Tour Confidential: Golf’s (delayed) mega merger; the people who won 2023

phil mickelson on the golf course

We discuss golf's pending mega merger, the people who "won" 2023, storylines you need on your radar for 2024 and more.

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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 at @golf_com. This week, we discuss golf’s mega merger, the winners of the past 12 months, 2024 storylines and more.

The PGA Tour and Saudi Public Investment Fund failed to reach a definitive agreement on a potential merger by Sunday’s deadline, and the target date for a new agreement has now been extended into 2024. Is this an ominous sign that a deal might not be completed at all? What’s your takeaway here?

James Colgan, news and features editor (@jamescolgan26): I don’t know if it’s ominous so much as it is disappointing. The Tour and PIF had the opportunity to put the complete disaster of the last two years in professional golf behind us by reaching an agreement. I’d appreciate it if the people who gave themselves a deadline stuck to it, and I think a not-insignificant number of golf fans feel the same.

Josh Berhow, managing editor (@Josh_Berhow): In a perfect world the PGA Tour could have put a bow on the merger and entered 2024 with a clean slate (but with still lots to figure out). Now, as James said, it’s a distraction a little while longer. It does make you wonder how much the latest developments (the Tour’s increased talks with the Strategic Sports Group and Jon Rahm leaving for LIV) influenced the delay, or, more importantly, the pending result.

Sean Zak, senior writer (@Sean_Zak): Yeah, James seems to be striking a familiar tune to what I keep hearing from golf fans. They’re ready for it to be done. Jon Rahm’s departure was another eye roll for the many people who love watching him compete on the biggest stage. I still anticipate a deal getting done, but each week we get closer to the Masters without a resolution of sorts is just another annoying week for people who care deeply about pro golf.

It’s the final day of 2023, and while the framework agreement between the PGA Tour, DP World Tour and Saudi PIF dominated golf headlines, there was plenty more that happened in the past 12 months. Who, or what, do you think won 2023?

Colgan: I think, oddly, Phil Mickelson won 2023. Not that he did very much on the course outside of his brilliant, turn-back-the-clock runner-up effort at the Masters. But the developments of the merger, the legitimization of LIV, the eventual coup of his pal Jon Rahm — all of it pointed to Phil finding a level of vindication I didn’t quite think possible when his “scary MF” word-vomit first dropped. Considering what he went through to reach this point both personally and professionally, I hope it was worth it for him.

Berhow: Phil is a good one. You could argue Rahm is a winner for the pile of checks he is about to cash. But as a prisoner of the moment, I’m going to say LIV Golf won 2023. Forget modest TV ratings, LIV got a (pending) deal with the PGA Tour, Yasir Al-Rumayyan — perhaps now the most powerful man in golf — will be the chairman of the newly formed body, and LIV even landed a parting blow at the end of the calendar year, signing Rahm away from the Tour. That last one really had to sting.

Zak: Both good answers. And mine won’t be very different. But Yasir Al-Rumayyan won 2023. He convinced the PGA Tour that his money was good money. He appeared on CNBC alongside the Tour commissioner. He’s very likely to gain a seat on the Tour’s board of directors. He has Martin Slumbers at the R&A considering him a newfound ally. His football club advanced to the Champions League. FIFA is essentially set to bring a World Cup to Saudi Arabia. He’s steamrolled a way for the country to become a global sports monolith. And very importantly, he avoided deposition multiple times.

Our Dylan Dethier had a thoughtful (and lengthy) conversation with Patrick Cantlay, who riffed on the future of the PGA Tour, LIV Golf, the Ryder Cup and much more. What was your most interesting take away from it?

Colgan: I loved what Pat had to say about Tiger Woods’ Ryder Cup advice (“just get to work”). But I think the most illuminating part of his interview was his discussion about negotiating with LIV. He said he dismissed their contract offer outright, and before the end of his first meeting about it. But it’s telling of the moment in golf when a member of the PGA Tour policy board goes as far as to hear out the enemy.

Berhow: Dylan and Patrick covered a lot of important topics, but what Cantlay said at the end about his friend who died, getting married, and the insignificance of everything else is important context here. Hatgate, his slow play or quiet demeanor might bother you, but it doesn’t bother him. Maybe there’s a good life lesson there.

Zak: He took an incredibly high road RE: Rory McIlroy. Which Rory himself didn’t exactly take. Their war within a war was one of the more interesting shadow tales of 2023.

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What’s your 2024 storyline to watch that no one is talking about. (Yes, this excludes the potential of the aforementioned merger, which everyone is talking about.)

Colgan: Who the hell is going to be in the booth for NBC at the U.S. Open?! It’s been close to 40 years since the peacock entered a PGA Tour season with an element of uncertainty about who was going to be in the lead analyst chair for its biggest events. The fact the network is sticking to an apparent “tryout” for the job represents one of the weirdest subplots of the early Tour season.

Berhow: The Olympics are back! But will golfers care this time? In Brazil in 2016 there was the Zika virus, and in Tokyo in 2020 there was Covid. And if those things didn’t scare professional golfers away, their own general indifference to Olympic competition did. Will they care in Paris this summer?

Zak: It’s high time that some of the biggest names in the game win a major or another major. HIGH time. Nelly Korda should have more than one. Lexi Thompson should have more than one. Xander Schauffele should have one. Rory McIlroy, damn it, it’s high time! When a year passes with breakout victories like Wyndham Clark, Brian Harman or Lilia Vu, it’s great. But I’m looking for some legacy-building stuff and we got that from Rahm and Koepka, but I’m growing impatient at not seeing it from some others.

And the major-less player to nab their first in 2024 is…?

Colgan: Viktor Hovland! And he’s going to do it in Augusta.

Berhow: Hard to bet against Viktor with how he played the last few months. Another option: Patrick Cantlay. A dark horse: Ludvig Aberg.

Zak: Xander Schauffele and Linn Grant. It’s time.

Finally, let’s hear your own golfy resolution for 2024. What ya got?

Colgan: I want to play more rounds of golf without my phone. At home on Long Island, on the road — I don’t really care. I’m hoping to find a little bit more peace in ‘24.

Berhow: I played more golf in 2023, which was great. But as a father of two, I’m way overdue for a buddies golf trip. Anywhere, three days. Friends of mine, are you reading this? Readers who aren’t friends of mine, got a spot? Let’s do this.

Zak: I wanna get better at tennis and somehow use that to improve my golf game too.

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