Hard travel for Norris and the temptation of Saudi league
TULSA, Okla. (AP) — Shaun Norris, the last player to be paired with Tiger Woods in the PGA Championship, headed home to South Africa to see his young children, take a short break from traveling and figure out where his world travels should take him.
One option is the Saudi-funded LIV Golf Invitational series, which has his attention.
Norris, who is No. 66 in the world with 10 career victories, said he has signed up for the inaugural event in two weeks outside London.
Still to be determined is whether he goes, or even if he’s in the field. Norris, much like everyone else, isn’t sure and hasn’t heard anything.
“I’ve entered,” he said. “I’m just waiting to see what will happen. I’m not fully convinced or decided on going yet. I’m just hanging back and basically testing the waters.”
The money and the small schedule are appealing to the 40-year-old.
Norris has victories on the Sunshine Tour, Japan Golf Tour, Asian Tour and the European tour in his career. This year alone, he has played tournaments on four of the six main golf circuits, earning his European tour card by winning a co-sanctioned event in South Africa.
He has options. He also has two children, a 3-year-old boy and a daughter born two months ago in Pretoria.
“I saw her for a week and then I had to leave,” Norris said. “She’s smiling. We do video calling every day. But it’s tough.”
That’s a big reason why he is curious about LIV Golf.
“If it does work out for me, at my age, you start to want to look after your family and stay at home,” Norris said. “All this hard traveling playing Europe, the U.S., Japan, I barely get to see my kids. We’re trying to figure out a way to make it easier. If it comes down to have to do that, you never know. But I’m not rushing into any decisions.”
He returns next week for the U.S. Open, exempt by winning the Sunshine Tour Order of Merit. The first LIV Golf event is June 9-11 at Centurion Golf Club, a week before the U.S. Open outside Boston. The next one is scheduled for Oregon on July 1-3, a week before he is to play the Scottish Open and the British Open.
“If you can work out 15 or 20 weeks of the year and the rest of the time is spent at home? That’s an ideal lifestyle, especially as the father of two,” he said.
Except for 2020, when the schedule was disrupted by the pandemic, Norris has averaged 27 tournaments a year, with a high of 34.
So what’s holding him back from signing up for a series of $20 million events with $4 million for the winner?
“I just want to see how the tours are going to handle it,” he said. “Are they going to completely ban you from the tours? Fine you? I don’t want to get myself in a complete mess where I can’t get out of it. We know there are a bunch of players fully committed. Let’s see what happens.”
Norris said neither the Sunshine Tour, which just started back up again, nor the Japan Golf Tour is “not bothered” by members playing. He is a European tour member. As tempting as the money and schedule is, Norris can see why the PGA Tour and European tour are resisting.
“The PGA Tour has built something for 50 years to get to where they are. And here’s Saudi, wanting to start where the PGA Tour is now,” he said. “They’re basically throwing money at it. I can fully understand why the PGA Tour is feeling how they’re feeling, and the European tour. You don’t want to have a tour just take over like that.”
It’s a small consolation but Pereira, who was No. 100 in the world and received a special invitation to the PGA for his second major, is assured of playing the next four.
He moved to No. 49 in the world in the last tournament before the U.S. Open (top 60) and British Open (top 50) used the ranking to decide which players are exempt. His tie for third earned him a spot in his first Masters next April. And the PGA Championship takes the top 15 and ties from the previous year.
The Evian Championship was elevated to a fifth major on the LPGA Tour in 2013, and the majors represented the biggest purses in women’s golf. Evian led the way that year with a $3.25 million purse.
With boosts across the board, the five majors have more than tripled the prize money to a total of $32.8 million.
The U.S. Women’s Open is the richest in women’s golf at $10 million. The Women’s British Open last year announced another bump so the prize money will be $6.8 million at Muirfield (which until recently was an all-male club).
Evian was the latest, announcing a $2 million increase that brings the total purse this year to $6.5 million, with a $1 million payoff going to the winner.
“Elevating the purse of this major championship makes a powerful statement about the value and status of the women’s game,” LPGA Tour Commissioner Mollie Marcoux Samaan said.
The Chevron Championship purse in California was $5 million, while the KPGA Women’s Championship purse last year was $4.5 million. It has not announced the purse for this year’s tournament at Congressional.
In addition to the $1 million for the winner, the Evian will pay everyone in the field, even a stipend for those who miss the cut.
BEN HOGAN AWARD
Texas Tech junior Ludvig Aberg of Sweden has won the the Ben Hogan Award, honoring the top men’s college golfer based on college, amateur and pro events over the last 12 months.
Aberg is the first winner from Texas Tech and the third Ben Hogan Award winner from a Big 12 Conference school in the last five years, joining Viktor Hovland of Oklahoma State (2019) and Doug Ghim of Texas (2018).
He was selected over Sam Bennett of Texas A&M and Eugenio Chacarra of Oklahoma State.
Aberg, the No. 2 player in the world amateur ranking, won the Big 12 Championship and The Prestige as part of his nine straight finishes in the top 15. A runner-up at the European Amateur last summer, Aberg tied for 30th in the Scandinavian Mixed on the European tour and tied for 51st in the Bermuda Championship on the PGA Tour.
The award comes with an exemption to play the Charles Schwab Challenge at Colonial next year.
The PGA Works Collegiate Championship will be held next year at Shoal Creek, the Alabama club that invited its first Black member in 1990 so it could host the PGA Championship. … Bubba Watson, in a tweet to congratulate PGA champion Justin Thomas, revealed he has a torn meniscus and will be out for four to six weeks. That means Watson won’t be going through U.S. Open qualifying. … Inbee Park has withdrawn from the U.S. Women’s Open next week. … Harris English, who hoped to return to competitive golf at the PGA Championship, withdrew from Colonial. He had surgery on his left hip and has not played since the second full week in January. ... After third-place finishes the last two weeks, MJ Daffue of South Africa is the latest Korn Ferry Tour player to have enough points to be among the 25 players who get PGA Tour cards next year.
STAT OF THE WEEK
The last four major champions were all in their 20s and among the top 10 in the world when they won.
“Now I understand when people watch me on TV how nervous they get.” — Joaquin Niemann as he watched Chilean friend Mito Pereira try to win the PGA Championship.
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