Amanda Staveley apparently saw Lee Westwood at a recent Newcastle match and said: “We’ve got H.E. and Jay Monahan around the table.” The wheels were thus set in motion for one of the great reverse manoeuvres in the history of professional sport.
‘H.E.’ is how Newcastle and LIV Golf refer to “His Excellency” Yasir Al-Rumayyan, the St James’ Park chairman and governor of the great PIF bank-roller – the Saudi sovereign wealth fund. Mohahan is the commissioner of the PGA Tour who declared he would never, in a month of final-round Sundays, engage in negotiations with PIF or LIV.
Never the twain shall meet. In golf they do. They’ve met and Mark Twain – he of ‘golf is a good walk spoiled” – would only roll his eyes.
Westwood would not confirm the exchange with Staveley when approached by Telegraph Sport for comment on Tuesday but he did acknowledge: “I had an inkling but nothing to this extent.”
In truth, the former world No 1, blessed with ‘his inkling’, was one of the enlightened. Hardly anybody knew about this deal to merge the PGA Tour and DP World Tour with LIV Golf, the Saudi-funded circuit – and that included the overwhelming majority of the Tour’s big names, not to mention Greg Norman, the LIV Golf chief executive.
Insiders have confirmed that Norman was not involved in the clandestine talks that, in the time it takes to press send on a media release, transformed a bitter civil war into a “growing the game of golf” love party. There are seven more events and six more months until the second season of the LIV Golf League is completed and it is hard to imagine Norman, the two-time Open winner, being involved.
Norman is paid tens of million per annum by LIV and would walk away an even richer man than when he joined in the autumn of 2021. He will also have left the sport indelibly marked. Some will say those will represent the stains of sportswashing and self-interest, but the more generous take will be of opportunism and flooding the fairways with billions.
Nobody can deny that Norman, through his bluster and sometimes disgraceful comments, afforded the breakaway an abundance of extra controversy and thus publicity. If he goes, the Kingdom, even with all its neglect of mercy, should be grateful.
The first whispers of Al-Rumayyan, the governor of the sovereign wealth fund which also bankrolls the PIF, seeking a way out of the ugly maze of rancour towards reconciliation came in November.
Telegraph Sport revealed that he had talked to at least one potential replacement for Norman, but not so much to fire him as a move-him-upstairs approach. By then, Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy – who remain, no matter what anyone says the two most important characters in golf – had announced he needed to leave before any talks could take place.
Keith Pelley, the DP World chief executive and the man who had originally brought PIF into the pro game by signing it up for the 2019 Saudi International, saw his chance.
“If Norman was gone, Keith knew he could bring Jay to table,” a source said. “Jay had refused to deal with the first iteration of LIV and had continued to decline to answer LIV requests. With their strategic alliance, Pelley was looking for an avenue and eventually found it.”
Pelley will not confirm his role. The rows carried on and LIV was handed momentum, not only by the repeated social media barbs from Phil Mickelson but also with Rory McIlroy’s seemingly relentless opposition. When Brooks Koepka and Mickelson finished as runners-up in the Masters and Adelaide hosted an event which would grace any Tour, at any time, the breakaway credibility was at its highest.
Koepka then went on to win the US PGA and LIV was a major-winning circuit. Ignore it now.
Yet, more pertinently, in the background, the legal fights were raging. By April the DP World Tour had won its case with its rebels and Europe legends such as Westwood, Sergio García, Ian Poulter and Henrik Stenson had resigned and thus made themselves ineligible for the Ryder Cup in September.
It was sad but still a win for the old guard Tour. However, in the US courts the machinations were far more comple, expensive and foreboding.
In short, therein was the crux of the compromise. For the Saudis, the prospect of being instructed to disclose PIF details in the US trial – a scenario that would actually break the Kingdom’s law – played a huge part in seeking a hasty compromise, while the PGA Tour was obviously keen to avoid the antitrust charges.
Furthermore, the amount it has been costing to keep the Tour top players sweet – with $20 million elevated events and $100 million player impact programmes – might not have seemed sustainable in the current global market, with sponsors skipping the melee.
So it makes sense in certain respects. But it remains absolutely stunning, not least because of the secrecy. Before, the grapevine had been humming. The pips suddenly ran out.
The extent of Staveley’s involvement is unknown, but Pelley was crucial in the negotiations, with his skills attained in the bloody environs of US TV rights for ice hockey coming to the fore. Telegraph Sport has discovered that the people who knew were in the single figures and Al- Rumayyan explained where the deal was agreed.
“We met at London. We had lunch, followed by a next-day round of golf, then another lunch. We had discussions, we covered everything,” he said.
Except, it seems that no round was played. The uncertainty has been replaced by more uncertainty, depending on the reaction and the future. The LIV saga has been resolved in one sense. Yet still presses on relentlessly.