Arguably the greatest golfer of all time, Jack Nicklaus, has rejected a $140 million offer to be the face of the controversial new Saudi Arabian-backed golf league, named the LIV Golf International Series.
Nicklaus has a net worth of more than $400 million but said he turned down the lucrative proposal because he is loyal to the PGA Tour, which he helped establish in its modern form.
Instead of Nicklaus, Australian Greg Norman is the frontman for the LIV Golf International Series, beginning in London in June and finishing in Miami in October at a club owned by former US President Donald Trump. The 82-year-old Nicklaus, who won 18 major tournaments and 73 all up across a remarkable professional career, made the stunning admission that he rejected the nine-figure offer in an interview with Fire Pit Collective.
“I was offered something in excess of $100 million (AU$142 million) by the Saudis, to do the job probably similar to the one that Greg is doing,” Nicklaus said.
“I turned it down. Once verbally, once in writing. I said, ‘Guys, I have to stay with the PGA Tour. I helped start the PGA Tour.’”
The LIV Golf International Series is trying to poach the best players in the world, though most have remained loyal to the PGA Tour so far. Outspoken left-hander Phil Mickelson sought permission to play in the first event, but it was denied, so he withdrew from the PGA Championship event that he won in 2021.
Like Mickelson, Norman has come under fire for comments relating to Saudi Arabia’s human rights abuse, including the alleged murder of a journalist at the Saudi embassy in Turkey in 2018, but has continually dismissed the LIV Golf International Series’ threat to the PGA Tour.
“I’m not going to get into politics, I don’t know what the Saudi government does,” Norman said in an interview with The Times.
“I don’t want to get into that. Every country has a cross to bear.”
“They’re not my bosses. We’re independent. I do not answer to Saudi Arabia. I do not answer to their government.
Norman said he believes the new venture, which is backed by more than $2 billion of Saudi money, can coexist with the PGA Tour and European Tour.
“Isn’t competition a good thing? isn’t competition the best thing for business in sport? You don’t have the best soccer team without competition,” he said.
“There hasn’t been competition against the PGA Tour for 53 years, so a monopolist is going to sit back and go: I’ve got to protect what I’ve got.
“What are they scared of? We’re not demanding anything out of the players. They can play one, two, four events, they can play whatever they want to play. It’s their choice.
“Their commitment to the league when it gets to 2024 is because they will own part of a franchise. They’ll be able to go: Okay, I want to be traded for ‘X’. They will be creating value within that team. The value today that doesn’t exist for any player, anywhere in the world.
“It’s up to them to make that decision. Personally, I wish I had this opportunity.
“We are not trying to destroy the Tour. 100% not. I will fight to my death on that one. I’m still a lifetime member of the PGA Tour.”
He added: “I can tell you this though: 36 of the top 150 players are playing, there’s 19 of the top 100, and six of the top 50 in that first event. Which is pretty impressive.”
The new LIV Golf Invitational Series includes plans for a 14-tournament global super league within two years’ time,
The inaugural tournament will begin on June 9th at St Albans in England. The prize purse is more than $30 million.