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Jack Nicklaus Confirms 'Courtesy' Meeting with LIV Golf, But 'Zero Interest'

Nicklaus, 82, had been offered $100 million for an 'ambassador' position with the Saudi-backed league but reiterated his allegiance to the PGA Tour.

Jack Nicklaus said Tuesday that he took a meeting with the Saudi-backed LIV Golf Investments about potentially running the organization’s new league out of courtesy because his golf course design company had a contract to do a course in the country.

Nicklaus, 82, recently told the Fire Pit Collective that he had been approached to run the new league that is now being fronted by Greg Norman and offered in excess of $100 million to do so.

Those discussions were part of a lawsuit filed earlier this month against Nicklaus by his own company – of which he does not have a controlling interest – alleging that it “saved Mr. Nicklaus from himself by extricating him from a controversial project that could have not only tarnished his legacy and reputation, but severely damaged the Nicklaus Companies’ name, brands and business.’’

LIV Golf officials have said Nicklaus was not offered the same role that Norman now has, but rather an “ambassador’’ type arrangement that he turned down.

Nicklaus did not field any questions about the lawsuit during a news conference Tuesday at Muirfield Village Golf Club, where his Memorial Tournament, now in its 47th year, begins Thursday. But he was asked about the LIV Golf overture.

“They obviously called me,’’ Nicklaus said. “And we’ve had a contract on a golf course in Saudi Arabia for over a couple of years. Essentially the same group.

“So when they called Jackie — my son Jackie organized the meeting, and they came into the Bear's Club (in Florida). We met a couple of guys. John Rees and Paul Stringer from the Nicklaus companies were there because we were doing the golf course, and they proposed this thing to me.

“I did it out of courtesy to them because we're doing a golf course for them. I've got zero interest in wanting to do something like that. I don't care what kind of money they would have thrown at me. My allegiance has been to the PGA Tour. I grew up on the PGA TOUR. I helped found the PGA Tour as it is today. My allegiance is there and it’s going to stay there.’’

Nicklaus, along with Arnold Palmer, Gardner Dickinson and Bob Goalby, helped players break away from the PGA of America and found their own players division in 1968. Prior to that, the organization that runs the PGA Championship and the Ryder Cup not only oversaw club professionals but the running of tour events.

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That split led to what is now known as the PGA Tour.

Golf Saudi is the company whose mission is to help grow golf in the country and encourage tourism, among other things. It was the group that announced Nicklaus’ company would be designing his first course, to be constructed in Quiddiya, 40 minutes from the Saudi capital of Riyadh. The announcement was made in 2020.

Like LIV Golf Investments, the primary source of funding for Golf Saudi is the Public Investment Fund, the sovereign wealth fund of Saudi Arabia which is reportedly worth $500 billion.

The first LIV Golf Invitational Series event is scheduled for next week outside of London and the entire enterprise has been highly controversial since Norman was announced as CEO of LIV Golf Investments and commissioner of the league in October.

There have been several starts and stops with the series, which has shifted from a league concept this year to an eight-tournament series of tournaments, seven of which have $25 million purses with the last to be worth $50-million.

PGA Tour players who sought releases to play in next week’s event have been denied and it remains to be see what kind of discipline they will face.

Nicklaus didn’t completely dismiss the LIV concept, saying “if it grows the game and benefits some people and spreads the game, fine.’’

But he also said he would fall in line with whatever the PGA Tour wants as it relates to the Memorial Tournament. The Tour has threatened to ban or suspend players who participate in the LIV Golf league.

Nicklaus’ tournament is an invitational, referred to by the PGA Tour as an “elevated event’’ along with the Arnold Palmer Invitational and the Genesis Invitational. They all have $12 million purses with 120-man fields.

“The PGA Tour will answer that,’’ Nicklaus said. “I don’t think that’s my question, frankly. We live by the rules of whatever the PGA Tour is. That’s what we do.’’