For the same reason that he wouldn’t confront someone wearing a tinfoil hat and yelling in the street, PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan is unlikely to respond to Greg Norman’s letter he received this week. If Monahan does respond, he should follow the lead of James Bailey, a former general counsel for the Cleveland Browns.
Dale Cox, an attorney from Akron, Ohio, threatened to sue the Browns in 1974 because of the dangers posed by fans firing paper airplanes around him at the stadium. Bailey’s famously curt answer to the complainant’s letter has been extensively circulated throughout the years.
“I feel that you should be informed that some jerk is signing your name to ridiculous letters,” he wrote.
Aside from its obvious humorous value, the letter to which Norman signed his name isn’t wholly useless. It predicted a court battle that may last far beyond the sell-by dates of the few remaining players thought to be interested in Norman’s Saudi-funded Super Golf League, and even Norman and Monahan’s own tenures. It also confirmed the impression that the SGL project has been plagued by bungling amateurism, mismanaged by people who are great on bravado but short on details.
After congratulating himself on spending decades fighting for the rights of players to be fairly compensated—as opposed to the less important rights of the less important people under his employer’s boot—Norman addressed Monahan with debating dexterity (and capitalization command) that would make an eighth-grader jealous.
He wrote, “The Tour is the Players Tour, not your administration’s Tour.” “Why is it called “The Players Championship” instead than “The Administration’s Championship” in all tournaments outside of the Majors?”
“You’ve gone too far, you’ve been unfair, and you’re probably breaking the law.”
We shouldn’t be embarrassed for him if he isn’t embarrassed to utter those things on behalf of the Saudi Arabian government.
Monahan cannot prohibit golfers from playing, according to the great white pilot fish. Monahan hasn’t really done that, but his words suggest that he believes he has the authority to decide whether they play on the circuit he organizes, much like McDonald’s would believe it has the authority to decide whether independent franchisees can serve Burger King at the same time. Norman went on to say that prominent players are still interested in joining the League and requested that they be given the opportunity to do so, seemingly forgetting that they had already done so openly.
“Competition is healthy in all facets of life, sport, and business,” wrote the man whose boss reigns by edict and exacts vengeance with a bonesaw. As far as inebriated public statements go, the letter smelled like a jilted suitor’s late-night Facebook post. It was a load of nonsense dressed up as a legal threat, but it does show that the Saudi story has a long way to go, if only for the sake of spite.
Rory McIlroy declared the League “dead in the sea” last week, but that’s only true if you believe the goal is to produce a high-quality product featuring the world’s greatest players in tournaments that attract spectators. If you feel that the entire business is about sportswashing, it doesn’t matter if your competitors are past their prime. Phil Mickelson and Lee Westwood, just as easily as Jon Rahm and Jordan Spieth, may be used to create the picture of a normalized Saudi state. The importance of players should be judged solely in connection to the Saudi aim, not the final product’s quality.
So, what’s next for Norman and his puppeteers?
Despite the bleating in the letter to Monahan, the Saudis’ legal arguments aren’t apparent. It’s difficult to demonstrate actionable injury in a claim that the PGA Tour is prohibiting you from starting a competing business if you’ve never announced your intention to do so. That may change if players sign up and then are banned by Monahan, but for the time being, the Saudis have no players and no plans to begin.
As a result, prospective strategies are better suited to irritants than competitors. The Saudis could use their economic clout to sabotage the Middle East leg of the DP World Tour. There’s precedent for this. A Saudi intervention delayed the announcement of DP World as the old European Tour’s new title sponsor by several months last year. They may even hold an event in the United States and pay players astronomical appearance fees. The PGA Tour has never given waivers for members to compete in events conducted in the United States that are not on the tour’s schedule. The PGA Tour’s refusal to allow members to compete in a Saudi event in the United States might be used as a Trojan horse to test the limitations of the independent contractor status and challenge the PGA Tour’s authority over its members.
None of these choices provide the Saudis a route to near-term success.
The Super Golf League, like the battle Norman imagines himself fighting, exists only on paper until both the product and the players are revealed. The Crown Prince’s paper tiger is realizing, as seen by the sophomoric tone of his letter to Monahan, that his dream of forming a credible challenger to the PGA Tour is no closer than it was three decades ago.