Tour Confidential: The shocking PGA Tour-LIV Golf merger; winners, what it means, what we know
Check in every week for the unfiltered opinions of our writers and editors as they break down the hottest topics in the sport, and join the conversation by tweeting us @golf_com. Today, in an emergency edition of Tour Confidential, we break down Tuesday’s shocking PGA Tour-LIV Golf merger.
The PGA Tour, LIV Golf and the DP World Tour stunned the golf world and beyond Tuesday morning when they announced a commercial partnership. In a statement, PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan — who for two years has been railing against everything LIV stands for — said, “This transformational partnership recognizes the immeasurable strength of the PGA Tour’s history, legacy and pro-competitive model and combines with it the DP World Tour and LIV — including the team golf concept — to create an organization that will benefit golf’s players, commercial and charitable partners and fans.” There are still so many questions about the details of the partnership, but what are your initial reactions?
Jessica Marksbury, multimedia editor (@Jess_Marksbury): Money wins. And despite months of anti-LIV rhetoric from figures like Jay Monahan, you can never really know what’s happening behind the scenes. It’s a slap in the face like no other to the Tour loyalists. I’m so interested to know what the catalyst for the about-face really was. Was it a lack of funds? Was it the drain of litigation with no end in sight? Or was it a defensive move, to prevent unflattering info from airing in public? So. Many. Questions.
Sean Zak, senior writer (@Sean_Zak): It’s the biggest day in the history of professional golf. Saudi Arabia continues to show the sports world that it indeed can buy whatever it wants. Money is no issue, and everyone has a price. Without knowing the situation Jay Monahan no doubt felt he was backed into, it’s clear that a price existed. And a situation that demanded he brief few if any Tour players about. I’d say I’m as stunned as anyone, but no one can be more stunned than the Tour membership, particularly Rory McIlroy, who took an endless amount of shrapnel on Monahan’s behalf the last 15 months.
Zephyr Melton, assistant editor (@zephyrmelton): I’m stunned, to say the least. When I saw the first reports this morning on Twitter, I thought they were parody accounts and thought nothing of it. It took a second to realize that this thing was actually real. It’s a pretty shocking about-face from Jay Monahan, and one that goes against everything he and the Tour loyalists have preached for the last 18 months. It just goes to show that money will always win out, for better or for worse.
Ryan Barath, equipment editor (@RDSBarath): In a way it felt like the conclusion of the golf world’s Succession (Spoiler Alert!) — money comes out on top and everyone has a price. Just because it has happened doesn’t mean I have to like it, and at this point when you consider how much money Saudi Arabia has put into other sports like soccer, this still plays out like pennies on their balance sheet.
Jack Hirsh, assistant editor (@JR_HIRSHey): I think stunned is an understatement for most of us. Absolutely no one saw this coming. Most of the power players involved were at Oak Hill two weeks ago for the PGA Championship and had to know this was going down. With all of the media on site, how did no one find out? Now I start to worry about how Saudi Arabia is bringing sportswashing to the entire professional game.
MORE PGA TOUR-LIV MERGER COVERAGE: Player reaction | 21 burning questions & answers | 10 shocking revelations | How the merger came to be | Brandel Chamblee sounds off | Rory, Tiger left in the dark | PGA Tour-LIV Golf timeline | Can this happen? A legal expert weighs in | Jay Monahan defends decision
At first glance, who or what are the biggest winners and losers in this arrangement?
Zak: The biggest winner is the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, which has made a point to flex its extreme wealth into non-oil industries. This is a massive coup for Yasir Al-Rumayyan, purchasing his way into an ownership chunk of the golf world. The leading chunk, I might add. As for the biggest loser, it’s Monahan, who has lost the trust of his membership, and probably even the employees who work under him. Has he earned an insane amount of capital from the Saudis? Yes. Did it cost him something as well? Undoubtedly.
Marksbury: The LIV guys are definitely taking a victory lap right now. They got their massive paychecks and have a pathway back to the Tour now, too, if they want it. The losers, though I hate to call them that because they don’t deserve it, are apparently the guys that didn’t take the LIV money when they could. Rory, Tiger and others could have collected hundreds of millions but chose not to. They must feel incredibly betrayed.
Melton: If you’re a player that took the money from LIV, you are undoubtedly a winner. They had their cake and got to eat it, too. The Saudis are another winner. They’ve wanted a seat at the table in golf for some time, and they finally found the right price. I agree with Sean’s take that Monahan is the biggest loser. He torpedoed his reputation in a single morning, and perhaps tarnished his legacy as well. Also, you can’t help but think Greg Norman is a loser here. He’s been the face of the league from the beginning, but from the sound of the CNBC interview, he didn’t even know about the partnership until this morning. It’s gotta sting to be left out of the negotiating room for the most consequential deal in golf history.
Barath: The winner is the act of sportswashing and the loser is the professional golf ecosystem. Saudi Arabia gets exactly what it wants — its hands on another entity that people already love and have a hard time turning away from. The losers, if you want to call them that, are the players who stuck by Jay Monahan and now look like a bunch of hoodwinked pawns.
Hirsh: Couple of winners here. Saudi Arabia basically owns and has major influence over the professional game. LIV golfers who got upfront money as my colleagues above mentioned. And actually the fans. At the end of the day, fans will see a unified game and the best players in the world teeing it up at the same places. That was one of the issues LIV created in the first place. While the circumstances aren’t maybe what we expected, this is a resolution that makes watching golf better. I agree that there is no bigger loser than Jay Monahan. This blindsided Tour members and Johnson Wagner, who attended the meeting via phone, said on Golf Channel it seemed the room was 90-10 against the merger. Not only that, but Monahan’s stunning reversal paints him as a hypocrite based on his past statements. You have to wonder how many players will still have his back.
What do you make of the secrecy of the deal, and the fact that virtually no players seemed to know about it? Did the PGA Tour owe more transparency to its players, especially given so many of them stuck by the Tour as it tried to ward off LIV?
Zak: The Tour absolutely owed more transparency to its members, but something tells me Monahan was acting in this way given legal ramifications, the Department of Justice investigation, increasing financial pressure from sponsors, etc. Now may have been his moment to strike. But he will always be remembered for this moment of hypocrisy. It’s hard to imagine how he rules over this membership moving forward. But perhaps I can’t see the forest through the trees.
Marksbury: Yes, absolutely. Players like Rory bore an incredible burden over the last year, taking on the role as the PGA Tour’s defender and mouthpiece. Perhaps Monahan was backed into a corner, and truly believed that he was doing right by the PGA Tour’s membership. But those members also had a right to be a part of that decision. Otherwise, what is the PAC and Player Advisory Board even for?
Melton: Well the Tour is (supposedly) a “member-run organization,” so the fact that none of the players were privy to the discussions is pretty shady. We’ll find out more about these negotiations in the coming days, but it sure seems like Monahan and other Tour leadership went behind the players’ backs to get this deal done. If you’re a Tour member, especially one that went to bat for the Tour, this move has to feel like a betrayal.
Barath: I believe that neither one of these organizations wanted to have their books exposed in the courts, and as a way to save themselves and prevent leaks and other issues they had to become strange bedfellows to save each other.
Hirsh: I thought the PGA Tour was supposed to be a player-run organization. I’m still confused how a decision this monumental could have been made without even policy board members like Rory McIlroy being informed.
The newly formed entity doesn’t yet have a name, but it does have a board that will be chaired by Saudi PIF governor Yasir Al-Rumayyan. Is Al-Rumayyan now the most powerful person in golf?
Zak: I don’t say this lightly, but I think so? He proved that money ultimately wins out. How much of that money will trickle down to the LPGA Tour? He’ll be involved. How much will team golf be a part of pro golf’s future? He’ll be involved. I don’t think anyone in golf is particularly powerful, though, if that makes sense. When we continue to talk about the legacy of the sport’s greatest pros, we continue to count majors. MAJORS. Al-Rumayyan is not involved in any majors.
Marksbury: I guess it depends on the metric by which you’re measuring. Is he more powerful than someone like Tiger? I don’t know. He’s now holding significant power in terms of finances and Tour governance. So in that sense, as chairman of this new entity, and as a new PGA Tour Policy Board member, he probably is.
Melton: It seems like it? We don’t know the specifics of how this partnership came to be, but any man who can get this deal over the finish has immense sway. It seems like a hostile takeover by the Saudis, and Al-Rumayyan appears to be the frontman. I don’t know that there’s a man in golf wielding more power at the moment.
Barath: In one way yes, but in another way it’s the players who still have all the power. Without players you don’t have a league, and considering that so many of the top players still don’t have contracts with the PGA Tour or LIV they can do as they please.
Hirsh: I’m not ready to make that conclusion yet, but if this deal goes through as expected, then yes. However, I’m not convinced players won’t find a way to somehow overturn this or at the very least alter the deal. We still have yet to hear from Tiger Woods and the golf world will still stop for him.
So many layers, so many questions. Any parting thoughts?!
Zak: Might be counter-intuitive to this entire article, but try not to rush to any extreme conclusions. There is a lot more to come from all of this. You’ll be able to find it on this website.
Melton: I’m a bit numb at the moment. This is the most shocking day in sports since Covid shut down the NBA. No one saw this coming. Now it’s time to unpack how it all went down, and watch to see how the aftermath unfolds.
Marksbury: Agree, guys. Surreal day! I’m really looking forward to hearing from the game’s top names over the coming days. This is really all about them, after all. But also, at the end of the day, isn’t this what we wanted as fans? An end to the conflict, and everyone playing in the same tournaments again? It will be quite something to see it all play out.
Barath: I don’t like this, and I’m disappointed that modern sports have simply come down to money. Of course I believe that athletes are valuable entertainment, but for it to just come down to control by a small group of extremely wealthy people — it doesn’t sit well.
Hirsh: It still feels strange and frankly, as I alluded to in the last question, I’m not convinced this will go through in its current form. Maybe that’s a little wishful thinking, but I think I still need a little more time to process this, as do we all.