Jun 7, 2023 - Sports

Golf's blockbuster merger

Illustration of two golf putters putting two golf balls into one centralized cup, with the LIV logo stripes trailing behind one ball, and the PGA logo colors trailing behind the other

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Golf's civil war is over less than a year after it began.

Driving the news: The PGA Tour and LIV Golf, the Saudi-backed breakaway tour that launched on June 9 of last year, agreed to merge on Tuesday in a deal that left the sports world gobsmacked.

Why it matters: The agreement halts ugly litigation that embroiled the two tours and puts the PGA in the awkward spot of merging with the same entity it has been trashing for human rights abuses and a negative impact on the sport.

Details: LIV's financial backer, Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund (PIF), will be the leading investor in the combined entity, with PIF governor Yasir Al-Rumayyan serving as chairman and PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan as CEO.

  • PIF, which has over $600 billion in assets, will invest more money into the new venture, which also includes the DP World Tour (European Tour) and has yet to be named.
  • The PGA Tour, a nonprofit that generates ~$1.5 billion in revenue, will appoint a majority of the board of directors that will oversee the new entity's commercial operations.

The backdrop: The news surprised everyone, from the PGA Tour's TV partners ("We just learned about this") to the players themselves. "Nothing like finding out through Twitter that we're merging with a tour that we said we'd never do that with," Mackenzie Hughes tweeted.

What they're saying: "So weird. PGA officials were in my office just months ago talking about how the Saudis' human rights record should disqualify them from having a stake in a major American sport," Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) tweeted. "I guess maybe their concerns weren't really about human rights?"

  • "I recognize that people are going to call me a hypocrite," said Monahan, who had previously shot down the idea of a merger and urged players to consider the source of the money.
  • Fast-forward a year: "We just realized that we were better off together than we were fighting or apart," Monahan said Tuesday, adding that the two sides had been in talks for about seven weeks. Hours after the news broke, he held a heated meeting with players.
pga tour ceo jay monahan
Jay Monahan arrives to a players meeting on Tuesday at Toronto's Oakdale Golf & Country Club. Photo: Mike Wolfe/PGA Tour via Getty Images

Behind the scenes: The PGA Tour and LIV have each spent tens of millions of dollars battling in court, with LIV filing an antitrust lawsuit and the PGA countersuing.

  • The proceedings would have likely dragged out for months, if not years, and neither side wanted to share secrets via discovery.
  • "Both had an incentive to settle," Richard Sheehan, a Notre Dame professor who specializes in the economics of sports, told ESPN.

What's next: The two tours will continue as separate entities for the rest of this season, with the PGA Tour in Canada this week and LIV in Spain later this month. Both will have players at next week's U.S. Open in Los Angeles.

  • After that, it's anybody's guess what this new entity will actually look like come 2024.
  • Unanswered questions include: Will LIV's team golf concept live on? Will the PGA Tour give LIV defectors their cards back? Will players who turned down LIV money be compensated?

What to watch: Rory McIlroy, who reportedly turned down $500 million to join LIV and has spent the past year defending the PGA Tour, is scheduled to speak to the media after his 7am ET pro-am today ahead of the Canadian Open.

The buzz:

  • Scott Van Pelt, ESPN: "So, you preach loyalty to a tour and convince guys not to take 8 and 9 figure deals based, in part, on that loyalty and, in part, on the source of the money. Then those guys find out on Twitter YOU took the very same money?"
  • Former President Trump: "Great news from LIV Golf. A big, beautiful, and glamorous deal for the wonderful world of golf. Congrats to all!!!"
  • Brandel Chamblee, Golf Network: "I think this is one of the saddest days in the history of professional golf. I do believe the governing bodies … have sacrificed their principles for profit."
  • Joel Beall, Golf Digest: "The thing I keep going back to is this: Rory McIlroy took a stand for what he believed was right — which brought an invisible pain and weight that can't be measured — and was sold out by the very thing he was trying to defend."
  • Michael Rosenberg, SI: "PGA Tour players are stunned, confused, and angry. Understandable. But soon they will realize: In one move, Jay Monahan brought in billions and killed LIV Golf."
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