his first marriage to Laura Andrassy, and three grandchildren.

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