Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy left in dark on PGA Tour-LIV Golf merger. Here’s why
On the day PGA Tour players learned about their league’s shocking merger with its rival, it appears even the Tour’s most prized stars and advocates were left in the dark.
The PGA Tour made worldwide news on Tuesday, announcing it will form a new commercial entity “to unify golf” by merging with the DP World Tour and, surprisingly, LIV Golf, the upstart league that’s turned the sport on its head for the past year-plus.
The merger, in short, will see the PGA Tour, DP World Tour and PIF — Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, which funds LIV Golf — combine its commercial operations. The PGA Tour will remain a 501(c)(6) tax-exempt organization, but the new collectively owned, to-be-named entity will be for-profit. Litigation between the PGA Tour and LIV Golf will also end, and there will be a route for LIV players to re-apply for PGA Tour or DP World Tour membership next season.
PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan held a players-only meeting at Oakdale Golf & Country Club in Toronto on Tuesday, host of this week’s RBC Canadian Open, and spoke to the media afterward. He said conversations surrounding the deal have been ongoing for the last seven weeks, which included four in-person meetings and several video chats and phone calls.
Players — such as two-time major-winner Collin Morikawa, among several others — lamented their frustration about learning of the deal via social media, and apparently, even golf’s top dogs weren’t in on it. According to Golf Channel’s Todd Lewis, both Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy were left in the dark about the merger as well.
Monahan explained why more people, including players, weren’t in the loop.
“Given the complexity of what we were dealing with, it’s not uncommon that the circle of information is very tight,” Monahan said. “The fact of the matter is that this was a shock to a lot of people because we were not in a position to share or explain, as we normally would, and that was really a result of the commitment we had made to maintaining confidentiality through the end.”
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“One of the first things I thought about was, I wonder what Tiger and Rory and several other players who would have turned down 10s of if not hundreds of millions of dollars to go to LIV would’ve thought [when this happened],” said Golf Channel analyst Brandel Chamblee. “They stood on principle, and they fought for the PGA Tour, and they fought for the betterment of the PGA Tour — and this just came out of nowhere.”
Woods has yet to speak publicly on the matter, but McIlroy addressed the media on Wednesday. He said he got a text message on Monday night from PGA Tour policy board member Jimmy Dunne, asking if he could call him in the morning. Dunne called him at about 6:30 a.m. Tuesday — roughly two hours before the news broke — to take him though the structure of the deal.
McIlroy said he knew there had been discussions in the background, but it didn’t sound like he was involved in it.
“So, yeah, I learned about it pretty much at the same time everyone else did,” he said Wednesday. “And, yeah, it was a surprise.”
As the PGA Tour vs. LIV Golf battle intensified over the past year, Woods and McIlroy have served critical roles for the PGA Tour and its commissioner, Monahan.
On Tuesday, Monahan was asked if he specifically regretted not informing players like Woods and McIlroy beforehand.
“What we’ve agreed to here is a framework agreement, and the binding elements are tied to the litigation,” he said. “A lot of these details we’ve got to work through. If we had announced a definitive agreement this morning and I was calling them in the morning and I had made commitments on behalf of the PGA Tour and not had an opportunity to fully vet them with our policy board and with those two individuals in a larger group, then that would be a complete miss on my part, and I recognize that.
“But this was us reaching a framework agreement. We think it’s the right agreement. Obviously, Tiger and Rory’s perspective is one that I understand very well, and it was part of my thinking throughout these conversations, and it will be a part of my thinking going forward. Now that we’re in a framework agreement, I look forward to talking to all of our players, including the two of them, to make certain that this comes off the right way.”
It was at this tournament last year when LIV played its first event, across the Atlantic in London, and golf’s divide became real.
“I want to play on the PGA Tour against the best players in the world,” McIlroy said in his pre-tournament press conference that week. “And I think for me, speaking to a few people yesterday and one of the comments was, anything, any decision that you make in your life that’s purely for money usually doesn’t end up going the right way. Obviously, money is a deciding factor in a lot of things in this world, but if it’s purely for money it’s not, never seems to, you know, it never seems to go the way you want it to.”
McIlroy won that week, which the pro-PGA Tour contingent liked to say was a win for the good guys. He continued to back the Tour, almost exhaustedly, every time he was asked about LIV Golf. Two months after his Canadian Open win, McIlroy was at a private meeting for top PGA Tour players at the BMW Championship. Woods flew in specifically to attend the meeting, held at the Hotel Du Pont, with the goal of unifying the Tour, shoring up weaknesses and countering the threat of LIV Golf.
“When you get to last summer, I was grateful that Tiger and Rory and that group of players got together (at the BMW) because I was a part of the process,” Monahan said at the Players Championship in March. “I understood what they were seeking to accomplish; the lines of communication were very open and transparent. In my role, it’s my job to synthesize that and ultimately come back to our board of five player directors and five independent directors and alongside my team make a recommendation that’s in the best interests of the Tour. So having conversations with those players, having conversations with our Player Advisory Council, with our board, with the membership week-in and week-out, which is what our player relations team does, that’s how we communicate.”
Woods, like McIlroy, defended the Tour whenever he was asked about it, citing legacy over guaranteed paychecks.
“I think that what they’ve done is they’ve turned their back on what has allowed them to get to this position,” he said at the Open Championship last summer.
Woods and McIlroy continued to be among the Tour’s most vocal advocates. McIlroy, a player director on the Tour’s Player Advisory Council, sat in on a board meeting for seven hours the Tuesday of the Arnold Palmer Invitational earlier this year and tied for second five days later.
You could tell his duties were exhausting him, too. After he missed the cut at the Players Championship, he said, “I’m ready to get back to being purely a golfer.”
After Tuesday, what’s left is a lot of unanswered questions. For the future of the PGA Tour, LIV, the loyalty of players to their commissioner and so much more.
“The guys who stayed loyal to the PGA Tour, it’s kind of a kick in the teeth to them,” PGA Tour player Callum Tarren said on Golf Channel Tuesday. “Obviously Rory was a huge advocate of the PGA Tour and now he kind of looks like all his hard work and sticking up for the PGA Tour was left by the wayside.”