What’s ahead after shock PGA Tour merger ends LIV feud?
AUGUSTA, Ga. - The PGA Tour ended its expensive fight with Saudi Arabia’s golf venture and now is joining forces with it, making a stunning announcement Tuesday of a merger.
As part of the deal, the sides immediately are dropping all lawsuits involving LIV Golf.
From the golf side, still to be determined is how players like Brooks Koepka and Dustin Johnson can rejoin the PGA Tour after defecting last year for signing bonuses reported to be in the $150 million range.
From the commercial side, the governor of Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund joins the PGA Tour board of directors and leads the new venture as chairman, though the PGA Tour will have a majority stake.
Augusta golf expert John Patrick pondered the possibilities.
“Could we envision 40 to 50 tournaments a year? Not a PGA Tour, not a LIV Tour, not a DP World Tour, but 40 to 50 tournaments a year. That’s it,” he said. “And X amount of players will get to play in those from all three tours, and that’s a lot of players. Will players be left out? Will tournaments be left out? What happens to Hilton Head? What happens to the John Deere?”
Augusta National Golf Club Chairman Fred Ridley said the merger is a positive thing.
“As we have expressed previously, what makes golf special is its rich history and ability to bring people together,” he said in a statement.” We are encouraged by this announcement, which represents a positive development in bringing harmony to men’s professional golf. Augusta National Golf Club and the Masters Tournament are – and will remain – devoted to developing the game and celebrating its many virtues.”
The organizers of the British Open also saw it as a positive development.
“We are pleased that an agreement has been reached which will help men’s professional golf move forward in a collaborative, constructive and innovative fashion,” said Martin Slumbers, CEO of the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews. “We care deeply about golf’s future and are committed to ensuring that the sport continues to thrive for many years to come. This agreement represents a huge step toward achieving that goal for golf and we look forward to working with the new entity for the benefit of the sport globally.”
The announcement comes a year after LIV Golf began. PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan was at the Canadian Open that week and said pointedly about any player who joined LIV or was thinking about it: “Have you ever had to apologize for being a member of the PGA Tour?”
One news outlet broke an embargo of the announcement about 30 minutes earlier than agreed and before some players were able to read Monahan’s memo to them.
Some players were furious to learn of the merger on social media.
- Wesley Bryan tweeted, “I feel betrayed, and will not not be able to trust anyone within the corporate structure of the PGA Tour for a very long time.” Bryan also said in a video, “Just got out of one of the most unbelievably ridiculous meetings. I’ve been to a lot of these player meetings, this was spicy. Real spicy.”
- Colin Morikawa took a lighthearted approach on Twitter, saying “I love finding out morning news on Twitter” and added “Everyone thought yesterday was the longest day in golf.”
- Phil Mickelson kept his message short and sweet, saying, “Awesome day today.”
- Crowd favorite Joel Dahmen said, “I’ve grown up being a fan of the 4 aces. Maybe one day I get to play for them on the PGA Tour.”
Now they are partners, giving Saudi Arabia a commercial voice in golf’s premier organization.
“They were going down their path, we were going down ours, and after a lot of introspection you realize all this tension in the game is not a good thing,” Monahan said in a phone interview with The Associated Press.
“We have a responsibility to our tour and to the game, and we felt like the time was right to have that conversation.”
Monahan was headed to Toronto to meet with players. And while this likely will only lead to greater riches in golf, there still was explaining to do on why the tour would merge with a group that tried to take away some of the PGA Tour’s best players and was seen as the latest example of “sportswashing.”
“I understand the criticism,” Monahan said. “For me, you take the information you have at the time and make decisions in the best interests. Things have changed. This was the right time to have this conversation.”
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Wesley Bryan, who grew up in the Columbia, S.C., area and lived in Augusta for a time, described a player meeting that took place after the announcement.
“After Jay got done talking about what he was going to talk about, the announcement and apologizing for some of the hypocrisy, he opened it up for questions, and when he opened it up for questions, it was electric,’ Bryan said.
“There were people who spoke up who I didn’t think in a million years would get that animated speaking up.”
Usually when Monahan gets done talking, there are one or two questions and everyone leaves, Bryan said.
But in this case, “50-plus people spoke up,” he said.
Rort McIlroy, a player who’s been vocal against LIV and who was at the meeting, “was in the dark,” Bryan said.
“There was a lot of questions that still need answers. There was a lot of yeah, the vibe was electric. I’m not going to say anything too bad, but the vibe was electric,” he said. “Y’all can imagine when someone flips on their word that quickly.”
Rory McIlroy “and a bunch of players” stuck around, and McIlroy was guiding and leading the conversation from his vantage point, Bryan said.
“He’s just a lot closer to the source so he was more insightful and answered more questions than Jay answered,” Bryan said.
“Jay did get a little bit flustered. He didn’t get speechless, but there was some visible frustration. Any man up there taking some of the torture he was taken would not have been able to stand too strong.”
Bryanm expects players to unionize.
“There was mention of why now would we not unionize, I don’t know how that helps or hurts the situation,” he said.
“They asked Jay what his payout for this was going to be and Jay said he’s just going to continue to operate as normal. I call bullcrap on that. I think he’s going to have a vested interest and I think he’s going to be rewarded.″
About the agreement
The agreement combines the Public Investment Fund’s golf-related commercial businesses and rights — including LIV Golf — with those of the PGA and European tours. The new entity has not been named.
Yasir Al-Rumayyan, the governor of Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, will join the board of the PGA Tour, which continues to operates its tournaments. The PIF will invest in the commercial venture.
“From the very beginning, the whole initiative was how to grow the game of golf,” Al-Rumayyan said. “And I think what was achieved today was exactly that.”
As for the new role of Greg Norman, Al-Rumayyan said only that Norman is LIV Golf’s commissioner and details of his future role would be announced in the coming weeks.
Monahan’s memo to players indicated a strong Saudi Arabian presence. He said PIF would make a financial investment to become a “premier corporate sponsor” of the PGA Tour, the European tour and other international tours.
Monahan said the merger came together in the last seven weeks, with PGA Tour board member Jimmy Dunne responsible for bringing together Monahan and Al-Rumayyan. Dunne and Ed Herlihy, chairman of the PGA Tour’s board, will serve on the board of the commercial venture.
Phil Mickelson and Bryson DeChambeau were among 11 players who filed an antitrust lawsuit against the PGA Tour last August. LIV joined as plaintiffs, and the PGA Tour countersued.
The concern for PIF was whether its leaders could be deposed, which Saudi Arabia wanted to avoid. A federal judge had ruled the PIF could not claim immunity from the Foreign Service Immunity Act because of its commercial work with LIV Golf in the U.S.
The PIF appealed the ruling to the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which was likely to extend the lawsuit deep into 2024 if not longer.
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