Sport

ANALYSIS

Money putts a hole in one after PGA Tour abandons opposition to LIV Golf and merges with Saudi outfit

Money putts a hole in one after PGA Tour abandons opposition to LIV Golf and merges with Saudi outfit
Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland putts on the 18th green during the final round of the Memorial Tournament presented by Workday at Muirfield Village Golf Club on 4 June 2023 in Dublin, Ohio. (Photo: Michael Reaves / Getty Images)

After nearly two years, professional golf’s civil war ended in the only way it could: money won the day.

LIV Golf, the Saudi breakaway league that rocked the golfing world to its core, the PGA Tour, previously the richest and biggest professional golfing organisation on the planet, and the DP World Tour will merge. 

The news rocked the golfing world on Tuesday because it seemed to come out of the blue. There were no leaks leading up to the announcement and after months of taking the moral high ground about LIV’s tainted Saudi money, all golfers will in effect feed from a trough mostly filled by the Saudi Public Investment Fund’s (PIF’s) billions. 

All legal battles between the PGA Tour and LIV Golf have been dropped and a new schedule of events and competitions will be revealed in due course. 

Read more in Daily Maverick: PGA Tour, European Tour and LIV announce landmark merger

There are many questions left hanging in the wake of the news. Who holds the power? Has Saudi Arabia in effect purchased men’s professional golf? What happens to the European and US Ryder Cup players who were banned by their respective tours after joining LIV? 

But there is little doubt that Saudi Arabia is the winner of the war. The decision by the PGA Tour and DP World Tour essentially contradicts their stance and actions over the past 18 months. 

Most wars eventually end with a truce of some sort, but the damage and scars can echo for centuries. Who knows how long and deep the scars in golf will run… 

One aspect that might soften the blow — at the least for the bulk of players not already signed to LIV — is that they are likely to become even richer. 

LIV Golf CEO and Commissioner Greg Norman acknowledges the crowd as he walks on to the podium during the trophy presentation during day three of LIV Golf Adelaide at The Grange Golf Course on 23 April 2023 in Adelaide, Australia. (Photo: Asanka Ratnayake / Getty Images)

Inevitable 

It was always going to end this way. There was too much money at stake for morality — at least, long-term morality — to win the day. And besides, moral arguments in a sport that places money at its heart were always flawed. 

However much brutal human rights oppression the money from Saudi Arabia is soaked in, it would never be enough to stop players from defecting and ultimately forcing the PGA Tour and DP World Tour to find a way to get some of it. 

Once the PIF committed to funding a new model for the game, the PGA Tour appears to have abandoned all resistance. Neither side wanted protracted litigation either. Court cases have a way of revealing uncomfortable truths. 

Read more in Daily Maverick: PGA Tour Bows to Saudi Rival in Shock Combination With LIV Golf

Once Saudi Arabia agreed to join “the ecosystem”, which DP World Tour commissioner Keith Pelley had called for during the civil war, the wheels moved quickly and remarkably silently. Money talks. And buys silence when necessary. 

The PIF will initially be the exclusive investor in the new entity and the board of directors will include Yasir Al-Rumayyan as chair and the PGA Tour’s Jay Monahan as CEO. It seems LIV’s CEO, Greg Norman, is going to be sidelined. 

It was reported that he learnt about the merger on TV. 

Yasir Al-Rumayyan, chairman of Newcastle United, during the Premier League match between Newcastle United and Leicester City at St James Park on 22 May 2023 in Newcastle upon Tyne, England. (Photo: James Gill – Danehouse / Getty Images)

Jay Monahan, PGA Tour Commissioner, looks on during the trophy ceremony after the final round of the Sentry Tournament of Champions at Plantation Course at Kapalua Golf Club on 8 January 2023 in Lahaina, Hawaii. (Photo: Harry How / Getty Images)

Legacy and history 

Professional golf, for all its syrupy love of “tradition”, is essentially a sport built on avarice. Prize funds go up disproportionately to most areas of life and players are richer than ever. 

Publicly, the PGA Tour gushes about its prize fund and happily publishes tournament earnings. The entire season culminates in a finale decided by which players make the most money. More money awaits in the season-ending FedEx Cup Playoffs. 

So, when someone else came up with bigger purses and fees, it spooked the self-appointed custodians of the game. The one thing the PGA Tour could always fall back on was the fact that it could make a few hundred players rich. And a few dozen could be super-rich. 

Then came the Saudis, who promised to make even middling players super-rich and suddenly the entire landscape changed. How do you fight off a challenger that has the same weapon as you (money), but much more of it? 

Initially, the PGA Tour argued that the source of the money was bad. Which it is. But sources of money are all tainted in some way. The US buys billions and billions of dollars in crude oil annually from Saudi Arabia.  

The PGA Tour and DP World Tour play tournaments in Saudi Arabia, China, Turkey and even Russia. Golf and golfers simply follow the money. 

When the PGA could not fight off LIV at the cash register, it played the legacy-and-tradition card. The two established global tours between them hosted the oldest and most important tournaments in the sport and no amount of LIV money could change that. Surely.  

Tiger Woods spoke about legacy before the 2022 PGA Championship, which was the first major played in the LIV era. 

After a career dedicated to winning majors in pursuit of Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18, Woods rejected a reported $700-million offer to join LIV because his goal was history. 

Nicklaus was always there to watch over the pretender coming after his crown. And together — more than any aspect, from money to location — the cross-generational Jack-Tiger “rivalry” shaped golf’s story. 

They never played against each other competitively, but were always rivals because of the history and legacy at stake. No amount of money could buy that narrative — it had to evolve organically. 

“I believe in legacies. I believe in major championships. I believe in big events … comparisons to historical figures of the past,” Woods said at the time. 

“There’s plenty of money out here. The Tour is growing. But it’s just like any other sport. It’s like tennis. You have to go out there and earn it. You’ve got to go out there and play for it. We have the opportunity to go ahead and do it. It’s just not guaranteed up front.” 

Woods’ comments carried weight, but Rory McIlroy became the face of resistance against LIV. The PGA Tour and Commissioner Monahan stood behind McIlroy as he almost single-handedly bore the brunt of being the face of the golf establishment against the “evil” upstart. 

And it’s unclear whether McIlroy was also one of the many players who had no idea this merger was coming. If McIlroy wasn’t consulted, or at least informed by Monahan after standing up for the PGA Tour and by extension DP World Tour, then he had the rug pulled from under him. 

Perhaps it’s fitting that McIlroy’s words before the 2022 Canadian Open on the PGA Tour, a title which he ironically is set to defend this week, might resonate most at this time. 

“Any decision that you make in your life that’s purely for money usually doesn’t end up going the right way,” said McIlroy. 

“Obviously, money is a deciding factor in a lot of things in this world, but if it’s purely for money it’s not, it never seems to go the way you want it to.” 

No one in golf can say that they haven’t been warned. DM

Gallery

Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Steve Davidson says:

    Well said Craig. And as the saying (sort of) goes: “when you sup with the Saudis use a very very long spoon’. Despicable people.

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