To understand the state of men’s professional golf these days, a history lesson is necessary. Back in the early ’90s, many of the world’s best players were not American. They hailed from all over: Australia, England, Spain, South Africa. But the best stage in golf — the PGA Tour — was rooted in the States.
Problem: The Tour was under investigation by the Federal Trade Commission. Some of its practices smelled fishy. Specifically, members were required to get permission from the Tour in order to compete in non-Tour events held concurrent with its own tournaments. If the FTC deemed these practices anti-competitive, the Tour would have to rewrite some of its most important rules. And if a competing series of events were to come along and help prove the FTC’s case, it might upend the sport as we knew it. Pro golf was ripe for the taking, and one of its most outspoken Hall of Famers knew it.
NOVEMBER 17, 1994
The World Golf Tour, spearheaded by two-time major winner Greg Norman — the No. 2 player in the world at the time — announces plans for an eight-event schedule, kicking off in 1995. Fox Sports has signed a 10-year agreement to broadcast the series and provide much of the purse money. Each event will offer $3 million purses to 40-player fields. That same week, Arnold Palmer grabs the microphone at a PGA Tour players meeting and urges caution to anyone who might defect.
DECEMBER 1, 1994
First-year PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem, in a war of words, works swiftly to thwart the upstart tour, announcing that he and Norman “both [agree] that a confrontation would not be in the best interest of the game of golf.” In the days that follow, Norman pushes back, saying he’ll forge ahead — and he does so, setting his own schedule to play 15 events on the PGA Tour and eight on the World Golf Tour. But without the support of other players — international stars like Seve Ballesteros and Nick Price are only tentative yeses, and few, if any, Americans show interest — the WGT never gets off the ground.
SEPTEMBER 1, 1995
Following a five-year investigation, the FTC informs the PGA Tour that, regarding Tour bylaws inhibiting players from competing in non-Tour events, it will not impose charges for restraint of trade. The decision is little more than a footnote — and the World Golf Tour loses what little leverage it had.
In March 1997, Norman and Finchem host a shared press conference, declaring that they have put their differences aside.
OCTOBER 30, 1997
The PGA Tour announces three new tournaments, called the World Golf Championships, scheduled to debut in February, October and November of 1999. The events are, to a degree, modeled on Nor-man’s ’94 proposal: limited fields, the best players in the world and the biggest prizes in golf. “It’s good for the game,” Norman says. “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.”
For nearly the next two decades, and in much the same way, the PGA Tour’s business model carries forward. TV-rights deals increased by 50 percent in 2003, then increased again in 2007. With Tiger Woods as one of the planet’s most recognizable athletes, purses also steadily grew, reaching a total of $275.5 million in 2011, a 67 percent jump from 2000.
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.
Dozens of investors have been linked with the PGL, including the Public Invest-ment Fund of Saudi Arabia. For the first time, Rory McIlroy raises concerns about the budding league and its financial backers: “I didn’t really like where the money was coming from,” he says of the Saudis and that country’s difficult human-rights record. “I wanted to be the first one to speak out against it. I’m glad that I have. ”Despite McIlroy’s public stance, the PGL was gaining buzz — at least in the locker rooms of the PGA Tour. But it was quieted in March 2020 by a global pandemic that shut down the PGA Tour and the rest of the sports world. Plans for a new, global golf tour would have to wait.
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.
MAY 4, 2021
According to a ground-breaking report in The Telegraph, as many as 11 leading Tour pros receive offers of between $30 and $50 million to join the PGL — redubbed the Super League Golf. The names: DeChambeau, Johnson, Fowler, Rose and Koepka, along with others. Chief among them is Mickelson, who has reportedly been offered $100 million to lead the charge.
OCTOBER 27, 2021
Greg Norman is back. The Shark 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.”
That same week, at the Genesis Invitational (and in the days that followed), nearly every big-name player — Thomas, McIlroy, Jon Rahm, Collin Morikawa and others — professes his loyalty to the PGA Tour and disavows LIV.
FEBRUARY 22, 2022
Mickelson announces that he’ll be taking time away from golf to prioritize his family and to “work on being the man I want to be.” He does not say when he’ll play next, including whether he’ll compete in the Masters, which is just six weeks away.
FEBRUARY 24, 2022
In a mandatory players meeting at the Honda Classic, Jay Monahan sends a stern message: If you want to leave the PGA Tour, leave. He also intimates that defectors might face lifetime expulsion from the Tour. Greg Norman responds with a letter to Monahan accusing him of going too far and asserting that he cannot ban players from playing golf. He ends it ominously: “Commissioner — this is just the beginning. It certainly is not the end.”
MARCH 8, 2022
Monahan takes the stage during an annual press conference at the Players Championship and delivers a response, particularly targeted at Mickelson. “We are and we always will be focused on legacy, not leverage,” he says, refusing to acknowledge Norman or LIV Golf by name.
MARCH 16, 2022
LIV Golf officially announces a slate of eight 2022 events, set to launch in London on June 9 at the Centurian 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.
MAY 31, 2022
Dustin Johnson, who’d earlier pledged his loyalty to the Tour, is announced as the headliner of LIV Golf’s first field, having signed with LIV for a reported $125 million. He is joined by up-and-comer Talor Gooch and European legends Sergio García, Lee Westwood, Ian Poulter and Martin Kaymer. Notably, six of the 48 spots in the field remain unannounced.
JUNE 6, 2022
Perhaps the biggest news to date is dropped in a press release to golf writers all over the world: Phil Mickelson has signed a multiyear contract with the Saudis (eventually estimated to be worth $200 million) and will return to action at LIV Golf’s first event. “I fully realize and respect some may disagree with this decision and have strong opinions, and I empathize with that,” Mickelson says. “I have a renewed spirit and excitement for the game.”
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 11, 2022
Charl Schwartzel, who hadn’t won a Tour event in six years, becomes the first LIV Golf champion, leading the London contest from start to finish. He earns an astonishing $4.75 million through the individual and team competitions. During the event, LIV’s newest high-profile recruits are revealed: Patrick Reed, Bryson DeChambeau and Pat Perez.
JUNE 21, 2022
Just days after a contentious press conference at the U.S. Open, in which Brooks Koepka asserts he “hadn’t given [LIV] that much thought,” the four-time major winner signs with the upstart league. “Opinions change,” he would say later that month. Koepka is joined at LIV by another pair of Tour winners: Carlos Ortiz and Matthew Wolff.
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.”
JUNE 30–JULY 2, 2022
LIV Golf hosts its second event, at Pumpkin Ridge, just outside Portland, Ore. Branden Grace, then the 128th-ranked player in the world, takes home the $4 million top prize. Greg Norman is more visibly present. He even trolls the PGA Tour on social media.
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, Grace, Adrian Otaegui and Justin Harding — earn a temporary stay through a UK court, which allows them to compete in the Scottish Open.
In advance of the 2022 Open Championship at the Old Course, the R&A asks Norman — the twice-crowned Champion Golfer of the Year — not to make an appearance at St. Andrews, an honor granted to every other former Open winner. In better news for Norman, the Department of Justice’s antitrust division begins investigating the PGA Tour’s practices.
JULY 12, 2022
One important figure yet to discuss LIV at length is Tiger Woods. On Tuesday of Open week, he takes the podium and delivers blunt remarks about the enterprise: “The players who have chosen to go to LIV Golf and play there … they’ve turned their back on what has allowed them to get to this position.”
JULY 17, 2022
In his post-tournament presser, newly crowned Open winner Cam Smith bats away rumors of his imminent move to LIV with an impatient non-denial.
JULY 20, 2022
Ryder Cup Europe removes Henrik Stenson as its 2023 captain after it’s announced that he’ll be joining LIV. Stenson claims he “made every arrangement possible here to be able to fulfill my captain’s duties … and, still, the decision was made that I was to be removed.”
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).
JULY 29–31, 2022
At LIV’s third event, at Trump Bedminster in New Jersey, the tour’s connection with Donald Trump is realized. Some of the biggest ovations at Bedminster are not for players, but for the former president. In the pro-am, the former president plays alongside DeChambeau and Johnson. After Stenson wins the event and its huge first-place prize, he quips that he “played like a captain.” Three LIV events down, five more to go in 2022 — including the finale at Trump Doral in Miami.
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 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 who 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.
AUGUST 30. 2022
Long-rumored news becomes official: the reigning Players and Open champion — and No. 2 player in the world — Cameron Smith joins LIV Golf in a massive get for the upstart league. Smith is joined by fellow Australian Marc Leishman, as well as Joaquin Niemann, Harold Varner III, Anirban Lahiri and Cameron Tringale. Three of them make immediate impacts. Smith finishes T4 while Niemann and Lahiri lose in a playoff to Dustin Johnson, who gave LIV Golf its first iconic highlight by ramming home a walkoff eagle putt on the first playoff hole.
Where will this civil war go? It seems the news changes not just weekly, but daily. At this week’s BWM PGA Championship in England, various LIV golfers have been made unwelcome by others in the field for their showing up to play despite never committing to the DP World Tour in the past. The likes of Lee Westwood, Ian Poulter and Sergio Garcia have flown in from LIV Boston and once their tournament ends they’ll ship off to LIV Chicago. Is it an example of their jet-setting future? Perhaps. Will we see something similar for former PGA Tour pros? That’s all tied up in a separate legal battle whose court hearing is set for January 2024, more than 15 months from now. The date a reminder that though we feel much has changed in the last six or seven months, there remains plenty more to come.