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GOLF CIRCUIT

PGA Tour, European Tour and LIV announce landmark merger

PGA Tour, European Tour and LIV announce landmark merger
LIV CEO Greg Norman congratulates Harold Varner III of RangeGoats GC after Varner won the LIV Golf Invitational - DC at Trump National Golf Club on 28 May 2023 in Sterling, Virginia. (Photo: Rob Carr / Getty Images)

The announcement of the merger includes an agreement to end all pending litigation between the participating parties.

The PGA Tour, European Tour and rival Saudi-backed LIV golf circuit announced a landmark agreement on Tuesday to merge and form a commercial entity to unify golf, bringing an end to what had been a bitter split in the sport.

Additionally, the three organisations said in a joint news release that they will work cooperatively to allow a process for any LIV Golf players to reapply for PGA Tour and DP World Tour membership following the 2023 season.

“After two years of disruption and distraction, this is a historic day for the game we all know and love,” PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan said in a joint news release.

No details were given as to how the agreement will impact the current competitive golf landscape, including eligibility for this year’s Ryder Cup, though the parties did say they will work in the coming months to finalise the terms of the merger.

The LIV Golf series is bankrolled by the Saudi Arabia Public Investment Fund and critics have accused it of being a vehicle for the country to attempt to improve its reputation in the face of criticism of its human rights record.

The announcement of the merger includes an agreement to end all pending litigation between the participating parties.

Additionally, the Public Investment Fund (PIF) will make a capital investment into the new entity to facilitate its growth and success.

“Today is a very exciting day for this special game and the people it touches around the world,” said PIF governor Yasir Al-Rumayyan. 

“We are proud to partner with the PGA Tour to leverage PIF’s unparalleled success and track record of unlocking value and bringing innovation and global best practices to business and sectors worldwide.”

The rival LIV Golf circuit, which features 54-hole events with no cuts instead of the traditional 72-hole format, launched in 2022 and lured big-name players away from the rival circuits with staggering sums of prize money for every golfer.

The PIF will initially be the exclusive investor in the new entity and the board of directors will include Al-Rumayyan as Chairman and the PGA Tour’s Monahan as CEO.

Jay Monahan, PGA Tour Commissioner, speaks during the trophy ceremony during the final round of The Players Championship on The Players Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass on 12 March 2023 in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida. (Photo: Jared C. Tilton / Getty Images)

‘Awesome day’

The deal could well attract serious antitrust scrutiny. The PGA Tour had sought to fend off competition from LIV by barring PGA Tour players from participating in LIV tournaments.

The Justice Department successfully blocked a merger of two US book publishers last year on the grounds that it would hurt author incomes.

Among the more popular players who made the move to LIV Golf are Hall of Fame golfer Phil Mickelson, former world number one Dustin Johnson, reigning PGA Championship winner Brooks Koepka and 2022 British Open winner Cameron Smith.

“Awesome day today,” tweeted Mickelson, whose public image took a hit in February 2022 when the author of an unauthorised biography on him released excerpts from the book in which he called the Saudis “scary”, but said he was willing to look past their human rights records to gain leverage with the PGA Tour.

Some PGA Tour players took to Twitter to express their surprise at having not been informed of the agreement before its announcement.

“I love finding out morning news on Twitter,” wrote two-times major champion Collin Morikawa.

Canadian world number 67, Mackenzie Hughes, wrote: “Nothing like finding out through Twitter that we’re merging with a tour that we said we’d never do that with.”

Former US president Donald Trump, who owns three courses that are part of LIV Golf’s 14-event schedule in 2023, celebrated the deal in a Truth Social post using all caps.

“Great news from LIV Golf. A big, beautiful, and glamorous deal for the wonderful world of golf. Congrats to all!!”

Phil Mickelson of HyFlyers GC looks on from the 18th green during day two of the LIV Golf Invitational – DC at Trump National Golf Club on 27 May 2023 in Sterling, Virginia. (Photo: Rob Carr / Getty Images)

Players didn’t know

Multiple news outlets reported that PGA Tour players were not told ahead of time that the news was coming before a press release was posted online and PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan and Saudi PIF governor Yasir Al-Rumayyan appeared together on CNBC for an interview.

Monahan was asked during that interview what he thought the response would be from PGA Tour players.

“Listen, a lot of people have been reading about the tension. And I said previously that we were going down our path and they were going down theirs,” Monahan said.

“And today, that tension goes away. The litigation is dropped. We’re announcing to the world that on behalf of this game, we’re coming together. And it’s less about how people respond today, and it’s all about how people respond in 10 years.

“And when they see the impact we’re having on this game together, there will be a lot of smiles on people’s faces, and there will be a lot more people playing this game all over the world.

“And if you’re a young player that wants to get to the highest level in the game today, you’ll be more inspired than you’ve ever been before.”

PGA Tour fan favourite Joel Dahmen poked fun at LIV’s team concept, which the tours announced would be kept alive in some form in their new combined entity.

“I’ve grown up being a fan of the 4 Aces. Maybe one day I get to play for them on the PGA Tour!” he tweeted.

Others were not shy to express their anger.

“Love finding out info on Twitter. This is amazing. Y’all should be ashamed and have a lot of questions to answer,” Wesley Bryan wrote on Twitter. 

“I feel betrayed, and will not be able to trust anyone within the corporate structure of the PGA Tour for a very long time.” Reuters/DM

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