PGA, LIV, and World Tour Merging

If you can't beat 'em, join 'em?

After two years of accusations of “sportswashing,” collusion, and a slew of lawsuits, the three world golf tours are forming a partnership backed by Saudi blood money.

Mark Schlabach, ESPN (“PGA Tour, LIV Golf, DP World Tour unify ‘under one umbrella’“):

The PGA Tour, DP World Tour and LIV Golf League, which have been embroiled in a bitter legal battle for more than a year, have agreed to unify and move forward in a larger commercial business, the circuits announced Tuesday.

The tours called the stunning development “a landmark agreement … on a global basis.”

“There’s been a lot of tension in our sport over the last couple years,” PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan told CNBC on Tuesday. “What we’re talking about today is coming together to unify the game of golf, and to do so under one umbrella.

“… We’ve recognized that together, we can have a far greater impact on this game than we can working apart. … The game of golf is better for what we’ve done here today.”

The landmark deal between the tours and Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) was reached without the knowledge of many PGA Tour members and LIV Golf players and agents.

Said one PGA Tour player reached by ESPN on Tuesday, “No f—ing way.”

A golf agent, who represents a couple of high-profile LIV Golf players, told ESPN that he was unaware of the merger.

“You just made my heart skip a few beats,” the agent said, before the deal was officially announced.

Said Phil Mickelson on Twitter: “Awesome day today,” with a happy face emoji.

In a statement, the circuits said the parties have signed an agreement that “combines PIF’s golf-related commercial businesses and rights (including LIV Golf) with the commercial businesses and rights of the PGA Tour and DP World Tour into a new, collectively owned, for-profit entity to ensure that all stakeholders benefit from a model that delivers maximum excitement and competition among the game’s best players.”

The circuits said the agreement ends all pending litigation between the parties.

The three tours said they will work “cooperatively and in good faith to establish a fair and objective process for any players who desire to reapply for membership with the PGA Tour or DP World Tour following the completion of the 2023 season.”

“After two years of disruption and distraction, this is a historic day for the game we all know and love,” Monahan said in a statement. “This transformational partnership recognizes the immeasurable strength of the PGA Tour’s history, legacy and pro-competitive model and combines with it the DP World Tour and LIV — including the team golf concept — to create an organization that will benefit golf’s players, commercial and charitable partners and fans.”

Monahan held a players meeting Tuesday afternoon in Toronto, the site of this week’s RBC Canadian Open. A player told ESPN that the PGA Tour’s player advisory committee met with United States Golf Association officials in Columbus, Ohio, on Sunday. Monahan and other PGA Tour executives attended the meeting as well, but there was no discussion about a potential merger with LIV Golf.

In a memo to PGA Tour players Tuesday, a copy of which was obtained by ESPN, Monahan wrote that in addition to making a financial investment in the new entity, PIF would become a premier corporate sponsor of the PGA Tour, DP World Tour and other international tours. Monahan wrote that PIF will make investments to “build an even stronger and more robust commercial business, together” and was committed to “significant financial support toward causes that positively impact the game on a global basis.”

Monahan wrote that the PGA Tour would evaluate how “best to integrate team golf into the professional game.” He said LIV Golf would complete its 2023 schedule, which resumes later this month in Spain.

“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.

Another PGA Tour member reached by ESPN on Tuesday, questioned why the merger needed to happen when, in his opinion, the PGA Tour was beating the LIV Golf League on the course and in the courts.

“It’s insanity,” the PGA Tour player said. “The LIV tour was dead in the water. It wasn’t working. Now, you’re throwing them a life jacket? Is the moral of the story to just always take the money?”

“It’s disappointing being a PGA Tour member,” Callum Tarren, who is ranked No. 159 in the world, told the Golf Channel. “… The guys who’ve stayed loyal to the PGA Tour, it’s kind of a kick in the teeth for them. Obviously, Rory [McIlroy] was a huge advocate of the PGA Tour, and now it looks like all of this hard work and sticking up for the PGA Tour was just left by the wayside.”

From my perspective as, at best, a casual fan of the game these days, it only makes sense to bring all the world’s players under a single umbrella while exploring ways to innovate the game for spectators. But Monahan spent two years questioning the morality of Mickelson and other players who took the LIV money, saying they were effectively siding with the people who financed the 9-11 attacks. Several players, with McElroy and a few others most prominent, backed his play. Now, the people who started the LIV tour are effectively running the new, combined entity.

Naturally, some players are calling him a hypocrite to his face and demanding new leadership.

PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan was called a hypocrite in a heated meeting with players at Oakdale Golf and Country Club in Toronto on Tuesday, hours after the tour announced it was forming a partnership with Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund and the DP World Tour.

Australian golfer Geoff Ogilvy told reporters that a player called Monahan a hypocrite during the meeting, which lasted for more than an hour at the site of this week’s RBC Canadian Open.

“It was mentioned, yeah, and he took it,” Ogilvy said. “He said, ‘Yeah.’ He took it, for sure.”

PGA Tour winner Johnson Wagner told Golf Channel that there was plenty of anger in the room.

“It was contentious,” he said. “There were many moments where certain players were calling for new leadership of the PGA Tour and even got a couple standing ovations.”

In a news conference with reporters later, Monahan said he realizes he might be criticized for agreeing to form a new entity with Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund after he had questioned the source of the LIV Golf League in the past.

“I recognize everything that I’ve said in the past and my prior positions. I recognize that people are going to call me a hypocrite,” Monahan said. “Anytime I said anything, I said it with the information that I had at that moment, and I said it based on someone that’s trying to compete for the PGA Tour and our players. I accept those criticisms, but circumstances do change. I think that in looking at the big picture and looking at it this way, that’s what got us to this point.”

At last year’s RBC Canadian Open, Monahan was asked about the Saudi Arabian monarchy’s connections to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks during an interview with CBS Sports.

“I think you’d have to be living under a rock not to know there are significant implications,” Monahan said at the time. “I would ask any player who has left or any player who would consider leaving, ‘Have you ever had to apologize for being a member of the PGA Tour?'”

At the end of the day, professional golf is a business and this likely makes good business sense. All parties were spending huge sums on litigation that could have dragged on for months or years. And there’s a really good chance that the PGA Tour would have lost in court.

Still, the optics are bad. Schlabach again:

PIF, with more than $600 billion in assets, will be the leading investor in the yet-to-be-named new entity, and it also will become a premier corporate sponsor of the PGA Tour, DP World Tour and other international tours.

For those who need a point of comparison, it was like Dusty Rhodes’ girlfriend showing up on stage with Ric Flair at a World Championship Wrestling event in the 1980s and pledging her loyalty to the Nature Boy.

Or Alabama football coach Nick Saban taking the Auburn job.

No one saw it coming — not even the PGA Tour’s biggest stars, who were kept in the dark.

After months of defending the PGA Tour and criticizing the source of LIV Golf’s funding at every turn, Monahan made an abrupt eight-inch-heel turn, leaving golf fans and his own tour members to question everything they’d heard from him for more than a year.


In October, after Mickelson had suggested that the PGA Tour and LIV Golf needed to come together, Monahan told ESPN at the Presidents Cup in Charlotte, North Carolina, that it would never happen.

“Well, I think words and actions are important,” Monahan said at the time. “I think it’s impractical when you look at the fact that certain players have sued the PGA Tour, their employer has sued the PGA Tour. It’s not in the cards. It hasn’t been in the cards, and it’s not in the cards. I think we’ve been pretty consistent on that front.”

When Monahan was asked if the circuits could coexist, he said: “I’d provide the same answer. The answer to that is they’ve gone down their path, and I think we have been pretty consistent that we’re going down.”

So what changed? Sources told ESPN that the PGA Tour and LIV Golf have each spent tens of millions of dollars defending themselves in a federal antitrust lawsuit that LIV Golf and 11 of its players filed against the PGA Tour in August. The PGA Tour filed a countersuit, claiming LIV Golf interfered with its contracts with players.

On Friday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in California denied the PGA Tour’s motion to dismiss LIV Golf’s appeal over sovereign immunity. The case would have likely dragged on for several months, if not a couple of more years. Neither side wanted to share its secrets via required discovery, and neither wanted to keep spending money on lawyers.

Richard Sheehan, a professor emeritus of finance at Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business who specializes in the economics of sports, said in a statement provided to ESPN that “economic interests do generally win out in the long term.”

“Multiple lawsuits with potentially huge costs, very long potential timelines, and tremendous uncertainty regarding the legal outcomes have a way of focusing participants’ attention on issues at hand and the financial and reputational stakes in the balance,” Sheehan said.

“LIV and the Saudis may well have entered the golf arena in an effort to repair the Saudi Arabian monarchy’s reputation on human rights. The lawsuits do not help on that end. And the PGA likely has no interest in trying to match Saudi/LIV funding of a protracted and expensive legal battle. Both had an incentive to settle, and the questions now revolve around the terms of that settlement.”

Instead of spending tens of millions of dollars more on lawyers, Monahan might have figured it was more financially prudent to get in business with the Saudis rather than sue them.

“In terms of how did we get to this point and how did we go from a confrontation to now being partners?” Monahan said Tuesday. “We just realized that we were better off together than we were fighting or apart, and by thinking about the game at large and eliminating a lot of the friction that’s been out there and doing this in a way where we can move forward.”

There are still a ton of details to be worked out, so we don’t know what the post-2023 picture looks like. But there are a lot of fences to mend.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Mikey says:

    The Cowardly End of Golf’s Civil War

    Not everything about golf changed on Tuesday. You are still terrible at it. The club you think is automatic is not. You are not locked in, and your range session from yesterday will not carry over. All that’s still the same. But everything else changed. Yes, everything.

    On Tuesday, the Saudi Arabian Public Investment Fund “combine[d]” its golf business with the PGA Tour and the DP World Tour to create one golf entity. The quotes around “combine” cannot be emphasized enough. This seems like a takeover of the sport in the strongest terms by the forces that created LIV Golf—the disrupting tour that broke away from the PGA last year and signed many of its players in the process. Now, golf’s civil war is over a year after it began because one group had far more cash than the other.

    This is not news—there is no more shallow aphorism in sports than “follow the money.” But we can outline the shock, the ridiculousness, and the cowardice of the end of the strangest 12 months in golf history (so far). The civil war is over because it wasn’t even a war: It was a negotiation. Someone just forgot to tell the participants. Now, an obvious period of reckoning starts: A handful of golf executives who gave retroactively cringeworthy LIV quotes will have them thrown back in their faces. Those folks will not care, because there’s bad cell reception on the yachts where they’ll park the tens of millions of dollars they made today. Rich clowns are still rich.


    The shock of this deal comes when you consider that there was no inkling that this was going to happen. No hint of an olive branch. No suggestion of any compromises, let alone what seems like a full-blown takeover. McIlroy and the rest of the PGA loyalists learned a very valuable lesson about modern sports (or modern life) on Tuesday: If you do not sell out, someone will sell you out.

  2. CSK says:

    Trump is gloating about this. What a perfect day to indict him.

  3. Neil Hudelson says:

    There is a longer quote from Monahan that is illuminating.

    “I recognize everything that I’ve said in the past and my prior positions. I recognize that people are going to call me a hypocrite,” Monahan said. “Anytime I said anything, I said it with the information that I had at that moment, and I said it based on someone that’s trying to compete for the PGA Tour and our players. Now that I have new information, my view has changed. What new information? For instance, do you know how many Mercedes S-Classes you can buy with $15 million dollars? 125 of them, assuming you’re just getting the base package. Just a weird bit of trivia I picked up over the last few months and for some reason it had a big impact on me. What’s that? Oh, I just chose the sum of $15 million at random really, nothing to it. Hey, here’s another bit of information I picked up just this past week. What do you call two hookers, a bag of blow, and a private jet to Tokyo? Friday night. Get it? No? It’s a thinker, it’ll come to you. H-a-a-n-n-y-y-way, as I was saying I accept those criticisms, but circumstances do change. I think that in looking at the big picture and looking at it this way, that’s what got us to this point.”


  4. MarkedMan says:

    I think this is the beginning of a long, long downswing in golf’s popularity. Not (unfortunately) because the show is now being run by a bloody handed murderer but because the Saudis are terrible business people whose only solution to any problem is to throw huge bales of petro-dollars at it. You can buy better F1 tech with dollars, or better football players for a team, but you can’t make individual golfers better.

  5. Chris says:

    Money corrupts absolutely… and money from a murderous, tyranical monarchy just makes the stench of curruption all the more pungent. Screw the PGA… for now, it’s Frisbie golf for me!

  6. Daryl says:

    My only question is if Jay Monahan is now in possession of the bone saw used to kill Jamal Khashoggi, like Harlan Crowe has a signed copy of Mein Kampf.

  7. de stijl says:

    Why should I care?

    I know some / most of it is probably dirty Saudi money, but it is one of those situations I kinda don’t care about.

    Maybe I should. Am I missing the point?

  8. CSK says:

    @de stijl:

    For one thing, it lines Trump’s pockets, too.

  9. JohnSF says:

    @de stijl:

    Why should I care?

    Being in a major sport at this level; buys you a lot of collateral political influence and networking. Golf is probably quite a good entry route for that.
    Just as football is in Europe, and the Arabians and Emiratis have been piling into that.

  10. Daryl says:

    @de stijl:
    The entire LIV Golf League was set up to launder money thru Trump’s golf courses.
    Previously the PGA had banned Trump Courses from the Tour because of J6.
    I Guarantee that principled stand will come to an end, now, as well.

  11. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @de stijl: @CSK: I think this matters to people who have “integrity of the game” issues about the sports they follow. I’m not enough of a professional (or even college for that matter) sports fan to care about the integrity of people in professional sports. That some people are galled that Trump is going to make “finding change between the sofa cushions”-level money (to the scale of the deal) is something I care even less about. As a grafter/grifter, Trump will always be like the sheriff in a county to the north of where I grew up who was discovered to have taken “almost $10K” (IIRC) over a 20-year career as a narcotics detective. I might do a lot of things if I became a ACAB, but discount bribery wouldn’t be one of them.

  12. Daryl says:

    It’s called “sportswashing.”
    I guess in a world where Trump can bungle a pandemic response and needlessly kill hundreds of thousands of Americans, then stage a bloody coup in an attempt to make himself king, and still be considered the frontrunner in the 2024 election, this only makes sense.
    It’s because people don’t care that all this crap happens.

  13. Kathy says:

    “Good business sense” has led to a depleted middle class, environmental disaster, and capital accumulation at ridiculous levels.

    Maybe it’s time for something else, like good common sense.

  14. CSK says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:

    It’s a little more than pocket change Trump will get from having the PGA play at his clubs. And in any case, Trump’s one of the two people who cashed a 13 cent check sent him by Spy magazine back in the 1980s.

  15. Slugger says:

    Yes, market forces will evolve monopoly positions and cartelization in many enterprises.
    I’m a fairly well off guy who doesn’t play golf and has little interest in it. Will this new outfit do anything to rope me in? I do have a home in a development with a golf course; I see people my age who are comically bad at it playing golf. What do 67 year old putzers get out of it?

  16. de stijl says:

    Everyone says the LIV tour is shite and dirty.

    I believe that is more likely than not to be true, but is there any proof of that?

    All things considered it looks like a shitty confluence. But is there any actionable proof of malfeasance / shitty conduct?

    If you could show me I would be way more comfortable.

    It kinda looks fishy as hell. But it also looks like a straight deal struck.

    Is there any evidence as to why we should object?

    I can see the objection as to eschewing Saudi money on principal, but that is moot at this point. It looks to be a done deal.

    Show me proof good or bad. I’m entirely open.

  17. dazedandconfused says:

    Sold their souls for an arm and a leg…a pair of each, actually.

    Robin Williams invents golf.

    Humor aside, to borrow from the old movie Broadcast News, there needs to be conduits for the money we toss into the ME to flow back. We damn those who do so while ignoring how it got over there in the first place.

  18. Gustopher says:

    But Monahan spent two years questioning the morality of Mickelson and other players who took the LIV money, saying they were effectively siding with the people who financed the 9-11 attacks.

    The evidence for this is shaky at best. bin Laden was on the fringes if the Saudi Royal Family, and wanted Saudi terrorists involved to drive a wedge between the US and the Saudi government. Dragging it up over and over is basically just racism.

    And why go there when you have a perfectly fine Bonesaw tied directly to MBS?

  19. EddieInCA says:

    I”m an avid golfer, and currently playing to about an 8 handicap. I play every chance I get, and recently came back from a bucket-list trip to Scotland, where I played The Old Course, Carnoustie, Kingsbarns, and Muirfield Village, along with a few other courses.

    I’m done with the PGA Tour. I’ll keep playing, but I will no longer watch it, nor support it by going to events or buying any of their gear. It’s not much, but it’s what I can do. Jay Monahan stuck a knife in the back of every PGA golfer who refused to join the Saudi backed tour. Jay Monahan stuck a knife in the back of every recreational golfer who stood by the PGA tour over the last 18 months. Fuck. Him.

  20. al Ameda says:

    I realize that this is somewhat tangential but …
    … Jared Kushner gets a $2 billion ‘investment from the Saudis as Trump (de facto) involuntarily goes out the door.
    … The Saudi PIF bankrolls the LIV tour.
    … The LIV tour includes Trump golf course venues.

    It is very surprising that there’s a stench to how this all unfolded.

  21. Flat Earth Luddite says:


    I”m an avid golfer, and currently playing to about an 8 handicap.

    On the other hand, Luddite’s golf game has been declared an international war crime in The Hague. Last time I played, the black helicopter’s came in and took me into custody.

  22. Tony W says:

    Golf has a longstanding problem of declining popularity and a stodgy, unwelcoming reputation.

    Old, rich people play golf.

    Young people have been staying away in droves, and golf courses are more and more seen – at least out west – as a horrific use of water and land, and a polluter of the highest order. Environmentalists have had it out for golf courses for at least a couple of decades.

    The Top Golf franchise has done a lot to make golf more fun, and my feeling is that moneyed interests are looking for ways to make the game more enticing to young people.

    That is going to upset the old guard (PGA), but they can’t deny that they are a declining demographic when the money stops coming in the way it used to.

    I’m never a fan of the Saudis getting involved in anything at all, but golf was a prime target for major change. Without that change, it was not going to survive another generation.