Tour Confidential: PGA Tour-Saudi bombshell, Jay Monahan, U.S. Open

Rory McIlroy

Rory McIlroy hits a shot on Sunday on the 7th hole at Oakdale Golf & Country Club.

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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 @golf_com. This week, we discuss the PGA Tour-Saudi bombshell, Jay Monahan, the U.S. Open and more.

1. The golf world was turned upside down with the shocking news that the PGA Tour, DP World Tour and LIV Golf would merge their commercial operations and form one common ownership. We broke it all down in an emergency edition of Tour Confidential the day it happened — make sure to check that out here — but there are still a few lingering topics we have yet to cover. Here’s one: Is this the end of LIV Golf, and if so, how easy, or difficult, should it be for LIV players to return to the PGA Tour or DP World Tour?

Jay Monahan, Rory McIlroy and Yasir Al-Rumayyan.
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Josh Sens, senior writer (@joshsens): My best guess is that LIV goes away in name, at least, along with those ridiculously named teams. The team concept will live on in some form, but it will be a small part of the big picture. The overarching structure will be a global golf circuit, with a select number of top-tier events for an elite crop of players, and a relegation system similar to that of the Premier League in soccer, through which the bottom guys drop out and new guys rise each year. As for ‘returning,’ I think that’s the wrong way to think about it. If this is a merger, and golf is now essentially one entity (no matter how the folks in charge want to spin it), those guys never really left. The top guys who joined LIV will have an easy time back. Instead of punishing the guys who ‘left,’ the new Tour, whatever it winds up being called, will more likely work to incentivize/compensate the guys who stayed.

Sean Zak, senior writer (@sean_zak): I anticipate LIV having a bit of a runway still. Players signed contracts for four years, and this is merely year 2 of those deals. If they’re bought out, is it the same company (the merged operations LLC) that will suspend them? I actually think letting LIV play out its 2024 season could be smart. Give it yet another season to see if there’s any magic in the team concept, and reprove the value of visiting Australia. Heck, do two tournaments in Australia! That’ll all be great data points for the “empirical evaluation” that Monahan asserts will be conducted about LIV.

James Colgan, news and features editor (@jamescolgan26): I tend to lean on the side of LIV continuing to exist. No reason for Yasir Al-Rumayyan and the PIF to dump a few billion into a league only to trash it a few months later. It’ll definitely take on a new form, probably by taking a backseat to the Tour schedule. But I don’t know if I believe Jay Monahan has the power to unilaterally smight LIV from the earth just for kicks. 

Dylan Dethier, senior writer (@dylan_dethier): I dunno, man. [Copies and pastes for all other merger-related questions.] Do they even know? It feels as though they’re keeping all options open while they iron out the details. The only thing that seems certain is that LIV’s attempt to compete directly with Tour events won’t look the same next year.

2. Did this deal save the Ryder Cup?

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Zak: The Ryder Cup was fine! In fact, I think it’s mostly the least-impacted thing. All this move did was make it more acceptable for Brooks Koepka to earn a captain’s pick rather than having to earn his way onto Team America. As for the Euros, Sergio Garcia gave up his DP World Tour membership, the first criteria for making a team. So he won’t be available for a pick. Could Ian Poulter get a selection to captain the next team, in 2025 at Bethpage? Yes, that becomes easier. But that’s still so far away. 

Sens: Exactly. The Ryder Cup didn’t need saving. I would say it was actually going to be more interesting without the LIV guys, as we would have seen new names thrown into the fire. I was especially curious to see how Team Europe might reconstitute itself. Most of its LIV guys had aged out already., Sergio, Westwood, Poulter? We’ve seen those guys in plenty of Ryder Cups already. Same with guys like DJ on the American side. Bring in the new blood.

Colgan: It probably saved future European team captainhood. The list of future Euro-side leaders was frighteningly slim under the schism. Now some big names reenter the mix.

Dethier: It may have actually hampered this year’s European side, as LIV players seem to have an easier path to the American team than Team Europe for this year’s competition. But yeah, the Ryder Cup will remain great as long as it has player buy-in. This probably helps in that department.

3. A lot of players have criticized PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan, saying he either misled them or didn’t communicate well enough. Meanwhile, Rory McIlroy said he felt like a “sacrificial lamb” with all the effort he put in publicly and behind the scenes supporting the PGA Tour. How much of a hit did Monahan’s reputation take with this, does it even matter, and is there anyone who should be more annoyed by last week’s events than McIlroy?

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Zak: Monahan’s reputation took a massive hit. Perhaps the greatest hit a major sport commissioner has taken while no doubt retaining his job. Players are not inclined to trust him. The sympathetic pros will wait it out and see what his next move is. The priorities of Tour pros look like this: 

1. Money

… 

… 

…. 

Everything else. 

Sure, part of that “everything else” is the hypocrisy involved in the deal and the hard questions they’ll surely face when their earnings officially come from the PIF of Saudi Arabia, but that’s down the line. For now, Jay can rescue this by delivering a massive amount of money and stability. (I’m afraid he just might do it, too.) 

Re: Rory, no one deserves to be more annoyed than him. I sympathize with him. I hope Tour pros commend him for what he did in the last year. I don’t know that they will. 

Sens: Monahan’s words and actions make him the definition of a hypocrite. But he’s hardly the first executive to compromise his personal reputation in the name of profit. Monahan’s first job was to look after his organization’s bottom line, and so he did that, knowing that he’d rightly be blasted for the two-facedness. Does it matter? I suspect Monahan will sleep just fine, and that public memory around this will be short. Bread and circus. Keeping the masses distracted with entertainment is an ancient practice. And it works. 

That said, I do suspect Monahan will be forced out of his job sooner than later. He spent a good many months blasting the Saudis. CEOs serve at the pleasure of the chairman of the board.Yasir Al-Rumayyan is now chairman of the board. Easy for the Saudis to replace Monahan with someone who has not been openly critical of the Saudi regime. So, that’s what I suspect: Monahan ousted, but with a pre-negotiated golden parachute to soften the landing.

Should Rory be annoyed? Sure. But so should anyone who is exhausted by the way that money rules over character, time after time.

Colgan: Monahan forever changed his legacy on Tuesday and probably for the worse, depending on your perspective on human rights. I think the 9/11 families have a fair claim to being more annoyed than McIlroy, considering the way the Tour exploited their very-real tragedy. At least Rory was a pawn and got paid. 

Dethier: Last summer, McIlroy worked hard as hell to get pros to buy in to his new vision for the PGA Tour. That sort of cohesion never happens on Tour, and it required a leap of faith from McIlroy and from the pros who followed him. This deal — and the fact that they were all left in the dark during its negotiation — made ’em all look dumb. I’m not sure if it would have been possible, given the clandestine nature of these meetings, but it feels like a heads-up and some discussion would have gone a long way on that front.

4. What’s an overlooked element to this that no one seems to be talking about that we should?

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Zak: An overlooked element of this is that Jay Monahan doesn’t do a lot of media. He’s done four press conferences in the past year — the most turbulent in the sport’s history — two informal sessions with only on-site press (both when he was in a position to speak about non-LIV things), and a couple exclusive interviews. If anyone is going to have to answer the tough questions moving forward, will it be Jay? Will it be Jimmy Dunne? Does it have to be the top players, like McIlroy? Will Monahan put himself out there more frequently to set the record straight during these times of such little detail. All I’ll say is there’s a reason Greg Norman does basically no press conferences. There’s a reason Phil Mickelson gets his points across on Twitter dot com. The questions aren’t easy and when you don’t answer them definitively, they don’t go away. They linger.

Sens: As the details of this deal take shape, what happens to the Champions Tour? The Korn Ferry Tour? What are the broader implications for lower-ranked golfers trying to move their way up? Will this open up more opportunities into the game? Or simply deepen the pockets and strengthen the standing of the guys who already have it made?

Colgan: Did the PGA Tour seriously NOT tell its TV partners — who pay them more than $800 million annually — that this was happening? The answer is yes, from sources I’ve spoken to.  That is a … BIG deal. The Tour better hope the language in those contracts is ironclad, because they can’t afford to exist without that money and exposure. 

Dethier: It’s not necessarily overlooked, but it remains the essential question of the whole thing: Who’s actually in charge now?

5. OK, should we talk about the U.S. Open? The third major of the year starts on Thursday at Los Angeles Country Club, although much of the discussion next week will still be dominated by the aforementioned merger. What’s a non-Brooks Koepka U.S. Open storyline you can’t wait to see unfold?

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Zak: I am anxious to see if Phil Mickelson will change his tune. He has to this point been a different speaker in public than in private. Will last week’s news finally give him reason to speak at length on these issues in front of media? Or will he maintain his short, simple delivery? I know this probably doesn’t get anyone excited for the birdies and bogeys, but it matters in the storytelling of a championship from start to finish. We’ll get an answer shortly!

Sens: This is a home game for So Cal natives Max Homa and Collin Morikawa. Will they benefit from the course knowledge, or suffer from the added weight of expectations? Then there’s Scottie Scheffler, who should pretty much be winning everything based on how he’s hitting the ball. Can he sort out his short game this week?

Colgan: Rory McIlroy with the chance to exorcise his major demons by rage-winning a U.S. Open at a timeless course and flipping a middle-finger to the Tour? Yes, please.

Dethier: Will this surprise Saudi deal — and his obvious frustration at the way it came about — serve as Xander Schauffele’s Joker moment, radicalizing him, lighting a fire under his golf game and freeing him up to win this week’s U.S. Open (and proving me correct in the process)?

6. Speaking of Koepka, he enters this week coming off his fifth major title and seemingly in the form that made him the most dominant major player of the past decade. Does this course suit him? And will he finish in or outside the top five?

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Zak: Firstly, I’m curious if he will consider LIV-PGA Tour questions a “black cloud” over the U.S. Open. He has the opportunity to make a great joke in his pre-tournament presser, tipping the cap to his viral presser last year. Any U.S. Open setup suits Brooks Koepka, doesn’t matter where it is. It’s all demeanor with him. He’ll probably shoot even par in the first round and then do what he always does … rise slowly but surely by making no double bogeys and carving a few 68s into the scoreboard. Suddenly, on Saturday night, he’s two back and everyone thinks he’ll win. That said, he hasn’t exactly earned a bunch of competitive reps this month. So I’ll bet it’s an outside-the-top-5 finish. 

Sens: Koepka on a tough course is like Brer Rabbit in the briar patch: nowhere is he more at home. I’d be surprised if he’s not in the top 5. History shows that when he’s healthy, he’s more likely to be in the top 2 or 3.

Colgan: He’ll finish in the top 5. The summer of Brooks is fully upon us.

Dethier: To quote Michael Scott: Fool me once? Strike one. But fool me twice? Strike three. Koepka somehow entered the Masters off our radar. He won the PGA. He’s now finished in the top seven in 14 of the past 22 majors he’s played. He’s on the short list of guys who would be bigger surprises if they didn’t content than if they did. As long as he’s fully recovered from PGA and Panthers celebrations, that is.

7. Quickly: The winning U.S. Open score the past three years has been six-under. Will this year’s score be better or worse than that? And why?

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Zak: Worse. Put the champ down for a gritty three-under victory. It should be rip-roaring fast, and apparently pretty penal for missing fairways. Bogey-free rounds should earn crystals like Augusta National passes out for the low score of the day. I hope we don’t see a single one.

Sens: Better. Talking to someone who knows the course and the setup well, I’m told that with a cool spring, the rough is not as juicy as was hoped. Of course, we’ll see lots of social media posts showing balls vanishing in the thick stuff and hear lots of hyperventilating about how impossible the course is. We saw and heard the same from Oak Hill. And yeah. It was brutally tough in Rochester. But the winning score was still nine-under.

Colgan: Better. Eight-under wins. Too many scoring holes for four days and the best players in the world to stay closer to even-par. 

Dethier: I’ll say worse, but only because that’s what I can’t help but root for. Let’s get a little chaotic! After all, there’s one thing that can truly unify golf: frustration with the U.S. Open course setup.

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