Sun, 24 Sep 2023

PGA Tour reaches surprise merger deal with Saudis, LIV Golf

Field Level Media
07 Jun 2023, 11:40 GMT+10

The PGA Tour, DP World Tour and LIV Golf agreed to merge into a single, for-profit entity, the golf conglomerate announced Tuesday.

The decision is likely to transform the world of professional golf given the stakes and personalities involved.

The agreement puts an end to the pending litigation between the legacy tours and the Saudi-backed LIV league that would have gone to court in California next year, and it caps off a saga that caused turmoil in the sport for close to two years.

Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund -- which provided LIV with enough money to make star players massive guaranteed offers and pay record tournament purses to lure them away from the PGA Tour -- will make a capital investment into the combined entity as part of the agreement.

PIF governor Yasir Al-Rumayyan will be the chairman of the new entity, and PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan will be its CEO. The PGA Tour will appoint a majority of a new board of directors and hold the majority voting interest. PIF, meanwhile, will have exclusive rights for further investments and a right of first refusal on any new capital injected into the entity.

While the new entity will be a for-profit organization, PGA Tour Inc. will remain as a 501(c)(6) tax-exempt organization.

The tours also said in their joint announcement that players who were indefinitely suspended by the PGA Tour or the DP World Tour for playing in LIV events could have a path to return, as the organizations "will work cooperatively and in good faith to establish a fair and objective process for any players who desire to re-apply for membership" to the legacy tours.

"After two years of disruption and distraction, this is a historic day for the game we all know and love," Monahan said in a statement. "This transformational partnership recognizes the immeasurable strength of the PGA Tour's history, legacy and pro-competitive model and combines with it the DP World Tour and LIV -- including the team golf concept -- to create an organization that will benefit golf's players, commercial and charitable partners and fans.

"Going forward, fans can be confident that we will, collectively, deliver on the promise we've always made -- to promote competition of the best in professional golf and that we are committed to securing and driving the game's future."

While Monahan's official statement mentioned LIV's team format, the commissioner had few answers when meeting with players and press later in the day, saying only a "framework agreement" was in place and most details were not ironed out. He said he believes LIV Golf in its current state would not continue after it finishes its current season.

Monahan sat side by side with Al-Rumayyan for an interview with CNBC on Tuesday morning. Though Monahan had been critical of LIV's Saudi ties in the past, he said Tuesday that the capital PIF can provide is "an opportunity we've never had before."

"There's just so much opportunity, and it's opportunity that we have not been able to activate, but we do now," Monahan said. "And we're going to do it in a highly disciplined and rigorous way. And when you look at our sport, the PGA Tour has never been stronger than it is right now."

But PGA Tour players expressed surprise and disgust on social media, saying they were not informed the news was coming ahead of time. A memo was sent to membership later Tuesday morning, and Monahan met with players at 4 p.m. at the RBC Canadian Open in Toronto.

"Any time you're taking money from the Saudi Public Investment Fund, that's probably a difficult decision to make, and it's one that Jay and the team definitely struggled with for a long time and ultimately came to the decision that they're gonna take the investment and try to get some of the disruption out of the game," PGA Tour winner Brendon Todd told Golf Channel.

"I think for us out here on the PGA Tour that were loyal and stuck with it, I think we're probably anxious and a little frustrated to hear that potentially some of the LIV players could come back to our tour. It doesn't quite seem fair to a lot of us, I'm sure."

PGA Tour veteran Johnson Wagner appeared on Golf Channel after the meeting with Monahan and described it as contentious, saying some players called for new leadership.

"I think the most powerful moment was when a player quoted Commissioner Monahan from the 3M (Open) in Minnesota last year when he said, 'As long as I'm commissioner of the PGA Tour, no player that took LIV money will ever play the PGA Tour again,'" Wagner said. "It just seems like a lot of backtracking."

PGA Tour defenders like Tiger Woods and Northern Ireland's Rory McIlroy, the latter of whom sits on the tour's policy board, were only informed of the decision at the last minute. Monahan said he would still seek those players' input going forward.

The decision to merge comes less than two weeks before the third major championship of the men's golf season, the U.S. Open. For parts of 2022 and 2023, the majors were the only times that LIV Golf players commingled with the PGA and DP World Tour players.

Animosity grew between the factions, with Phil Mickelson often speaking as the de facto player leader for LIV and directing accusations of collusion at the PGA Tour and other governing bodies, and McIlroy fiercely defending the PGA Tour and criticizing LIV frequently.

McIlroy had not yet commented on the merger but was scheduled to meet with the press on Wednesday as the defending champion of the Canadian Open.

Mickelson, for his part, tweeted "Awesome day today" with a smiling emoji.

--Field Level Media

More Minneapolis News

Access More

Sign up for Minneapolis News

a daily newsletter full of things to discuss over drinks.and the great thing is that it's on the house!