Lynch: Saudis have Greg Norman to thank for their U.S. legal nightmare

While traveling to LIV Golf’s season-opening event in Mexico, Greg Norman posted to social media two photos of himself on a private jet, one as he read, the other while gazing meditatively through the window. The accompanying caption read: “Books are the training weights of the mind — Epictetus.”

In keeping with the custom of his every waking hour, it was carefully staged image-building, suggesting a swashbuckling captain of industry on another successful sortie. With the time spent curating selfies, Norman could have scrolled to another quote from Epictetus — or, more accurately, from his transcribing student Arrian, since the Greek Stoic himself left no writings: “Neither should a ship rely on one small anchor, nor should life rest on a single hope.”

Norman’s LIV Golf has a solitary anchor that prevents it from being dashed on the rocks of commercial reality, the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia. When it comes to an ability to throw good money after bad, the PIF is an enviable ally to have. But as Norman opens LIV’s second season with his trademark delusional enthusiasm masquerading as unstoppable momentum, he must worry that legal developments in California’s Northern District might prompt that affluent anchor to cast him adrift.

The past week brought disappointments that the flaxen-haired finger puppet has seldom experienced outside of Augusta National.

On Feb. 16, the court rejected arguments by the Saudi investment fund and its governor, Yasir Al-Rumayyan, that they should not have to comply with discovery requests in LIV’s antitrust action against the PGA Tour. Producing documents or submitting to a deposition, Saudi lawyers argued, would violate sovereign immunity and endanger Al-Rumayyan, who is under no illusions about the mercurial brutality of the Crown Prince for whom he functions as bagman (hey, caveat emptor!). But because Al-Rumayyan is involved in decision-making and the Fund owns 93% of LIV (while paying 100% of its costs), the pretense of being a mere investor was dismissed and the court compelled them to comply.

Then, on Feb. 21 Judge Beth Labson Freeman granted the Tour’s request to add Al-Rumayyan and the Fund as co-defendants in its countersuit against LIV that alleges interference with player contracts. Now a party in the litigation, the Saudi Fund and its chief can no longer rebuff the jurisdiction of the very court whose protection they sought. Within hours, the Kingdom signaled that it would file an amicus brief in support of, well, itself, about how intolerable this whole justice concept is proving to be.

The Saudi reluctance to submit to America’s permissive discovery process hardly requires explanation. Even if the court placed strict parameters on discovery, the process carries huge risk as PIF investments — known and stealth, commercial and political — are subjected to scrutiny and potential exposure. That might strike Al-Rumayyan as an awfully high price to continue underwriting Norman’s folly.

This litigation exists for one reason: to make real the fantasy that Norman sold his players — the PGA Tour had no right to ban them (it does), and that they would be permitted to play LIV events and whatever Tour stops they wish to cherry pick (they won’t). Players who bought his bill of goods must by now realize that Norman’s vows dissolve quicker than those of Zsa Zsa Gabor (Google her, kids).

The promised major broadcast rights deal became a giveaway to a little-watched network whose affiliates prefer Judge Judy reruns to tournament action. The promised stampede of blue-chip sponsors yielded one low-profile shipping outfit. The promised signings of seven star players delivered Dean Burmester and Danny Lee, who wouldn’t be considered top-drawer in a one-drawer world. Instead, the promised frenzy of off-season trading among teams with names like RangeGoats and Majesticks produced only the sobering realization that an enterprise aimed at the young is hostage to middle-aged marketing dorks.

No wonder Norman has taken to quoting a Stoic who believed that events are beyond our control and that we ought to calmly accept whatever comes our way.

Deadlines now loom by which the Saudis must show a good faith effort to meet their legal obligations, but the likelihood of the Public Investment Fund or Al-Rumayyan submitting to probing by PGA Tour lawyers is about the same as Norman finally getting that green jacket. That raises the prospect of LIV’s antitrust claim being withdrawn or dismissed, which would strand players as castaways on Greg’s Gilligan’s Island and force a reckoning on the Saudi commitment to a product that can’t gain traction in the only market that can confer serious commercial viability.

Sharks have a blind spot right in front of their snouts, so it’s unsurprising that Norman swaggered into federal court and declared victory before the ink was dry on his specious claims. But even he must by now grasp the predicament in which he has placed his employer. Thanks to Norman, Al-Rumayyan is learning that the U.S. judicial system doesn’t grant MBS’s agents the kind of untrammeled latitude they are accustomed to at home, or for that matter in Turkish consulates.

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