RAINMAKER PREVIEW: How Greg Norman stole LIV Golf blueprint 50 years ago

In a compelling extract from his new book ‘Rainmaker’, former super-agent Hughes Norton reveals the origins of LIV Golf and how Greg Norman claimed them as his own.

Once described as the ‘most powerfully hated agent in golf’, Hughes Norton managed the lives and affairs of the world’s best golfers including Tiger Woods and Greg Norman in his role at IMG for the best part of three decades before both ruthlessly sacked him.

In Rainmaker, the engrossing new page-turner co-written with former Golf magazine editor George Peper, Norton candidly recollects his dealings with two of golf’s greatest protagonists, helping build their fortunes before his services were abruptly ended. Norton grippingly describes the juxtaposition between Tiger’s self-centered nature that fueled his “quite amazing pursuit of excellence” and Norman’s “consuming need to be visible and relevant.”

He dedicates two chapters to the 11 years he spent representing the “narcissistic” Norman, who he accuses of stealing Mark McCormack’s sales pitch for a second tour and dressing it up as LIV Golf almost 50 years later. Here’s a sneak preview of one of Rainmaker’s many bombshell revelations…

Norton dedicates to chapters of Rainmaker to his time representing Greg Norman

In December of 1993, during the week of another tournament we’d developed with Greg’s name on it – the Greg Norman Holden Classic – in Australia, Greg asked to have a meeting with me, IMG’s Australia chief James Erskine, and Frank Williams, the manager of our Melbourne office. The four of us assembled in his suite at a downtown hotel in Sydney. Greg, characteristically, got straight to the point.

“As you all know, I’ve not been happy for some time, so I’ve decided to cut my ties with IMG. Frank has accepted a position with me and he will also be leaving.”

Those words hit me like a cannonball. I was speechless, just sat there and stared at him. The guy who had been not only my number one client but my close friend for more than a decade – the guy for whom I’d produced $50 million of income – had just fired me.

Norton was shocked to learn he was being fired by 'good friend' Norman

I guess my real problem with Greg’s decision to leave was the way he handled it. “Let’s make this friendly” were the last words he said to me in that Sydney hotel, but not long after that he sent a scathing letter to Mark complaining about how he’d been treated by IMG – not by me personally, but in general. Mark was incensed by the tone of that letter. I remember him drawing the parallel to Nicklaus’s departure, how Jack had conducted himself with class all the way through the process. It prompted Mark to write a return letter to Norman, essentially telling him that he ought to be ashamed of himself.

In his autobiography, The Way of the Shark, Greg wrote, “I could see early on that IMG was not interested in building equity in somebody else’s brand. They did a commendable job presenting me with income-generating opportunities but weren’t helping me build equity in my own brand.” In an interview with Golf World he was even more brazen: “Even Joe Soap from down the street could have made me a lot of money. Quite honestly, I was the hottest property in golf.”

Norman also saw himself—still does, as evidenced by his LIV role – as a brilliant businessman, but there is little evidence to back that up. He once said to me, “Huey, if it flies, floats, or fucks, rent it.” So what did this budding business tycoon do? He bought several Gulfstream jets, built a humongous oceangoing yacht, and is now on his third wife.

Jon Rahm finalizes his LIV Golf contract with CEO Greg Norman.

What, after all, is Greg Norman’s legacy as a businessman – peddling Wagyu beef and the wines of other vintners? Designing overly difficult courses that often needed to be redesigned? Getting fired as a commentator for Fox Sports because, in their words, “he didn’t prepare adequately for the broadcasts”? No, surely it will be his ill-conceived, megalomaniacal obsession with the notion of an elite world golf tour.

Earlier in this narrative I referenced Mark McCormack’s Second Tour idea, first proposed in 1964 and documented in his biography of Arnold Palmer, and then raised again in 1976 at a meeting with me and a handful of IMG colleagues. The idea had been killed, certainly the first time and as nearly as I can surmise the second, by Arnold out of his loyalty to the PGA.

Several times during the course of my eleven-year relationship with Greg, I shared with him the details of Mark’s idea—the elite field, the limited number of events, the huge purses, the TV and sponsorship aspects—all of it.

As someone who loved playing golf around the world – and for lots of money –Greg was mesmerized by the concept every time we talked about it.

Greg Norman downs a beer from a shoe on stage at LIV Golf Adelaide.

At the time, a voice in my head told me I probably shouldn’t be sharing all this, and as it turned out that voice was right, but not for the reason I then thought—that I was betraying Mark’s confidence. All of us in that 1976 IMG meeting had been sworn to secrecy. I guess I justified my loose lips with the conviction that the world tour idea would never fly – if McCormack couldn’t make it work, no one would.

Imagine my surprise in 1994 – one year after Greg left us – seeing him pontificate about “his” concept for a world tour. “I had this idea, how do we get the best players to play against each other on more of a regular basis and give them an annuity into the future. I just thought there was a better way, a World Golf Tour where they could have ownership. That’s thinking outside the box. Like an entrepreneur. Understanding the marketplace.”

Except, of course, it wasn’t his idea, it was Mark’s as conveyed by me. The blueprint Greg laid out, in alliance with tournament operator John Montgomery, could have been photocopied from Mark’s manifesto.

Rainmaker: Superagent Hughes Norton and the Money-Grab Explosion of Golf from Tiger to LIV and Beyond will be available in the UK on June 6. RRP £20

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About the author

Today's Golfer features editor Michael Catling.

Michael Catling
Features Editor

Michael Catling is Today’s Golfer‘s Features Editor and an award-winning journalist who specializes in golf’s Majors and Tours, including DP World, PGA, LPGA, and LIV.

Michael joined Today’s Golfer in 2016 and has traveled the world to attend the game’s biggest events and secure exclusive interviews with dozens of Major champions, including Jack Nicklaus, Jordan Spieth, Tom Watson, Greg Norman, Gary Player, and Justin Thomas.

Michael uses a Ping G driverPing G 3-woodPing G Crossover 3-ironPing G Series irons (4-PW), Ping Glide wedges (52º, 56º, 60º), TaylorMade MySpider Tour Putter, and Srixon AD333 golf ball.

Get in touch with Michael via email and follow him on Twitter.

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