In an announcement so shocking that many players didn’t know it was coming, major golf organisations the PGA Tour, European Tour and the Saudi-backed LIV Golf have confirmed they are merging, in the hope of unifying the sport.
It comes after what the PGA Commissioner called “two years of disruption and distraction” in golf, and it means pending lawsuits between the parties will now be dropped.
Some players say they feel betrayed, while others haven’t commented — and missing from all the announcements was Australia’s Greg Norman, the commissioner of LIV Golf.
Let’s take a look at how this massive shift in golf came about, what it means for the sport, and how the industry and players have reacted.
Who is part of the merger?
The merger involves:
- The PGA Tour, which hosts most of its tournaments in the US but also runs some events internationally;
- The European Tour, which hosts most of its tournaments in Europe; and
- LIV Golf, a controversial rival (until now) league funded by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund that has tried to reinvent the structure of professional golf while luring former major champions.
What’s the controversy around LIV Golf?
LIV Golf and Saudi Arabia have been accused of using “sportswashing” to gloss over human rights abuses in the country, such as the 2018 killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, which the CIA said occurred on the orders of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
Bin Salman’s kingdom has been investing in sports and entertainment in recent years, as part of his initiative called “Vision 2030” to diversify and reduce the kingdom’s dependence on oil.
LIV Golf has also done some interesting things with the sport, including 48-man fields, a team component, no mid-tournament cuts and up to $US25 million ($37 million) in prize money.
LIV Golf also lured away 13 former major champions, including Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson, who then were suspended by the PGA Tour.
The league is run by Greg Norman, a former PGA Tour star who tried nearly 30 years ago to create a world tour.
Why is the merger happening now?
PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan refused to meet with the Saudi Golf group for two years.
But a few months ago, PGA Tour board member Jimmy Dunne arranged a meeting.
Soon after, Mr Monahan, European tour CEO Keith Pelley and the governor of Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, Yasir Al-Rumayyan, started working out an agreement.
Mr Monahan said he realised LIV Golf had a deep well of funds and wasn’t going anywhere.
He said golf was too divided and there was too much tension, and it was best for everyone to come together.
“I recognise everything I’ve said in the past. I recognise people will call me a hypocrite. Any time I’ve said anything, I’ve said it with the information I had, and I said it with someone trying to compete with our tour and our players,” he said.
How have golfers themselves responded?
Many PGA players aren’t happy about the merger, with some of the top players having turned down bonuses estimated at $US100 million ($149 million) or more to stay loyal to the PGA Tour.
LIV players were also not allowed to play on the PGA Tour, leaving some PGA players angered by the notion that LIV players now look set to return without consequences.
Professionals from both tours were also caught off guard by the news that their worlds would collide.
Before Monahan could send a memo to players following a conference call with journalists, a media outlet broke the embargoed announcement that the tours were merging commercial interests.
Consequently, some players learnt about it on social media — and that’s where they responded.
“Nothing like finding out through Twitter that we’re merging with a tour that we said we’d never do that with,”.
“And everyone thought yesterday was the longest day in golf,”, who also said he found out about the merger on Twitter.
On the other side, Phil Mickelson — among the loudest LIV defectors — had a different view, calling Tuesday “an awesome day”.
Not getting in on the social media reaction was Rory McIlroy, who spent the past year vehemently defending the PGA Tour against LIV, before going quiet on the topic in recent weeks.
Who will be in charge?
The PGA Tour policy board will add Al-Rumayyan, and then it will either add another player or remove one of the spots that belong to the corporate world.
The new commercial company — it still doesn’t have a name — will have Al-Rumayyan as the chairman and Monahan as the CEO.
The PGA Tour will have a majority stake in the new company.
However, the sovereign wealth fund that Al-Rumayyan governs, the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia (PIF), will be the exclusive investor alongside the PGA Tour, LIV Golf and the European Tour. Going forward, PIF will have the exclusive right to further invest.
The PGA Tour will keep its US tax-exempt status as a charity-driven organisation.
Where is Greg Norman in all of this?
Greg Norman, the commissioner and public face of LIV Golf, seems to have been sidelined for the announcement, and wasn’t mentioned in any of the formal press releases discussing the merger.
In fact, Al-Rumayyan told US business network CNBC that he informed Norman about the merging tours only a few minutes before the news became public.
As for whether Norman will have any role in the new company going forward, Al-Rumayyan has said only that he is still LIV Golf’s commissioner, and details of his future role will be announced in the coming weeks.
Norman has since responded briefly to the news of the merger on Twitter, calling it “a great day in global golf for players and fans alike”.
How soon will LIV golfers be able to play in PGA events?
LIV Golf will finish its second season this year as scheduled.
After that, it’s still to be determined how players like Phil Mickelson, Brooks Koepka and Dustin Johnson can rejoin the PGA Tour, after they defected last year for massive signing bonuses.
What will the schedule look like now?
As far as fans are concerned, the PGA Tour will still have the same logo and be the same tour. Ditto for the European tour.
However, the PGA Tour looks nothing like it did when LIV Golf started.
Monahan says he couldn’t match Saudi money, but it wasn’t because of a lack of effort. This year the PGA Tour had 13 “elevated events” with $US20 million ($30 million) purses — nearly twice as much as they were previously.
For 2024, it has returned its schedule to start in January and end in August. There will be about 15 tournaments with $US20 million purses for the top 50.
Monahan says officials will also be conducting a thorough evaluation of how to integrate team golf into the PGA Tour.
LIV Golf was trying to turn its 12 teams into franchises, although no-one had sponsored a team.
ABC with wires
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