In one of the most consequential moments in golf history, the PGA Tour and LIV Golf announced on Tuesday morning that they would combine operations to create an as-yet-unnamed new worldwide golf entity. The agreement ends litigation between the two tours, provides a potential pathway for LIV Golf players to rejoin the PGA Tour, and sets up a framework where Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund (PIF) now has a significant stake in the future of men's professional golf.
Much will come to light in the coming hours, days and weeks, but here's what we know and can reasonably speculate so far.
What was the original source of the friction between the PGA Tour and LIV Golf?
LIV, funded by Saudi Arabia's virtually bottomless PIF, grew out of a long-running series of discussions between Tour and Saudi officials that ultimately went nowhere. The LIV Golf tour launched last year with the promise of vast paychecks, a limited schedule, vast paychecks, 54-hole no-cut events, vast paychecks ... and also vast paychecks. Players like Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson leaped at reported nine-figure offerings to play for LIV, and even unknown players were suddenly cashing mammoth checks just for joining the breakaway tour.
The PGA Tour branded those who jumped to LIV as, in effect, traitors to the Tour's legacy. Players like Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy offered impassioned defenses of the Tour. Players who joined LIV were criticized for taking money from Saudi Arabia, which has a horrendous record of documented human rights violations. Many were dismissed as irrelevant faded stars, and all saw their world rankings plummet as they played in events not sanctioned by the Official World Golf Rankings.
But LIV players currently hold two of the four major titles, rendering the "LIV is irrelevant" argument obsolete. Not only that, the PGA Tour has adopted (or is planning to adopt) many of LIV's most notable features, from elevated paychecks to no-cut events to team competition, a sign that LIV was posing a threat from a golf perspective, if not a moral one.
Both sides engaged in litigation against the other, and both sides' defenders — from players to commentators to fans — launched broadsides against the other that ranged from angry to downright vicious. How those antagonists will reconcile in the wake of this announcement is an open question.
How did this agreement come about so suddenly?
That's a question a whole lot of people, starting with the players on the PGA Tour, would like to know. Apparently no one outside of a small coterie of top-of-the-organization members of the tours knew this was coming. Players expressed shock and surprise — two-time major winner Collin Morikawa, for instance, found out on Twitter. Even Greg Norman, the brash, outspoken CEO of LIV Golf, apparently only found out via phone call just moments before the announcement was made.
What led to this agreement?
It's still unclear why the two tours (three, including the DP World Tour, the former European Tour) chose this moment to make the deal, but several factors are obviously in play. LIV Golf is struggling to attract both viewers and a network to show its tournaments. The PGA Tour is facing a Department of Justice investigation over potential anticompetitive behavior related to LIV. The PIF was subject to discovery, and a potential in-depth review of its operations, in the lawsuits and counter-lawsuits involving the Tour. And the Tour was facing growing discontent from its star members, who wanted a larger share of purses and guaranteed money.
In short, both sides had wolves at the door, and both are now — at least in theory — stronger together rather than apart.
What does the structure of this agreement mean for golf?
In broad terms, the merger agreement — at least, according to the press release announced Tuesday morning — calls for the PGA Tour to handle golf-related oversight, the "governance" of the new merged entity. Each of the three tours would be responsible for the so-called "inside-the-ropes" operations of its own tour — site selection, tournament operations, rules enforcement, and so on.
The more significant element of the merger concerns its financial structure. Per the press release, PIF "will make a capital investment into the new entity to facilitate its growth and success." Further down in the release is this more significant element: "PIF will initially be the exclusive investor in the new entity, alongside the PGA TOUR, LIV Golf and the DP World Tour. Going forward, PIF will have the exclusive right to further invest in the new entity, including a right of first refusal on any capital that may be invested in the new entity, including into the PGA TOUR, LIV Golf and DP World Tour (emphasis added)." In other words, Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund will provide the seed money for the new operation, will be the only investor, and will have the right to invest — and refuse outside investment — in the PGA Tour itself.
It may be too early to say that LIV Golf bought the PGA Tour, but according to the Tour's own words, Saudi Arabia will own a significant percentage of whatever golf is to become.
What does this mean for the players on the PGA Tour?
If there's a "loser" in this whole scenario, it's the Tour players who were cajoled, guilt-tripped and outright threatened not to leave the Tour for the vast riches of the PIF-backed LIV ... only to watch the Tour dip right into those same riches. And while the money available to players through tournaments will grow, the generational sums offered to LIV's first players surely won't.
Tiger Woods, for instance, turned down a reported $800 million to join LIV. But Woods will be fine without that money. A player like Rickie Fowler, for instance, was offered as much as $75 million to join LIV, but opted to stay with the PGA Tour. It's highly unlikely he'll be offered that sum to join LIV now.
What does this mean for the players on the LIV Golf tour?
Vindication and salvation. Players who jumped to LIV late in their careers, like Sergio Garcia, Lee Westwood and Ian Poulter, have cashed in sums that they never would have earned on the PGA Tour or the DP World Tour. All the criticism they took for accepting Saudi "blood money" is, in effect, irrelevant, since that same money now bankrolls the entire venture of men's professional golf.
Plus, LIV players now have a pathway back onto the PGA Tour and into the majors, which was one of the key reasons against joining LIV in the first place. LIV players can enjoy the riches they were granted in 2022, and then potentially jump right back onto the PGA Tour in 2024.
What does the merger mean for the fans?
From a pure golf perspective, this is nothing but good news. The best in the game will once again potentially play against one another on a regular basis. Interesting new versions of golf, including team play, will come to the game as a whole, not just LIV. The game will expand far beyond the boundaries of the United States, bringing in a whole new international contingent of fans and, eventually, players.
However, the fans who were disgusted at LIV for its Saudi origins will be no more inclined to watch a Saudi-backed PGA Tour, either. The new venture will test American fans' appetite for Saudi-backed ventures ... which could factor significantly into American sports in the future.
What does the PGA Tour-LIV agreement mean for future Saudi investment in American sports?
Golf, as embodied by Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Tiger Woods, is as American as it gets: dramatic, big-hitting, celebratory. But golf now is under the financial auspices of Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund. Previously, Saudi investment in existing major sports had been limited to individual teams (Newcastle United in the Premier League, for instance) or individual events (as with Formula 1), but this marks the first time that Saudi Arabia has taken a significant financial stake in an established worldwide league. The implications for the future of golf — as well as other major sports — are unclear, but the PIF is clearly making a play to take a key role in the biggest sports on the planet.
Much remains to be revealed, and much more to play out, but this much is clear: Tuesday marked a historic day in golf, one whose effects will resonate for decades — one way or another.