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‘Circumstances Change’: PGA Tour Slammed for Shock LIV Golf Merger

A gentleman’s sport it ain’t. After months of rivalry, player poaching and bitter feuding, the world’s biggest golf tournaments have dropped their weapons and called a truce. On Tuesday, the PGA Tour, European Tour and rebel Saudi-backed LIV Golf tour announced a landmark merger agreement. Under the terms of the deal, the three organisations will combine to form one commercial entity designed to “unify golf”.

Table of Contents

Liv golf

Image: LIV Golf

As It Lies

The announcement of the PGA Tour LIV Golf merger comes at an unusual time for sports fans. For months, the competing organisations have been locked in litigation, attempting the thwart the player poaching and anti-competitive clauses that threaten to derail one of the world’s oldest games. Even Greg Norman, the Aussie at the helm of LIV Golf was content to fire shots at current PGA Tour players and the organisation itself, claiming that “They don’t like change. They don’t like competition.”

The PGA fired back, with commissioner Jay Monahan making it abundantly clear that the Tour would not be associating with LIV in any way. Furthermore, he confirmed that any pro who joined LIV would be refused entry to play on the PGA Tour again. The firm stance was met with widespread support from the golf community, but when Aussie star Cam Smith defected to the Saudi tour ahead of the inaugural Australian LIV event in Adelaide, Monahan’s house of cards began to fall. Just months later, the words that inspired confidence in the PGA’s moral compass felt like a distant echo.

With the merger now announced, new details are emerging about how the LIV Golf PGA deal came to be and the revelations are juicy. According to reports, rival executives began a “series of private meetings” in the aftermath of the Masters Tournament in April. As Alan Binder reports, PGA Tour leaders and representatives of Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund met first in London and then Venice before joining forces in San Francisco to arrange a truce.

Cameron Smith LIV Golf

Australian player Cam Smith joined LIV Golf in 2022 | Image: Getty

The deal will effectively put an end to all pending litigation between the participating parties, with a joint announcement confirming growth plans are in place. According to ABC, the Saudi Public Investment Fund will “make a capital investment into the new entity to facilitate its growth and success”.

While a win for competing organisations, the new arrangement does stand to have far-reaching implications on the sport, not to mention current geopolitical tensions. By cementing its relationship with the PGA Tour, LIV Golf-backer the Saudi Arabia Public Investment Fund has ticked a major box in its efforts to rebrand itself as an entertainment-driven tourist destination, an act that many have labelled ‘sports-washing’. The country even unveiled plans to build a 100 per cent renewable utopia capable of accommodating nine million residents, with global reactions equally critical.

For the PGA, however, it marks the true globalisation of golf, introducing new geographical and cultural challenges to contend with. Namely, the governor of the Saudi state entity bankrolling LIV is set to become chairman of the new organisation, which is still yet to cop an official name.

“Today is a very exciting day for this special game and the people it touches around the world,” said PIF Governor Yasir Al-Rumayyan. “We are proud to partner with the PGA Tour to leverage PIF’s unparalleled success and track record of unlocking value and bringing innovation and global best practices to business and sectors worldwide.”

Chase Koepka LIV GOlf AdelaideGetty 1

Image: Getty Images

PGA LIV Golf Merger Explained

Tuesday morning’s announcement from the PGA Tour saw the governing body describe its decision to merge operations with LIV Golf as a “landmark agreement to unify the game”. The deal will eventually see any LIV Golf player granted the ability to reapply for PGA Tour and DP World Tour membership following the 2023 season.

“After two years of disruption and distraction, this is a historic day for the game we all know and love,” PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan said in a joint news release.

In its current form, the new PGA Tour LIV Golf deal does see the PGA Tour retain primary control over the sport’s premier competition. In essence, golf’s traditional governing body argued to have a majority of board seats in the new company that will control the tour and LIV Golf. Associated Press is reporting that the wealth fund will control a minority stake, however, will retain some exclusive rights.

Importantly, the new LIV Golf PGA Tour deal won’t be a straight integration, but rather a series of organisational changes that allow for both entities to continue. In the deal, a number of clauses were introduced to safeguard the sanctity of the sport which many have argued is already in decay due to the contentious outside noise.

As the New York Times points out, the Public Investment Fund will have the right of first refusal on new investments in the merged tour. That would effectively allow Saudi Arabia to take more ownership of the sport in the future should the tour need to raise more capital, something the organisation has already outlined as a priority. Jay Monahan is expected to be the new group’s chief executive, with Yasir al-Rumayyan, the wealth fund’s governor, installed as its chairman.

Greg Norman LIV Golf

Image: AP

LIV Golf’s Saudi Ties

As we explained last year, the LIV Golf League has been fraught with contention since it was first unveiled. Much of the controversy stems from the fact that the tour is financed by the Public Investment Fund, the sovereign wealth fund of Saudi Arabia. Critics have been quick to point out the Saudi Government and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s involvement in the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi, but it’s just one of a number of contentious issues at play.

The Saudi family has also been accused of being involved with the 9/11 attacks in New York, prompting widespread condemnation of the event. Further contention erupted when a group of almost 2,500 survivors of family members killed or injured during the September 11 attacks wrote an open letter to PGA Tour golfers, thanking them for not defecting to LIV Golf.

“Thank you for standing up for decency,” the letter stated. “Thank you for standing up for the 9/11 Families. Thank you for resisting the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s efforts to cleanse its reputation by buying off professional athletes… To those of you who have chosen what is right over blood money from a corrupt, destructive sports entity and its Saudi backers, please continue to stand strong.”

On Tuesday, when the deal was announced, reporters were quick to question PGA Tour commissioner Monahan about his past criticism of LIV and his response was telling.

“I recognise that people are going to call me a hypocrite,” the PGA Tour commissioner said per the New York Times. “Anytime I said anything, I said it based on the information I had at the moment, and based on someone trying to compete for the PGA Tour and our players. I accept those criticisms. But circumstances do change.”

Canadian PGA Tour player Mackenzie Hughes reaction to the LIV Golf PGA merger | Image: Twitter

Canadian PGA Tour player Mackenzie Hughes’ reaction to the LIV Golf PGA merger | Image: Twitter

Player Reactions

Needless to say, the new merger has come as a total surprise for fans but they weren’t alone. Speaking to reporters several hours after the news was unveiled, PGA Tour commissioner, Jay Monahan, revealed that even the majority of the PGA Tour’s policy board was left unaware of the tour’s negotiations with LIV over the last seven weeks. By far the most poignant reactions, however, have come from the players themselves.

PGA Tour star Wesley Bryan took to Twitter on Tuesday to voice his opinion, stating: “I feel betrayed, and will not be able to trust anyone within the corporate structure of the PGA TOUR for a very long time.”

Similarly, Canadian pro Adam Hadwin appeared less than impressed regarding the new deal in a press conference earlier this morning. Speaking with reporters, Hadwin revealed that he was given little insight into how the deal was arranged and only found out about the watershed moment via social media.

“I read about it, like most people, when it came out this morning. We were given an email, we also got an email with comments from Jay regarding it… I don’t know. I’ll be honest,” Hadwin said. “I think that what transpired the last year and a half, the rhetoric not only on this side but on that side as well, it’s difficult to look at that and say, ‘how did we get here now?'”

“I do believe that everyone probably saw eventually something happening, I don’t think it was a complete merger, but certainly the entities coming together or finding a way to coexist so that the best players could continue to play against each other and not just at the four majors right now. But in this way, I don’t know if I ever saw it in this way, but beyond that, there are so many details to be worked out and that haven’t been talked about and discussed.”

Future of LIV Golf

While the new LIV Golf and PGA Tour merger will see the entities come together, much remains murky about the immediate future. Players are unsure what the next stage of development is and how best to approach contract negotiations. Perhaps most prevalent of all, is whether LIV Golf continues to operate as an independent golf tour.

At this stage, it’s unclear if the planned tournaments will go ahead under LIV branding or whether they will be absorbed into the new entity’s slate of events. Whatever the case, the merger has opened an enormous can of worms that even Monahan can get his head around. The PGA Tour commissioner said that among other issues, he was unsure if PGA Tour players who refused to join LIV in the first place would be financially compensated or if those existing LIV players would have to forfeit some of their compensation.

PGA Tour LIV Golf Merger FAQs

Is the PGA Tour merging with LIV Golf?

The PGA Tour and DP World Tour have confirmed that two organisations have merged their commercial operations, putting an end to ongoing litigation.

Why is PGA merging with LIV Golf?

As per The New York Times, the PGA Tour hailed its deal to merge operations with LIV Golf as a landmark agreement to unify the game. The deal will effectively end the litigation between the competing golf tours.