By Manu Raju, Melanie Zanona and George Ramsay, CNN
Greg Norman, the head of the controversial Saudi-backed LIV Golf tour, faced some conservative criticism on Tuesday after he met with a group of House Republicans behind closed doors on Capitol Hill.
Norman, on a trip to Washington as part of a public-relations push to sell lawmakers about the benefits of the PGA tour’s new rival, was also questioned during the Republican Study Committee meeting about his league’s Saudi financing.
LIV Golf is backed by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) — a sovereign wealth fund chaired by Mohammed bin Salman, the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia — and has pledged to award $250 million in total prize money.
Rep. Chip Roy, a Texas Republican, suggested that he didn’t mince words with Norman, who told the Republican that the goal of his tour is “competition” — an assertion that Roy thought was “nonsense,” though he said he’d be happy to sit down and talk with Norman about it further.
“Don’t sell us, ‘This is just about competition’ when they won’t answer about a billion dollars to buy off PGA players resulting in a billion dollars of PR for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” Roy told CNN, saying they could be in violation of the Foreign Agents Registration Act.
LIV Golf has spent eye-popping sums to poach top PGA tour players, reportedly offering nine figures for individuals just to sign with the new league and enormous purses for the winners of its tournaments. In early August, Norman confirmed on Fox News that golf legend Tiger Woods turned down an offer worth approximately $700-$800 million to join LIV Golf.
Rep. Jim Banks, the chairman of the Republican Study Committee, told CNN that it was “lively discussion” and that overall Norman was “well received by our members.”
The Indiana Republican noted that Norman asked to meet with his group, which has regular meetings with outside guests.
“Some members addressed the Saudi-backed funding. That came up in the discussion, and Mr. Norman addressed those issues,” Banks said. “He explained how the investment fund is set up and other investments that they’ve made in the United States. He promised to sit down with members individually.”
Banks said “there was no ask” by Norman for Congress to act on the league’s behalf and that the purpose of the meeting was more “public relations” than anything else.
Banks added: “If Tiger Woods wants to come in and talk about the PGA and his issues with LIV Golf, we’d love to have him come too.”
LIV Golf players have not been granted permission to play in this week’s Presidents Cup, a biennial competition pitting an International Team and a US Team against each other, which tees off on Thursday.
For International captain Trevor Immelman, that proved a selection headache with players like Open champion Cameron Smith, Chile’s Joaquin Niemann and South Africa’s Louis Oosthuizen barred from playing.
“I would say hugely disruptive is probably an understatement,” Immelman told CNN Sport’s Don Riddell. “It sure has been an interesting process.”
But opposing captain Davis Love III arguably has more depth at his disposal than Immelman, who lamented the absence of some “incredible players” from the team.
The International Team has an unfavorable record in the Presidents Cup having won just once in 13 editions of the competition.
“Over the last year or so, as these fractures (between LIV Golf and the PGA Tour) were starting to occur, every single player on our squad knew exactly what the rules were and knew what decisions they needed to make in order to have the opportunity to play in the Presidents Cup,” he added.
Asked if he would miss the likes of Smith, Niemann and Oosthuizen, Immelman said: “Those guys are incredible players. They’re players that have played Presidents Cups. They have the experience of being in that cauldron, understanding what it takes. But, you know, like I said, they knew the decisions that they needed to make in order to be eligible for the Presidents Cup.
“All of that information was part of their decision-making process. So the communication was very open. Everybody knew exactly where they stood and they made the decisions that they thought were best for them, and I respect their decisions.”
This year’s Presidents Cup is being held at Quail Hollow in Charlotte, North Carolina, and concludes on Sunday.
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CNN’s Don Riddell and Jack Bantock contributed to reporting.