Greg Norman, whose breakaway golf circuit has thrown the sport into chaos, is not pleased that he was not invited by British Open officials to play in this week’s Celebration of Champions, a four-hole exhibition and dinner for former winners that precedes every British Open played at the Old Course at St. Andrews in Scotland.
“I’m disappointed. I would have thought the R&A would have stayed above it all given their position in world golf,” Norman, a two-time British Open winner, told Australian Golf Digest. “[It’s] petty, as all I have done is promote and grow the game of golf globally, on and off the golf course, for more than four decades.”
Norman is the chief executive of the LIV Golf Invitational Series, the Saudi-funded circuit that has lured some of the game’s top names away from the PGA and European tours. He has been criticized for downplaying Saudi Arabia’s spotty human-rights record, and the R&A declined to invite him to this year’s Celebration of Champions. Norman said the group sent him a letter saying he was not welcome.
“The 150th Open is an extremely important milestone for golf and we want to ensure that the focus remains on celebrating the championship and its heritage,” the R&A said in a statement. “Unfortunately, we do not believe that would be the case if Greg were to attend.”
The R&A previously said that any golfer who had qualified for the British Open could play in this year’s tournament. The PGA and European tours have suspended and/or fined the golfers who joined LIV Golf, but they have no say on who gets to play in majors.
Norman himself expressed a desire to play in this year’s British Open, saying earlier that “I think I can still get in” and writing the R&A to ask for an exemption. Past champions 60 and younger — or past champions older than 60 who won the tournament within the previous 10 years — receive automatic invitations to the British Open, but Norman is 67 and last won in 1993. He hasn’t played in the tournament since 2009; he could have entered through 2015 as a past champion but didn’t, saying he didn’t want to take a spot from younger players.
The R&A did not play along.
“We have no plans for any additional exemptions,” it said.
Jack Nicklaus, Norman’s former mentor and a vocal supporter of the PGA Tour, called Norman “an icon in the game of golf” during a news conference Monday. Norman previously called Nicklaus a “hypocrite” for criticizing LIV.
“We’ve been friends for a long time, and regardless of what happens, he’s going to remain a friend,” Nicklaus said Monday. “Unfortunately, he and I just don’t see eye to eye in what’s going on. I’ll basically leave it at that.”
The Celebration of Champions takes place the Monday before the tournament. Previous British Open and Women’s British Open winners play the first, second, 17th and 18th holes at the Old Course before a dinner in their honor. The British Open begins Thursday.
“We are deliberately inviting a field that represents the past, present and future of this game we all love and reflects our purpose to ensure that golf is seen as welcoming, accessible and can be played by anyone who wants to,” the R&A said. “It will be a lot of fun and we look forward to revealing the full draw on Monday before enjoying a fitting celebration of this great Championship at the home of golf.”