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Golf at St. Andrews is real, which is why it has no room for Greg Norman

Greg Norman called the Royal & Ancient's decision to not invite him to a dinner for former champions “petty.” (Steve Dykes/Getty Images)

That fake knockoff handbag known as Greg Norman is not welcome at the British Open, which is as it should be because the Old Course at St. Andrews is the real thing. The epochal old stones are real, the centuries-deep swales worn by sheep are real, and the stress and stakes as a player approaches the final holes with the claret jug waiting are real. Norman, with his sham cause and counterfeit LIV Golf circuit, simply doesn’t belong in the landscape any more than an imitation Gucci purse.

“Petty,” Norman labeled the Royal & Ancient, for refusing to include him in the Celebration of Champions exhibition and dinner. Really? This sour, mean-spirited money junkie with his 40-year grudge is calling others small? Norman paints himself as a wronged eminence, disappointed that the R&A didn’t “rise above” and recognize his historical stature. “All I have done is promote and grow the game of golf globally, on and off the golf course, for more than four decades,” he told Australian Golf Digest. That’s some magic mirror Norman must look into if he thinks his ugly, predatory work for the murderous Saudi state, his chronic whining and his gimmicky golf should make him admired, much less honored.

Let’s be frank. LIV Golf is nothing more than a vanity project for Norman and his insatiable materialism — and an exhibition-money scam for early-retiree divas who are terrified of having to fly commercial again someday. By the way, the supposed hundreds of millions in guaranteed contracts for a handful of stars — has anyone seen the actual written terms, the details of what Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson will have to do to collect that blood-spattered coin, or is everyone just taking the word of Norman and a few agents trying to whip up commissions that it’s all free ice cream?

Greg Norman is throwing his sport into chaos again. This time, he’s doing it with Saudi money.

LIV Golf has no meaning. That’s the biggest problem with it. It’s as vacuous and absent of real content as its empty, tinny CEO and promoter, Norman. And the arrival of the world’s best players at St. Andrews for a four-day wind-whipped trial of real substance — and the oldest prize in the game — has highlighted just how empty it is.

For years, Norman has seethed that the PGA Tour didn’t take his ideas for innovating a worldwide tour seriously. It turns out his ideas are junk. LIV Golf claims to “reinvigorate golf through a structure that adds value to the entire sport.” Norman’s structure devalues every hole and every stroke into rubbish. Most criticism of LIV Golf has focused on the noncompetitive, no-cut, 54-hole format with locked-in appearance money and grotesque purses. The worst scrounger in the world, a Pat Perez, is guaranteed to make $120,000 for three days of play and can still gorge himself on a private Saudi jet even if he never breaks 100.

But the real giveaway that it’s nothing more than giggly customer golf is the shotgun start, that age-old feature of the drunken member-guest. Play out the implication of a shotgun start on the Old Course at St. Andrews, and it suddenly becomes obvious how the LIV circuit leeches the meaning out of golf.

Tiger Woods calmly condemns Greg Norman, LIV Golf before British Open

A championship course — the real thing — is set up to force difficult late-round strategic decisions, not just in relation to the holes but to other players on the critical parts of the course. A shotgun start destroys all of that. When all groups of players tee off simultaneously from different holes, it makes for chum, not competition. Players who begin on No. 12 will finish on the 11th green. It would rob the magnificently difficult 17th “Road Hole” and the gloriously scenic, drivable 18th with its stone Swilcan Bridge, the forbidding out-of-bounds rail fence and deep Valley of Sin, of much of their threat and strategic import.

There is no meaning, no tension-build, no narrative to LIV Golf’s structure. It’s inherently unwatchable. That’s because it’s not built to make golf better. It’s built to make golf easier — and to lure players already drenched in conveniences such as courtesy cars, with more comforts and a chance to “expand their wealth,” as Norman told Brian Kilmeade of Fox News. Just 54 holes? No winnowing players from the field after two rounds? Money guaranteed?

“What is the incentive to practice?” Tiger Woods observed acutely. “What is the incentive to go out there and earn it in the dirt?”

Superimposed against a British Open at St. Andrews, LIV Golf is exposed as the embarrassment it is. It becomes completely understandable why none of the major governing bodies will recognize it with world ranking points or credit toward Ryder Cup qualification. It is not tournament golf. As Woods added, “72-hole tests are part of it.”

Barry Svrluga: LIV Golf’s wealth is absurd. So is its product.

Let’s call it what it is: a cocktail joyride on a Saudi thug-sheikh’s company plane. No wonder LIV golfers seem to have so swiftly lost their competitive edge — they are not competing.

Norman has railed that the PGA Tour is acting as “an illegal monopoly” in its opposition to LIV Golf, a claim the Justice Department is looking into, the Wall Street Journal reported. But a similar claim was dismissed in 1994, and even a cursory inquiry will show that the PGA Tour is not engaging in anticompetitive behavior for the simple reason that LIV Golf is not a real golf event. The PGA Tour has every right to oppose its members appearing in unranked, unapproved junk that will compromise or dilute the quality of the game — just as Gucci has every right to fight the proliferation of counterfeit goods.

What makes tournament golf compelling is that it’s a meritocracy posed against nature’s inherent caprices. A champion not only has to master 14 clubs in the bag but hold himself together in the face of charges from peers as well as gusts, rain and sand and events he may not deserve. Norman’s idea of golf is all about a surfeit and an ease that no one deserves — or earns.