PGA Tour-LIV Golf merger timeline: How did we get here?!
Perhaps the final chapter of pro golf’s civil war began Tuesday, when the PGA Tour and LIV Golf announced their bombshell merger.
But the news is just another development in a series of events that goes back years before the first LIV Golf tournament kicked off in London nearly one year ago. But make no mistake, another chapter is just getting started, and there’s still more questions than answers.
Here’s a timeline of every notable event that has led up to today’s announcement.
Then-World No. 2 Greg Norman helps announce the World Golf Tour, which was set to launch in 1995 with an eight-event schedule. That was the same week when Arnold Palmer grabbed the microphone at the first PGA Tour players’ meeting and urged caution to anyone who might defect.
The World Golf Tour never gets off the ground when American stars show little to no interest and other international stars like Seve Ballesteros and Nick Price only sign on tentatively. Three years later, Norman and then-PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem announced they had settled their differences.
The PGA Tour announces the World Golf Championships series, with three new tournaments scheduled to debut in 1999. The events are, to a degree, modeled on Norman’s ’94 proposal: limited fields, the best players in the world and the biggest prizes in golf. “It’s good for the game,” Norman said at the time. “I took a lot of heat and a lot of criticism early on, which hurt. Hopefully, the arrows can come out of my back now, and we can all go forward.”
An early proposal for something called the World Golf Series is drafted by Andy Gardiner of the nascent, UK-based World Golf Group. According to Gardiner, the proposal took him three days to write, and the concept is gradually shared with the game’s biggest players, including Rory McIlroy, then the World No. 1 (with four majors by the age of 25).
May 21, 2018
Word of the World Golf Series is finally made public via a report from Reuters. The proposal: a schedule of 15 to 20 annual events with $20 million purses at each. One significant caveat is already made clear: Such a tour would not generate Official World Golf Ranking points, which players need to qualify for major championships.
Early January 2020
After years of overtures to players and their agents, the World Golf Series begins to gain momentum. The league format is solidified: 48 players will comprise 12 four-man franchises, styled after the Formula 1 racing series. They’ll compete in 54-hole, shotgun-start, no-cut events. In late January, the project’s new name — the Premier Golf League (PGL) — is made public. Tour pros are certainly intrigued by the promise of fat purses. Phil Mickelson, while competing that month at the 2020 Saudi International, plays in a pro-am with numerous financiers from the project, including PGL CEO Andy Gardiner. Majed Al Sorour, the CEO of the Golf Saudi Federation, is on hand, playing with Sergio Garcia and Yasir Al-Rumayyan, manager of the Saudi Arabian sovereign wealth fund. Jay Monahan, who replaced Finchem as PGA Tour commissioner in 2017, informs Tour pros that they’ll not be permitted to play on both the PGA and PGL circuits.
November 27, 2020
The European Tour and PGA Tour announce a strategic alliance intended to synthesize a global golf schedule, increase purses and improve playing opportunities within the existing men’s pro-golf ecosystem.
The PGA Tour launches its annual Player Impact Program, a $40 million pot that will reward the 10 players who bring the most value to the Tour, based on five select criteria. The program is viewed as the Tour’s best defense against upstart tours like PGL poaching the Tour’s top talent.
October 27, 2021
Greg Norman hosts an interview session with select media organizations (GOLF was one of them) in which he announces that he has accepted the position of CEO for LIV Golf Investments, of which the majority stakeholder is the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia. The fund promises to underwrite 10 events on the Asian Tour. It is expected that Norman will also become commissioner of a Saudi-backed golf league (formerly the Super Golf League) managed by LIV Golf.
November 21, 2021
In an attempt to dissuade defectors and address player complaints about financial inequity, Jay Monahan sends PGA Tour members a memo detailing massive purse increases. The Tour’s season-long purse total is set to rise from $367 million to $427 million in 2022. The 16 percent increase is partly a result of a new, nine-year TV rights deal negotiated by the Tour.
February 2, 2022
While competing in the 2022 Saudi International, Phil Mickelson tells Golf Digest that he has major issues with the distribution of wealth on the PGA Tour. In the process, he grossly overstates the value of the Tour’s media assets but says “It is the Tour’s obnoxious greed that has really opened the door for opportunities elsewhere.”
February 17, 2022
Incendiary comments from Mickelson included in a biography by Alan Shipnuck reveal some of the inspiration for Mickelson’s interest in LIV Golf. In an interview from the previous November, Mickelson referred to the Saudi Arabian regime as “scary motherf—–s” but noted that signing on with LIV would represent a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reshape how the PGA Tour operates.” His comments receive massive blowback, not just from media and fans, but from PGA Tour players as well. Justin Thomas called Mickelson’s words “shocking” and “egotistical.” Five days later he announces an indefinete leave from golf to prioritize his family. It ended up last until June.
March 16, 2022
LIV Golf officially announces a slate of eight 2022 events, set to launch in London on June 9 at the Centurion Club. While no field is included in the announcement, the prize money for the total series is set at a whopping $225 million. “We have done our best to create a schedule that allows players to play elsewhere while still participating in our events,” Norman says. In addition to the individual competition — 54 holes, no cuts, shotgun start — LIV golfers will form teams of four and compete for additional prize money.
May 10, 2022
Norman says that 19 of the top 100 players in the world have signed up to play LIV Golf’s first event. Under PGA Tour rules, Tour members will need approved releases to participate. None of them get it. In response, Greg Norman issues yet another statement calling the PGA Tour an “illegal monopoly” and tells media outlets LIV Golf has acquired an additional $2 billion in funding from the Saudis to create a rival golf tour. Later that month, LIV announces its first field with Dustin Johnson, who had earlier pledged loyalty to the PGA Tour, as the headliner. Phil Mickelson officially signs the dotted line three days before the first event.
June 9, 2022
Less than an hour after the first tee shots are struck at LIV Golf’s London debut, Monahan sends a letter to all Tour members declaring that the 17 players with Tour affiliation competing at the Centurion Club are either suspended or hereby ineligible to compete in future PGA Tour events, including the upcoming Presidents Cup. LIV Golf immediately responds, calling the suspensions “vindictive.” Some LIV golfers are unsurprised and unconcerned about the suspension, but Ian Poulter announces plans to appeal.
June 22, 2022
Monahan hosts a press conference at the Travelers Championship, detailing abrupt changes to the PGA Tour’s future plans. First, a fall series of events in which the top 50 in the FedEx Cup compete for $20 million purses. Second, a Tour schedule that runs January through August, with elevated invitationals and, once again, bigger purses. “We welcome good, healthy competition,” he says. “The LIV Saudi golf league is not that. It’s an irrational threat, one not concerned with the return on investment or true growth of the game.”
July 1, 2022
The European Tour — newly named the DP World Tour — issues £100,000 fines to members who’ve competed in LIV events without approved releases. It bans those same players from competing in the three events it co-sanctions with the PGA Tour — a sign of strength in their strategic alliance. Nonetheless, four LIV players — Poulter, Brendan Grace, Adrian Otaegui and Justin Harding — earn a temporary stay through a UK court, which allows them to compete in the Scottish Open.
July 27, 2022
LIV Golf announces it will push its plans ahead a full year. Instead of rolling out a 10-event series in 2023, it will host 14 events with 48 contracted players. There’ll be no changing of team affiliations from week to week (as has happened frequently in 2022).
August 3, 2022
Eleven LIV golfers file an antitrust lawsuit against the PGA Tour, alleging unlawful monopoly and restraint of trade. The suit, titled “Mickelson et al. v. PGA Tour,” and filed in a U.S. District Court in California, is originally set for a September 2023 trial.
August 9, 2022
A California judge denies the request of LIV golfers Talor Gooch, Hudson Swafford and Matt Jones for a temporary restraining order that would have allowed them to compete in the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup Playoffs. On the same day, The Telegraph reports that Cam Smith has signed a $100 million agreement with LIV.
August 16, 2022
Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy lead a players-only meeting at the BWM Championship to propose changes to the Tour’s structure and schedule, focused on rewarding the top players in the Player Impact Program and, most importantly, getting them to play the same events more often. The meeting, which was reportedly attended by 22 players, concludes with a full proposal sent to Jay Monahan. Eight days later, Monahan announces at the Tour Championship a complete revolution of the Tour schedule.
The Tour schedule will now include 12 “elevated” events (these came to be known as Designated events) at which the “top players” in the PIP are reasonably expected to compete. That comes in addition to the major championships and the Players Championship, ensuring the top players compete at the same time at least 17 times each year, and potentially more than that. How do you get them there? The purse sizes will average $20 million.
As for the other players on the PGA Tour, a $500,000 league minimum of earnings will be guaranteed by the PGA Tour, regardless of player performance. Also, for non-full members, a $5,000 stipend will be issued to players who missed the cut. Lastly, when asked if any LIV golfers would like to return in the wake of these announcements, Mohanan was blunt: “No,” he said. Many of them have been suspended into the 2024 season.
September 29, 2022
The PGA Tour retaliates against LIV Golf and files a countersuit against it and three golfers. By this point, eight of the original plaintiffs of “Mickelson et al. v. PGA Tour” (including Mickelson) had dropped out of the suit, leaving just Matt Jones, Bryson DeChambeau and Peter Uihlein to be named in the countersuit. The Tour’s counterclaim argued that LIV is an entity for sports washing and its players have suffered no injury by being suspended by the PGA Tour.
December 20, 2022
After months of speculation, Augusta National issues a statement announcing LIV Golfers will be able to play in the 2023 Masters. Chairman Fred Ridley said the tournament would invite all players “eligible under our current criteria to compete,” effectively ruling out an outright ban. However, Ridley did take the opportunity to scold the LIV defectors. “Regrettably, recent actions have divided men’s professional golf by diminishing the virtues of the game and the meaningful legacies of those who built it,” he said. The Masters was the first major to rule on the eligibility of LIV golfers and the other three majors all fell in line behind the green coats.
January 26, 2023
The PGA Tour moves in court to add the Saudi Arabian Public Investment Fund and Governor Yasir Al-Rumayyan as defendants in its countersuit. This was significant because the Tour was essentially saying that the PIF and Al-Rumayyan had the real power in LIV’s operations. The Tour argues recruiting players, approving contracts, determining payout structures and promising to indemnify players from financial responsibility in lawsuits is tortuous interference of the contracts of defecting players.
March 1, 2023
PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan announces the Tour will move forward with the “Designated Event Model.” Eight of the designated events, which were created for the 2023 season, will become limited-field, no-cut events. It also announced a new structure where the top-50 players in the previous year’s FedEx Cup rankings would gain entry to the following year’s designated events, as well as other means of entry. Designated events would also be positioned in back-to-back weeks in the 2024 schedule, with three non-designated (or full field) events preceding. The changes got mixed reaction from pros and fans as some lamented the loss of cuts for some events or accused the Tour of adopting part of LIV’s model. On the other hand, the changes were praised by some players as the path forward to reward the best golfers.
April 4, 2023
LIV golfers lose an arbitration case in the UK courts against the DP World Tour, allowing the tour to reinstate its fines and suspensions for its members who played in LIV Golf events. Until this point, LIV golfers were playing in DP World Tour events with notable run-ins occuring at the BMW PGA Championship and Omega Dubai Desert Classic. Adrian Otaegui (who has since stopped playing in LIV events) even won an event on the tour. Many LIV golfers resigned their DP World Tour memberships after paying the fines to avoid getting any more, thus making them ineligible for the fall’s Ryder Cup.
April 9, 2023
In the first Masters since the launch of the tour, LIV golfers Phil Mickelson, Brooks Koepka and Patrick Reed finish T4 or better at Augusta. Kopeka even led through 54 holes while a 52-year-old Mickelson turned back the clock with a final-round 64 to finish T2. The fine showing ended any speculation about whether LIV’s model would lead to players not being as sharp for majors.
May 18, 2023
On PGA Championship Thursday, before he ended up as the first-round leader, Bryson DeChambeau (or at least his legal representatives) formally withdrew his name from LIV’s lawsuit against the PGA Tour, the last player to do so.
May 21, 2023
Brooks Koepka wins the PGA Championship, becoming the first current LIV golfer to win a major championship — and by extension, a PGA Tour event. At his post-tournament press conference, he downplayed the win as one for his tour. “Yeah, I definitely think it helps LIV, but I’m more interested in my own self right now, to be honest with you,” Koepka said.
June 6, 2023
In a stunning surprise announcement, the PGA Tour, DP World Tour and PIF announce a merger to create a new, for-profit entity. Details aren’t entirely clear, but a press release from the PGA Tour indicates a process for allowing LIV golfers to re-apply for membership on the PGA and DP World tours after the 2023 season. The merger also ended all litigation between the two sides. All PGA Tour players were kept in the dark about the announcement, which didn’t go over well with some of them.