The PGA Tour ended its expensive fight with Saudi Arabia’s golf venture and now is joining forces with it, making a stunning announcement Tuesday of a global merger that creates a commercial operation with the Public Investment Fund and the European tour.
As part of the deal, the sides immediately are dropping all lawsuits involving LIV Golf.
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It’s a mega-deal former President Donald Trump predicted almost exactly just one year ago.
Trump wrote on Jul. 18, 2022 —
All of those golfers that remain ‘loyal’ to the very disloyal PGA, in all of its different forms, will pay a big price when the inevitable MERGER with LIV comes, and you get nothing but a big ‘thank you from PGA officials who are making millions of dollars a year,” Trump posted on Truth Social in July 2022 as professional golfers were weighing huge paydays to defect to the LIV Tour despite media criticism over its Saudi funding, which was referred to as “blood money.”
If you don’t take the money now, you will get nothing after the merger takes place and only say how smart the original signees were. Good luck to all and congratulations to really talented Cam Smith on his incredible win!
Indeed, on the PGA side some loyal golfers were unhappy with the news.
PGA Tour player Callum Tarren on GC:
"The guys who stayed loyal to the PGA Tour, it's kind of a kick in the teeth to them. Obviously Rory was a huge advocate of the PGA Tour & now he kind of looks like all his hard work and sticking up for the PGA Tour was left by the wayside."
— Josh Berhow (@Josh_Berhow) June 6, 2023
From the golf side, still to be determined is how players like Brooks Koepka and Dustin Johnson can rejoin the PGA Tour after defecting last year for signing bonuses reported to be in the $150 million range.
From the commercial side, the governor of Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund joins the PGA Tour board of directors and leads the new business venture as chairman, though the PGA Tour will have a majority stake.
News of the deal came as a surprise to many watchers of the lawsuits and Saudi Arabia’s inroads into U.S. politics, sports, and culture.
“This is a huge development and obviously upends a world of golf, which has been perhaps more tradition-bound in the past,” said Kristian Ulrichsen, a Middle East fellow at Houston’s Baker Institute.
Under Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund has made a point of seeking out investments, like LIV, where it could shake up existing industries, Ulrichsen said.
“That’s sort of one of their mantras, is to try to be disruptive and to take on the status quo,” she said. “And in this case, they seem to have succeeded.”
As for PGA Tour players, most were bewildered by the shocking turnaround. It didn’t help that a news outlet broke the embargoed announcement before PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan could send a memo to the players. Most learned of the development on social media.
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“I love finding out about morning news on Twitter,” two-time major champion Collin Morikawa tweeted.
Many were not happy. Wesley Bryan tweeted, “I feel betrayed, and will not … be able to trust anyone within the corporate structure of the PGA Tour for a very long time.”
Byeong Hun An added on Twitter: “I’m guessing the liv teams were struggling to get sponsors and pga tour couldn’t turn down the money. Win-win for both tours but it’s a big lose for who defended the tour for last two years.”
The announcement comes a year after LIV Golf began. Monahan was at the Canadian Open that week and said pointedly about any player who joined LIV or was thinking about it: “Have you ever had to apologize for being a member of the PGA Tour?”
Now they are partners, giving Saudi Arabia a commercial voice in golf’s premier organization.
“They were going down their path, we were going down ours, and after a lot of introspection you realize all this tension in the game is not a good thing,” Monahan said in a phone interview with The Associated Press.
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“We have a responsibility to our tour and to the game, and we felt like the time was right to have that conversation
Monahan was headed to Toronto to meet with players at the Canadian Open, though most top players are not there. And while this likely will only lead to greater riches in golf, there still was explaining to do on why the tour would merge with a group that tried to take away some of the PGA Tour’s best players and was seen as the latest example of “sportswashing.”
“I understand the criticism,” Monahan said. “For me, you take the information you have at the time and make decisions in the best interests. Things have changed. This was the right time to have this conversation.”
The deal was in the works for the last seven weeks, when Monahan first met with Yasir Al-Rumayyan, governor of the Public Investment Fund. Players typically approve changes to the schedule and other competition matters. On this one, they were left out.
“No one had word of this,” Monahan said. “Our players expect us to operate in the best interests of the tour.”
Instead, he cited guidance from corporate members of the PGA Tour board.
Still, Monahan has his toughest work ahead of him.
He sought loyalty from his players against a league accused of taking part in sportswashing, an attempt by Saudi Arabia to shift focus away from its human rights abuses, such as the 2018 killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Now the very group that posed such a threat is now the PGA Tour’s commercial partner.
Along the way, PGA Tour players also got a bigger slice of the pie. The tour raised prize money at elite events to $20 million, the same purse for LIV’s individual competition. The 2024 schedule has been reshaped for roughly 16 tournaments like that.
“In the short term, I expect a lot of questions and criticism,” Monahan said. “In the long run, players who stayed with the PGA Tour will see they benefited in many ways.”
The agreement combines the Public Investment Fund’s golf-related commercial businesses and rights — including LIV Golf — with those of the PGA and European tours. The new entity has not been named.
Al-Rumayyan will join the board of the PGA Tour, which continues to operates its tournaments. The PIF will invest in the commercial venture.
“From the very beginning, the whole initiative was how to grow the game of golf,” Al-Rumayyan said. “And I think what was achieved today was exactly that.”
Augusta National and the Royal & Ancient welcomed the news because it ends the bitter feud. Augusta National said the deal “represents a positive development in bringing harmony to men’s professional golf.” R&A CEO Martin Slumbers said it would help golf “move forward in a collaborative, constructive and innovative fashion.”
As for the new role of Greg Norman, Al-Rumayyan said only that Norman is LIV Golf’s commissioner and details of his future role would be announced in the coming weeks.
Monahan’s memo to players indicated a strong Saudi Arabian presence. He said PIF would make a financial investment to become a “premier corporate sponsor” of the PGA Tour, the European tour and other international tours.
The PIF initially will be the exclusive investor in the new entity and will have the exclusive right to further invest, including a right of first refusal on any capital that may be invested.
Al-Rumayyan has been spotted wearing a “MAGA” hat during LIV events at courses owned by Trump.
Trump weighed in Tuesday and called it a “glamorous deal for the wonderful world of golf.”
Monahan said the merger came together the last seven weeks, with PGA Tour board member Jimmy Dunne responsible for bringing together Monahan and Al-Rumayyan. Dunne and Ed Herlihy, chairman of the PGA Tour’s board, will serve on the board of the commercial venture.
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Phil Mickelson and Bryson DeChambeau were among 11 players who filed an antitrust lawsuit against the PGA Tour last August. LIV joined as plaintiffs, and the PGA Tour countersued.
The concern for PIF was whether its leaders could be deposed, which Saudi Arabia wanted to avoid. Being open to depositions would leave the kingdom’s leaders more vulnerable to legal action, including lawsuits demanding they reveal business deals in the United States.
A federal judge had ruled the PIF could not claim immunity from the Foreign Service Immunity Act because of its commercial work with LIV Golf in the U.S.
The PIF appealed the ruling to the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which was likely to extend the lawsuit deep into 2024 if not longer.
The Horn editorial team and the Associated Press contributed to this article