June 6, 2023 -The PGA Tour abruptly dropped its expensive fight with Saudi Arabia’s LIV Golf venture on Tuesday and instead announced a stunning merger that creates a global operation featuring the world’s top players backed by the Saudis’ massive wealth.
As part of the deal merging the PGA Tour and European tour with Saudi Arabia’s golf interests, the sides immediately are dropping all lawsuits involving LIV Golf.
From the golf side, still to be determined is how players like Brooks Koepka and Dustin Johnson can rejoin the PGA Tour after defecting last year for signing bonuses reported to be in the $150 million range.
From the commercial side, the governor of Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund joins the PGA Tour board of directors and leads the new business venture as chairman, though the PGA Tour will have a majority stake.
News of the deal came as a surprise to many watchers of the lawsuits and Saudi Arabia’s inroads into U.S. politics, sports and culture.
“This is a huge development and obviously upends a world of golf, which has been perhaps more tradition-bound in the past,” said Kristian Ulrichsen, a Middle East fellow at Houston’s Baker Institute.
Under Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund has made a point of seeking out investments, like LIV, where it could shake up existing industries, Ulrichsen said.
“That’s sort of one of their mantras, is to try to be disruptive and to take on the status quo,” he said. “And in this case, they seem to have succeeded.”
The announcement comes a year after LIV Golf began. PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan was at the Canadian Open that week and said pointedly about any player who joined LIV or was thinking about it: “Have you ever had to apologize for being a member of the PGA Tour?”
Now they are partners, giving Saudi Arabia a commercial voice in golf’s premier organization.
“I recognize everything I’ve said in the past. I recognize people will call me a hypocrite,” Monahan said in a conference call Tuesday evening. “Any time I’ve said anything, I’ve said it with the information I had, and I said it with someone trying to compete with our tour and our players.”
Most PGA Tour players were bewildered by the shocking turnaround. It didn’t help that a news outlet broke the embargoed announcement before Monahan could send a memo to the players. Most learned of the development on social media.
“I love finding out about morning news on Twitter,” two-time major champion Collin Morikawa tweeted.
Many were not happy. Wesley Bryan tweeted, “I feel betrayed, and will not … be able to trust anyone within the corporate structure of the PGA Tour for a very long time.”
Byeong Hun An added on Twitter: “I’m guessing the liv teams were struggling to get sponsors and pga tour couldn’t turn down the money. Win-win for both tours but it’s a big lose for who defended the tour for last two years.”
“They were going down their path, we were going down ours, and after a lot of introspection you realize all this tension in the game is not a good thing,” Monahan said in a phone interview with The Associated Press.
“We have a responsibility to our tour and to the game, and we felt like the time was right to have that conversation.”