PGA Tour agrees to merge with Saudi-backed rival LIV Golf


The PGA Tour has done a complete about-face by merging with rival LIV Golf less than one year after PGA commissioner Jay Monahan told reporters that such an arrangement was ‘off the table.’ 

In a shocking move that was unknown to PGA stars and LIV commissioner Greg Norman until Tuesday morning, the PGA and European Tours have signed an agreement with the Saudi-backed circuit to combine their businesses into a new, yet-to-be-named company. The merger ends the ongoing litigation between the rivals. Financial details of the deal have not been disclosed. 

The move represents a major victory for LIV Golf, which has been shunned by many of the sport’s icons, including Tour legends Jack Nicklaus, Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods, who reportedly turned down a $1billion deal to defect in 2022. 

But LIV Golf has succeeded in buying some of the world’s top players, spending hundreds of millions on the likes of Brooks Koepka, Dustin Johnson and Phil Mickelson. The problem now for the PGA Tour is reintegrating the defectors who took Saudi money with the players who remained loyal by refusing lucrative LIV contracts. 

LIV Golf has been slammed for its ties to Saudi Arabia’s controversial Public Investment Fund (PIF), with critics accusing the kingdom of ‘sportswashing’ its human rights record. LIV defectors, meanwhile, have been pilloried over allegations of greed. 

Donald Trump, whose golf courses have hosted several LIV events, trumpeted the news on his social media network: GREAT NEWS FROM LIV GOLF. A BIG BEAUTIFUL , AND GLAMOROUS DEAL FOR THE WONDERFUL WORLD OF GOLF. GONGRATS TO ALL!!!’

LIV Golf CEO Greg Norman, a former PGA Tour star, has been fighting for his tour's survival

LIV Golf CEO Greg Norman, a former PGA Tour star, has been fighting for his tour’s survival 

Donald Trump, whose golf courses have hosted several LIV events, trumpeted the news

Donald Trump, whose golf courses have hosted several LIV events, trumpeted the news

Former President Donald Trump, left, talks with Yasir Al-Rumayyan, governor of the PIF Fund

Former President Donald Trump, left, talks with Yasir Al-Rumayyan, governor of the PIF Fund

Trump has been highly critical of the PGA in recent years after that tour relocated its 2022 championship away from his course in New Jersey amid uproar over the infamous January 6 ‘Stop the Steal’ rally. 

It remains to be seen if the merger will lead to Trump landing another PGA event. 

His Turnberry golf course in Scotland is reportedly barred from hosting The Open until the former President sells his resort. Trump bought the golf course in 2014, five years after the last time it staged the storied competition, and is keen to see Europe’s biggest tournament return to the Ayrshire venue.

Speaking from the course on GB News in early May, Trump claimed that ‘everybody wants to see the Open championship here,’ adding that only a few ‘minor adjustments’ would have to be made to ready the course.

Per the Telegraph, the tournament’s organizing body is adamant that Turnberry remains out of contention as a host.

Trump’s level of involvement in the deal also remains unclear, but he did predict a merger 11 months ago. 

‘All of those golfers that remain ”loyal” to the very disloyal PGA, in all of its different forms, will pay a big price when the inevitable MERGER with LIV comes, and you get nothing but a big ”thank you” from PGA officials who are making Millions of Dollars a year,’ Trump wrote on his social media network in July of 2022. 

‘If you don’t take the money now, you will get nothing after the merger takes place, and only say how smart the original signees were.’

Trump's involvement in the deal also is unclear, but he did predict a merger 11 months ago

Trump’s involvement in the deal also is unclear, but he did predict a merger 11 months ago

Trump shakes hands with fans as he attends the second round of the LIV Golf on May 27

Trump shakes hands with fans as he attends the second round of the LIV Golf on May 27

Tuesday’s merger comes one year after LIV Golf’s first event, and ends its legal battle with the PGA.

While the PGA was accused of violating antitrust laws by banning LIV players from its Tour, golf’s preeminent circuit countersued its Saudi-backed rivals, accusing the outfit of interfering with its deals.

Players who defected to LIV Golf were banned at PGA events, but have continued playing at the majors. For instance, LIV Golf’s Koepka won last month’s PGA Championship. 

The PGA-LIV merger came as a complete surprise, both outside and inside the sport. 

It was only a year ago at the Canadian Open that Monahan attacked LIV Golf by asking his players, rhetorically: ‘Have you ever had to apologize for being a member of the PGA Tour?’

Somehow, Monahan is now partnering with Saudi Arabia.  

Even PGA players, who had loyally stood by the Tour rather than taking the Saudi’s millions, were caught off guard by the news.

‘Shocked and confused,’ one unidentified golfer told Barstool’s Dan Rapaport.

‘Disgusted,’ another said. ‘They didn’t tell us anything.’ 

‘Nothing like finding out through Twitter that we’re merging with a tour that we said we’d never do that with,’ read a tweet from golfer Mackenzie Hughes. 

And when asked if Norman knew about the deal, PIF Governor Yasir Al-Rumayyan told CNBC: ‘I made the call just before this [interview].’

LIV GOLF TIMELINE

  • June 9, 2022: LIV Golf held its inaugural event in England, prompting the PGA Tour to suspend all members who competed in the rival event.
  • August of 2022: Phil Mickelson and 10 other LIV Golfers filed an antitrust lawsuit against the PGA Tour in response to their suspensions. The plaintiffs accused the PGA of using an unlawful monopoly to stifle trade.
  • October of 2022: The PGA files its countersuit against the Saudi Public Investment Fund, which funds LIV Golf. PIF governor Yasir Al-Rumayyan is named in the lawsuit.
  • January of 2023: The PGA files a motion, claiming the PIF interfered with its contracts by luring players to join the upstart league.
  • June of 2023: LIV Golf and the PGA Tour decide to merge, bringing an end to their competing lawsuits.

 

LIV Golf players pictured ahead of their second season start in Mayakoba, Mexico in February

LIV Golf players pictured ahead of their second season start in Mayakoba, Mexico in February

Critics of the PGA-LIV merger wasted little time in condemning the deal, which is allegedly aimed at helping rehabilitate Saudi Arabia’s tarnished reputation throughout the world. 

‘While this may have taken some golf fans and commentators by surprise, it’s really just more evidence of the onward march of Saudi sportswashing,’ said Felix Jakens, Amnesty International UK’s Head of Priority Campaigns and Individuals at Risk.

‘It’s been clear for some time that Saudi Arabia was prepared to use vast amounts of money to muscle its way into top-tier golf – just part of a wider effort to become a major sporting power and to try to distract attention from the country’s atrocious human rights record.

‘Away from the glamour of the golf courses and the TV cameras there’s been mounting repression in Saudi Arabia, with government critics and human rights activists arrested, a spate of unfair trials, and with the death penalty widely used, including as a tool of political repression.’

WHO IS YASSIR AL-RUMAYYAN?

Saudi Public Investment Fund Governor Yasir Al-Rumayyan, 53, has emerged as one of the most powerful figures in international sports in recent years, due mostly to his unmatched spending power.

Chosen by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to run the PIF, which is currently worth around $620 billion, Al-Rumayyan helped lead a $300 million takeover of Newcastle United in 2020.

In fact, Al-Rumayyan has been funding the kingdom’s push to host a growing array of sporting events. Spectacles have included Anthony Joshua’s 2019 heavyweight title rematch with Andy Ruiz Jr. in Diriyah, the Italian Super Cup finals, and the upstart LIV Golf Tour.

Several big names, including major winners such as Brooks Koepka, Dustin Johnson, Cameron Smith and Bryson DeChambeau, have been lured to LIV Golf with lucrative signing bonuses reportedly worth as much as $100million to $200million. Phil Mickelson was paid a reported $200 million to defect to LIV Golf.

Trump, Yasir bin Othman Al-Rumayyan (center), and Jared Kushner at a 2022 LIV event

Trump, Yasir bin Othman Al-Rumayyan (center), and Jared Kushner at a 2022 LIV event 

Critics say LIV Golf is simply ‘sportswashing’ Saudi Arabia’s brutal human rights record.

A Harvard Business School graduate, Al-Rumayyan started his career as an investment banker and his rise has been so meteoric that he is now one of the only major players in the Saudi state who is not a member of the royal family.

Away from the boardroom, little is known about Al-Rumayyan beyond his love of golf. He plays off a handicap of 12 and has been pictured arm-in-arm with former Masters champion Sergio Garcia, plus a host of the game’s other big names.

But Al-Rumayyan’s role at the PIF means he is a key figure in Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 – a project designed to diversify its wealth beyond its colossal oil and gas industries.

A year ago, PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan rejected the idea of merging with LIV Golf

A year ago, PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan rejected the idea of merging with LIV Golf

Trump (right) was kicked aside by the PGA, but found a new business partner in LIV Golf

Trump (right) was kicked aside by the PGA, but found a new business partner in LIV Golf 

Among several issues, Saudi Arabia has been attacked for its treatment of women, homosexuals, and for corporal punishment. Last year, the kingdom executed nearly 200 people (compared to 18 in the United States).

Furthermore, in 2018, Saudi Arabia drew the ire of the United States with the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, a critic of crown prince Mohammed bin Salman. Khashoggi was invited to the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, where he was murdered and dismembered. 

Have you ever had to apologize for being a member of the PGA Tour? 

PGA commissioner Jay Monahan, when asked what he would tell any player considering a move to LIV  

‘Last year alone, the Saudi authorities executed 196 people, the highest number for at least 30 years, and the Leeds University PhD student Salma al-Shehab was given a long jail sentence for tweeting her support for Saudi women’s rights activists,’ Jakens continued.

‘The world of golf may be about to put one of its most high-profile commercial battles behind it, but it’s vital that this latest surge in Saudi sportswashing isn’t allowed to obscure the increasingly dire human rights situation in Saudi Arabia.’

Senator Chris Murphy, a Democrat from Connecticut, claimed on Twitter that the PGA was rejecting the idea of a merger only months earlier. 

‘So weird,’ Murphy tweeted. ‘PGA officials were in my office just months ago talking about how the Saudis’ human rights record should disqualify them from having a stake in a major American sport.

‘I guess maybe their concerns weren’t really about human rights?’

Speaking with the Associated Press, Monahan acknowledged his apparent about-face. 

‘I understand the criticism,’ Monahan said. ‘For me, you take the information you have at the time and make decisions in the best interests. Things have changed. This was the right time to have this conversation.’ 

Senator Chris Murphy called out the PGA Tour's alleged hypocrisy on Twitter

Senator Chris Murphy called out the PGA Tour’s alleged hypocrisy on Twitter

Cristiano Ronaldo's Al-Nassr are among four Saudi Arabian clubs obtained by the Saudi PIF

Cristiano Ronaldo’s Al-Nassr are among four Saudi Arabian clubs obtained by the Saudi PIF 

Saudi Arabia’s PIF has been in a spending mood this month.

On Monday, it was revealed that the fund will be taking control of the country’s four top soccer clubs on top of its ownership of Newcastle United, although specific compensation has not been reported. 

One of the clubs, Al-Nassr, recently signed Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo to a two-and-a-half-year deal worth a gargantuan $315 million per season.

Meanwhile, Argentine World Cup winner Lionel Messi, 35, is reportedly poised to sign for Al-Hilal this week after he was offered a staggering $428m per season.

Messi has just played his final match for French club Paris Saint-Germain. He has been working as a travel ambassador for Saudi Arabia since last year, earning $31m-a-year.

Monday’s announcement said the PIF will own 75 percent of each club.

The Saudi PIF tweeted on Monday it had taken 75 percent ownership of four leading clubs

The Saudi PIF tweeted on Monday it had taken 75 percent ownership of four leading clubs

Al-Rumayyan crowed about the merger in a statement released Tuesday.  

‘Today is a very exciting day for this special game and the people it touches around the world,’ Al-Rumayyan said. ‘We are proud to partner with the PGA TOUR to leverage PIF’s unparalleled success and track record of unlocking value and bringing innovation and global best practices to business and sectors worldwide. 

‘We are committed to unifying, promoting and growing the game of golf around the world and offering the highest-quality product to the many millions of long-time fans globally, while cultivating new fans. 

The PGA Tour will maintain its tax-exempt status despite the merger, according to the release. 

Monahan is expected to be the new entity’s Commissioner. Both he and Al-Rumayyan will be on the new entity’s board, along with current PGA board members Ed Herlihy and Jimmy Dunne. 

The fate players who defected from the PGA Tour to LIV Golf remain unclear. Some may be required to pay a fine, according to Rapaport

Similarly, the future of LIV’s team format remains undecided. Monahan said in a memo to players that the PGA will do an evaluation before deciding on how to integrate team golf into his tour.

‘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.’

PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan wrote a memo to players on Tuesday (pictured)

PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan wrote a memo to players on Tuesday (pictured)

LIV Golf is heavily funded by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign-wealth fund, which has committed at least $2 billion to the circuit. But while the rebel tour has attracted media attention in the form of news articles, that publicity had yet to translate to any major media rights or sponsorship deals.

Currently LIV Golf events can be seen on CW and YouTube, although Nielsen ratings have been disappointing to say the least.  LIV Golf is no longer reporting viewer data after claiming that Nielsen’s audience measurements are inaccurate.

Golfweek Magazine reported last year that LIV came close to an agreement with Fox Sports about buying airtime, six years after the network parted ways with Norman, a former PGA star.

Despite the efforts of Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner to broker a deal between both parties, no agreement could be made.





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