What does the PGA Tour-SSG investment mean for golf fans?

Outside of the four majors, it could be until 2026 before the likes of Rory McIlroy and Jon Rahm compete against each other. (Waleed Tariq/Anadolu via Getty Images)
Outside of the four majors, it could be until 2026 before the likes of Rory McIlroy and Jon Rahm compete against each other. (Waleed Tariq/Anadolu via Getty Images)

Virtually all of the world’s best players — Scottie Scheffler, Jon Rahm, Rory McIlroy, Viktor Hovland, Brooks Koepka — will tee it up this weekend. The problem for golf fans is they won’t be anywhere near one another. The PGA Tour is in California at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, while LIV Golf, the Saudi-funded breakaway tour that claims Rahm, Koepka and others, is in Mexico at Mayakoba. And thanks to ongoing Justice Department interest in professional golf, the tours could remain divided into 2026.

As it stands, the full collection of the world’s greatest players will meet only four times a year — at the majors, assuming LIV’s finest are eligible — and the PGA Tour’s Wednesday announcement of outside investment from a consortium of professional sports team owners (the Strategic Sports Group) will do nothing to change that.

The SSG investment into the PGA Tour means, in broad terms, that the players who have stayed loyal to the Tour are about to get richer. The Tour itself gets an infusion of cash to help fund purses that have grown significantly since the Saudi-funded LIV Golf entered the scene two years ago.

But the SSG investment does nothing to bridge the gap between the two tours. Left unstated in the release touting SSG’s investment is the state of negotiations between the PGA Tour and the Saudi Arabian Public Investment Fund, LIV’s financial backer, aside from one cryptic line: “The transaction announced [Wednesday] allows for a co-investment from the Public Investment Fund in the future, subject to all necessary regulatory approvals.”

It’s that “all regulatory approvals” issue that’s keeping the PGA Tour-PIF agreement, announced in June, from becoming an immediate reality. The Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division has been eyeing the world of professional golf for several years, ever since LIV players filed suit claiming the Tour was a monopoly, and the news of a potential agreement between the two entities has not reduced that interest.

“The PGA has to show that there would be more pro-competitive benefits to professional golf than we would have gotten without this merger [of Tour and PIF interests],” said Henry Hauser, antitrust counsel at Perkins Coie in Denver and a former Justice Department Antitrust Division trial attorney. “They have to demonstrate that the good things that come from this merger could only come out of this merger.”

This new PGA Tour-SSG investment includes two prongs, Hauser says: a business concern and a regulatory one. From the business side, SSG’s investment allows the PGA Tour to reduce its potential reliance on Saudi funding in any future agreement.

“The cash infusion gives the PGA [Tour] a compelling alternative if the LIV deal fails to get approval or falls through,” Hauser said. “It also gives leverage to whatever terms LIV would have. [The PIF] gets less control over the combined entity, or maybe the same control but has to pay more for it.”

The regulatory aspect of the SSG investment and the PGA Tour’s future is a bit murkier, however, largely because the Tour’s agreement with PIF has not been finalized. When the two entities announced in June their intention to form a new entity to regulate men’s professional golf, they gave themselves a self-imposed deadline of Dec. 31, 2023 — then blew right past that with little more than an acknowledgement that negotiations were still underway. There is, as yet, no timeline for any agreement.

The announcement of an agreement and filing with regulators would “start various statutory clocks,” Hauser said. “The Department of Justice will request information, the parties will provide the information, and DoJ would [then] have 60 to 90 days to clear the deal or block the deal.”

Hauser believes it’s unlikely the Justice Department would simply wave through approval of the merger without more scrutiny. “Agencies are reluctant not to challenge [controversial] deals, even with assurances from the parties, in this administration,” he added. “It’s not impossible, but I’d be pretty surprised if there weren’t some safeguards, something worked out with the parties.”

How long could an investigation take? Long enough that the players might not be sharing any non-major fairways and greens until the 2026 season.

“For a merger, you can reasonably expect to have an answer in 18 months,” Hauser said. “Mergers tend to be the quickest [investigations]. Courts and agencies are aware that when a merger hangs in limbo, it can have a deleterious effect on both sides. It depends on when the DoJ would file a suit, but once filed, I wouldn’t expect it to take more than a year.”

Hauser noted that the Biden administration has had an “aggressive approach, particularly with regard to harm in the labor markets.” Hauser conceded that professional golfers are not vulnerable workers like, for example, “steelworkers or nurses,” but the relative financial status of workers — including, apparently, multimillionaire golfers — hasn’t stopped this Justice Department from taking action.