There’s an old saying that once is an accident, twice is coincidence and three times is a pattern. What if I told you that 18 LIV Golf players who jumped from the PGA Tour this season for boatloads of Saudi cash had competed in the QBE Shootout, A.K.A., the Shark Shootout? That’s more than coincidence.
It appears that Norman, who hosted the unofficial Tour event since 1989, exploited his hosting duties to recruit players to LIV. Developing a chummy relationship with Tour pros at the one event where the Shark regularly got to spend a week in the locker room and form relationships with them turned out to be rewarding. Of the 18 former Shootout competitors who joined LIV, 13 off them played in Naples, Florida within the past two years when the upstart Saudi-backed golf league was taking flight.
A conspiracy theory, you say? Well, that could be but hopefully some of the discovery in the LIV-PGA Tour lawsuit will shed some light on Norman’s recruiting process.
Norman, the CEO and Commissioner of LIV, isn’t participating at the QBE, neither are the LIV players from a Silly Season event that Norman began with the best intentions: Norman, Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Raymond Floyd teed it up at Grand Cypress Resort in Orlando in 1986 as a fundraiser for what is now the Arnold Palmer Medical Center in Orlando. It grew from there.
Let’s take a look at the 18 players who previously spent at least one fun-filled week at the Ritz-Carlton and played at Tiburon Golf Club but are banned from the unofficial team event after leaving for richer pastures with LIV Golf.
Kevin Tway, left, and Rory Sabbatini, who won the QBE Shootout, pose with tournament founder and host Greg Norman on Dec. 15, 2019. (Photo: Michael O’Byron/QBE Shootout)
This was Norman’s baby and he was proud of it. Despite his long-running feud with the PGA Tour, he put those feelings behind to serve as tournament host and did a lot of good for the Naples-Sarasota community. Norman made a record 24 appearances in the event as tournament host and won the event in 1998 in a playoff with partner Steve Elkington. He last competed in the tournament in 2013.
Joaquin Niemann of Chile and Abraham Ancer of Mexico joke on the range prior to the final round of the QBE Shootout at Tiburon Golf Club on December 13, 2020 in Naples, Florida. (Photo by Cliff Hawkins/Getty Images)
Mexico’s Abraham Ancer played just once in 2020, teaming with Joaquin Niemann. Ancer is currently ranked No. 30 in the Official World Golf Ranking.
(L) Lexi Thompson and her playing partner (R) Bryson DeChambeau stand on the fourth tee box during the final round of the Franklin Templeton Shootout at Tiburon Golf Club on December 10, 2016 in Naples, Florida. (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)
Bryson DeChambeau played in 2016 and 2018. He and Norman shared a second connection as Cobra-Puma ambassadors.
In 2016, DeChambeau partnered with Lexi Thompson and tried to putt sidesaddle that week in what was a doomed effort.
Charles Howell III
Ian Poulter and Charles Howell III talk on the second green during the first round of the QBE Shootout at Tiburon Golf Club on December 10, 2021 in Naples, Florida. (Photo by Cliff Hawkins/Getty Images)
Charles Howell III first played in Norman’s shindig in 2000 – with fellow young gun Adam Scott – and most recently in 2021 with Ian Poulter.
Howell, who won three times on the PGA Tour and earned more than $42 million, joined LIV in late July.
Dustin Johnson, center, celebrates finishing the round during the second day of the pro-am at the Franklin Templeton Shark Shootout in 2013. Johnson and Ian Poulter went on to win.
Dustin Johnson Shootout
Dustin Johnson played in the tournament four times and won in 2010. The two-time major winner joined LIV in June and was reportedly paid a signing bonus of more than $100 million.
Jason Kokrak and Kevin Na celebrate after winning the 2021 QBE Shootout on Sunday, Dec. 12, 2021, at Tiburón Golf Club at The Ritz-Carlton Golf Resort in Naples, Florida. (Photo: Landon Bost/Naples Daily News)
Jason Kokrak played twice in the event, in 2019 and 2021, when he teamed with Kevin Na to win the title. Kokrak seemed to be an easy target for LIV given that he already was sponsored by Golf Saudi. He officially left the PGA Tour in late July.
Jason Day of Australia and Marc Leishman of Australia react on the 17th green during the first round of the QBE Shootout at Tiburon Golf Club on December 10, 2021 in Naples, Florida. (Photo by Cliff Hawkins/Getty Images)
Marc Leishman played twice, in 2020 and 2021. He partnered with fellow Aussies Cameron Smith and Jason Day last year. Leishman was part of a package deal with Smith, and officially signed with LIV after the FedEx Cup.
Graeme McDowell tees off on the 5th hole during the QBE Shootout Pro-Am in Naples at the Tiburón Golf Club on Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2019. Photo by Chris Tilley/Naples Daily News
Graeme McDowell played nine times in the Shootout, most recently in 2021, and finished runner-up on three separate occasions. The former U.S. Open champion was one of the first Tour pros to make the move to LIV.
Kevin Na of the United States and Jason Kokrak of the United States look on from the fourth tee during the second round of the QBE Shootout at Tiburon Golf Club on December 11, 2021 in Naples, Florida. (Photo by Cliff Hawkins/Getty Images)
Kevin Na played three times in the Shootout and won in 2021. But the defending champ left the PGA Tour and renounced his membership in June and is the captain of the Iron Heads team. He has fallen to No. 47 in OWGR.
Joaquin Niemann of Chile plays his shot from the first tee during the final round of the QBE Shootout at Tiburon Golf Club on December 13, 2020 in Naples, Florida. (Photo by Cliff Hawkins/Getty Images)
Chile’s Joaquin Niemann played only once in the QBE Shootout in 2020, when he partnered with Abraham Ancer. Niemann is the lone player so far to attend the players meeting at the BMW Championship hosted by Tiger Woods and leave for LIV. The 24-year-old Niemann still is ranked No. 22 in the world.
(L-R) Talor Gooch, team Captain Dustin Johnson, Patrick Reed and Pat Perez of 4 Aces GC celebrate with the trophy after winning first place for the team award during day three of the LIV Golf Invitational – Bedminster at Trump National Golf Club Bedminster on July 31, 2022 in Bedminster, New Jersey. (Photo: Jared C. Tilton/LIV via Getty Images )
Pat Perez competed in the Shootout in 2017 and 2018. He’s been a poster child for LIV Golf, earning more than $8 million while barely cracking an egg. He made $961,000 in individual prize money and $7,062,500 because of 4 Aces’ success.
Charles Howell III of the United States and Ian Poulter of England line up a putt on the 17th green during the first round of the QBE Shootout at Tiburon Golf Club on December 10, 2021 in Naples, Florida. (Photo by Cliff Hawkins/Getty Images)
Ian Poulter was a Shootout regular, competing in it nine times, including in 2010 when he was part of the winning team with Dustin Johnson. He also is a former Cobra staffer and knew Norman well from photo shoots and the like. The former Ryder Cup hero joined LIV in June.
Patrick Reed (right) and teammate J.B. Holmes celebrate an eagle on the 16th green during the first round of the Franklin Templeton Shootout golf match at the Tiburon Golf Club – Gold Course. (Photo: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports)
Patrick Reed played in the Shootout twice (2014-15). The former Masters winner signed on with LIV in June. He’s slipped to No. 66 in the world.
Marc Leishman and Cameron Smith update their scorecards going to 8th hole during the 2021 QBE Shootout at the Tiburon Golf Club in Naples, Florida. (Photo: Chris Tilley/Naples Daily News via USA TODAY Network)
The Aussie Smith is probably Norman’s best “get” so far. In doing so, Norman grabbed the Tour’s reigning Players Championship and British Open winner. Smith is currently ranked No. 3 in the world and won five times around the world this year.
Hudson Swafford tees off during the QBE Shootout on Friday, Dec. 10, 2021 at Tiburón Golf Club in Naples, Florida.
Hudson Swafford played in the Shootout just once in 2021. Given that Swafford and Harris English are often confused for each other and English is a three-time champion of the event, it begs the question: did Norman target the wrong guy?
Cameron Tringale and Jason Day won the 2014 Franklin Templeton Shootout at Tiburon Golf Club in Naples.
Cameron Tringale teamed with Jason Day in 2014 to tie the lowest round in tournament history, a 55, in the scramble format in 2014. It was Tringale’s first start in the event and his only win on the PGA Tour, albeit of the unofficial variety.
Tringale, who has dropped to No. 64 in the world, joined LIV and renounced his Tour membership in late August.
Harold Varner III
Harold Varner III and Ryan Palmer celebrate a birdie on No. 8 to end the second round of the QBE Shootout on Saturday, Dec. 14, 2019 at Tiburon Golf Club in Naples, Florida. (Photo by Michael O’Bryon/ QBE Shootout)
Harold Varner III played in the Shootout three times. Varner III partnered with Bubba Watson in 2018. HV3 and Ryan Palmer teamed in 2019 to shoot 55 in the scramble format. Varner won the Saudi International in February and joined LIV in late August after the FedEx Cup.
Bubba Watson and Lexi Thompson walk on the second green during the first round of the QBE Shootout at Tiburon Golf Club on December 10, 2021 in Naples, Florida. (Photo by Cliff Hawkins/Getty Images)
Bubba Watson played in the Shootout seven times, most recently last year with Lexi Thompson.
Watson signed with LIV in late July, but hasn’t competed in an event as he recovers from surgery for a torn meniscus. The former two-time Masters champ has plummeted to No. 139 in the world.
Ian Poulter and Lee Westwood, who will play together during the Franklin Templeton Shootout, during the 2013 Northwestern Mutual World Challenge.
Lee Westwood played in the Shootout just once, in 2013. Westwood, who would have been eligible for PGA Tour Champions in April, was one of the first pros to join LIV Golf and played the entire eight-event inaugural season. He has tumbled from 37th to 143rd in OWGR.
Matthew Wolff and Viktor Hovland, both former Oklahoma State stars, are paired together for the QBE Shootout in Naples.
Matthew Wolff played in the Shootout twice, in 2019-20. The 23-year-old former NCAA individual champion from Oklahoma State won once on the PGA Tour and seemed to have a promising future ahead of him. But after ending 2021 at No. 30 in OWGR, he has tumbled to No. 147. He has been open about his mental health struggles and claims the team format with LIV has been beneficial to him.