On June 6th, golf fans around the globe woke up to a blockbuster. It was reported that the Saudi Public Investment Fund (PIF), the beneficiary of LIV Golf, and the PGA Tour were going to merge.
That was supposedly going to put an end to the schism that had divided the golf world over the preceding year and a half.
I will never forget that morning. My wife actually woke me (I live on the west coast). She stood over me as I was startled awake as she informed me of the news. Through foggy eyes, I hustled out of bed and ran to my computer to confirm.
PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan released a statement that led many to believe this deal was going to unify golf.
“Through a framework agreement, the Public Investment Fund (PIF) is contributing its golf-related commercial business and rights (including LIV Golf), along with a significant financial investment, toward minority equity ownership of a new, collectively held, for-profit LLC. This new entity (name TBD) will also include the PGA Tour’s commercial businesses and rights, as well as those of the DP World Tour,” the statement read.
Do you remember that? That led nearly everyone to believe this new organization would bring golf together again.
But here we are six months later, and if you have been paying attention, or reading what we at SB Nation’s Playing Through has been writing about, that was never going to be the case.
LIV Golf is not going anywhere and it never was.
PGA Tour in Dire Straits
Prior the groundbreaking news that Tuesday morning, the PGA Tour was in trouble financially. LIV had already poached some of the biggest and best players in the world, including Brooks Koepka, Dustin Johnson and Phil Mickelson. It’s existence and ability to endlessly throw money at players and purses forced Monahan and the Tour to create incentive for players to stay.
The 2023 season saw the creation of these Signature Events, with larger purses than ever before. But as we later found out through court filings, the Tour was not going to be able to stay afloat for much longer.
The lawsuits back and forth between tours certainly did not help. The one thing the deal did accomplish immediately was to drop all legal action.
Nevertheless, the Tour needed financial backing.
The Saudi PIF reportedly has more than $720 billion in its war chest. It wasn’t going to take much for them to broker a deal.
Of course, the players including Scottie Scheffler, Jon Rahm and others were left completely in the dark. They publicly expressed their displeasure with how things were handled.
Ironically, Rahm is rumored to be heading to LIV Golf as soon as Wednesday.
Despite reports of a merger, LIV CEO Greg Norman warned everyone that was not the case.
“LIV is and will continue to be a standalone enterprise,” Norman told his staffers. “Our business model will not change. We changed history, and we’re not going anywhere.”
He wasn’t lying to save face with his employees.
LIV deal with PGA Tour goes to Congress
It didn’t take long after the news broke for the United States Congress to get involved. If LIV ceased to exist, there might very well have been major anti-trust laws being violated. The tea leaves read as though the PGA Tour wanted a monopoly on global golf, forcing Congress’ hand.
But that wasn’t the only reason for interest on Capitol Hill.
Many people were rightfully concerned with Saudi Arabia’s attempt to sportswash its image. That is to say cleanse its reputation by gaining global influence through sport.
Brazenly, the Saudi Prince, Mohammed bin Salman, didn’t hide from that fact.
“If it’s sportswashing and it improves my gross domestic product (GDP) by 1%, then I will continue doing sportswashing,” bin Salman said in an interview with Fox News’ Bret Baier.
The Saudi Kingdom had already achieved that goal to some degree in F1 and in European soccer. But this was the first time it appeared they were going to be in control of the entity of the sport itself.
Members of 9/11 Families United aggressively went after Monahan. Fans were shocked, furious and appalled. Players felt betrayed and for good reason.
Yet, the notion of the PGA merging with LIV to create one tour was way off base.
LIV Golf into 2024 and Beyond
Remember that quote above from the PGA Tour’s statement that morning. It spoke of a newly created for-profit entity comprised of the PGA Tour, DP World Tour and LIV. But semantics can be tricky.
It never explicitly stated they would all be playing together. We all just assumed that was the case, despite evidence to the contrary.
The Saudi PIF Gov. Yasir Al-Rummayan openly called LIV ‘his baby’ and announced it was here to stay.
Even Mickelson pointed to its existence well into the future time and again. He also predicted that not only would it exist and thrive, but that more PGA Tour stars would jump ship.
If the shocking Rahm rumors are true, it only adds even more credibility to Mickelson’s claim.
But when you think about it, why wouldn’t LIV survive. Golf is a global sport and the PGA Tour rarely even leaves the continent of North America. The Australian Open, a tournament Jack Nicklaus once referred to as the ‘5th major’ has been ignored.
Players on both the PGA Tour and LIV have talked about wanting to play internationally more. Golf fans around the world flock to these events. We all witnessed what Adelaide looked like.
It was an even crazier WM Phoenix Open and that is a fan favorite on Tour.
Let’s be honest, the biggest reason for disdain for LIV is where the money is coming from. That is very understandably concerning. The human rights abuses by Saudi Arabia are deplorable and inexcusable.
There are clearly issues awarding OWGR points to LIV events. They play three rounds instead of four, with shotgun starts with significantly smaller fields. A very easy case can be made as to why LIV tournaments should not be awarded points.
But let’s not pretend like golf fans won’t enjoy themselves at those events, pouring money back into LIV.
That is exactly what they are going to do into 2024 and beyond.
Kendall Capps is the Senior Editor at SB Nation’s Playing Through. For more golf coverage, follow us @_PlayingThrough on all major social media platforms.