LIV and let die

I am with Rory McIlroy. I hate LIV; mainly for the abject hypocrisy of its owners, promoters and participants.

But now the Saudi backers of LIV appear to be in charge of world golf.

LIV stuttered into existence in October 2021 when Golf Saudi (a division of the Saudi state’s sovereign wealth fund – the Public Investment Fund) established a new entity known as LIV Golf Investments with former professional golfer Greg Norman named as CEO.

LIV paid large signing on fees to attract some star names; offered significantly larger prize funds; limited fields; and no-cut events. Players, shock-horror, could even wear shorts.

Tiger Woods, reportedly turned down an offer of $700 million to $800 million to join LIV Golf. He was asked in July 2022 about the golfers who had joined. “I disagree with it. I think that what they’ve done is they’ve turned their back on what has allowed them to get to this position.”

But the real criticism is less about turning their back on the PG tour – but the acceptance of blood-money from a state that is using its massive oil riches to sportswash its dismal human rights record, including the murder and dismemberment of Washington Post journalist, Jamal Khashoggi.

Greg Norman’s response was embarrassing – “look, we’ve all made mistakes, and you just want to learn from those mistakes and how you can correct them going forward,” he opined.

As the war of words grew between the tours the PGA Tour announced that its members participating in the first LIV Golf tournament (including current members as well as those who had recently resigned) were no longer eligible to compete in tour events or the Presidents Cup.

A rash of lawsuits were launched.

Then last week in a shock announcement LIV Golf, the PGA Tour, and PGA European Tour announced that the three organizations would pool their commercial rights into a new for-profit venture, which will be funded by the Public Investment Fund.

PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan will serve as CEO of the new entity, with Yasir Al-Rymayyan (chairman of the PIF and also of Newcastle United FC) as Chairman, with the PGA Tour appointing the majority of its board.

All three tours will maintain administrative oversight and sanctioning of their events. This agreement ends all existing litigation, and there are plans for a “fair and objective process for any players who desire to re-apply for membership”.

Key here is the end of existing litigation – and a stop to the bleeding of cash.

PGA golfers were at no time consulted on the negotiations; most found out about the agreement from social media. They were not happy.

Jay Monahan did meet with tour players before last week’s RBC Canadian Open. By all accounts it was an angry meeting.

The agreement signed between the tours was described as no more than a framework agreement – no one really has any idea what this means in reality for the future of professional golf.

Will LIV continue; who will be eligible to play in LIV events?

Will golfers who stayed loyal to the PGA be rewarded for their loyalty – they did after all give up significant signing on fees?

How will “rebel” golfers be reintegrated into the PGA and EPGA? Will rebel golfers be eligible for this years Ryder Cup?

Will the PGA now fufil the LIV intent of taking golf events around the world (both remain US-centric) – when will the PGA championship be held in Jeddah?

Who really does make decisions going forward?

Wherefore the European Tour – headquartered in Dubai, UAE? It is far from clear that anyone from the European Tour was involved in the negotiations with PIF.

Will PIF and LIV be visibly branded at US PGA events – how do Americans who were under attack from Saudis on 9/11 feel about that?

The Saudi willingness to overpay as a means of attracting athletes has led to an overvaluation of sporting talent and to the inflated salaries that other leagues have struggled to match. The latest are the salaries being paid to often end-of-career footballers to play in the Saudi League.

It would be naive to believe this is the first instance of Saudi money flowing into the coffers of professional sport organizations. The Kingdom is already active in boxing, motor racing and of course football. Coming next – Basketball; the NBA. Cricket – a Saudi sponsored global 20/20 league; a football world cup in Saudi Arabia. This is just the start.

Just a year ago, PGA Tour officials and players were strongly opposed to Saudi money.

By forming this partnership, the PGA Tour has prioritised financial interests over ethical ones. And the players will be expected to fall in line.

But forget the talk of a merger. Mergers are never mergers; there is always a dominant party; a leader and a follower.

What remains to be seen is the future of the sport, and the fate of its athletes, now that these priorities have been laid bare.

More: The PGA Tour’s deal with the Saudis will be measured in what is lost, starting with reputations Golf Week
Secrecy, Cigars and a Venetian Wedding: How the PGA Tour Made a Deal with Saudi Arabia New York Times