The players found out the same way you and I did: on Twitter. Joel Dahmen was going through his morning routine when he got a text from a buddy. He couldn't believe it was real.
"I'm like, no shot," Dahmen said.
Collin Morikawa woke up, scrolled through his phone and found out his tour had just merged with the Sworn Enemy. Harris English was in complete and utter disbelief.
It is, in fact, real. The PGA Tour and LIV Golf dropped one of the more stunning press conferences in recent sporting memory on Tuesday, announcing a vague "commerical entity" to unify golf. There are so, so many questions yet to be answered. All we really know is that the war is over, the Saudis will pour money into golf and the PGA Tour has some serious explaining to do.
This was a nuke dropped into the golf world with little explanation for how it's exactly going to play out. Golf is a conglomeration of so many different entities, with so many different interests, all of which are deeply impacted by this news. The players, obviously. The tours. The tournaments themselves. The governing bodies. It goes on and on, and there are way more question marks than certainties at this point. Here's a breakdown with what we know—from the announcement, from Jay Monahan and Yasir al-Rumayyan and from working the phones all morning.
Jay Monahan pulled a complete 180 in his stance on LIV
The PGA Tour commissioner took a hardline position from the start on LIV Golf: this is bad for the game, we're not going to discuss anything with them, stay loyal to our tour which is about legacy and competition. That was his pitch to players to stay, to turn down tens or hundreds of millions of dollars in guaranteed money from LIV Golf, which is almost wholly funded by the $600 billion+ Saudi Arabian Public Investment Fund.
His initial goal was to stomp this thing out, to nip it at the root. It's why he banned players who teed it up in a LIV event from playing on the PGA Tour. By doing that, they'd stop the bleed of players moving over. In turn, that would take some buzz away from LIV Golf. People wouldn't watch as much. And by continuing to highlight Saudi Arabia's human rights issues and connections with 9/11, Monahan made it really difficult from a PR perspective for companies to ink sponsorship deals with LIV. The hope was it'd be a money-loser from the start, the Saudis would get tired/bored of it or begin to think of it as a PR negative rather than a positive, and pull the plug.
That was never going to happen. Saudi money is simply on a different scale. They just paid a 35-year-old soccer player $215 million per year to play in their country. They clearly want to pour some of this money into sports, and they could afford to bleed the PGA Tour dry. Now you have the PGA Tour issuing a statement with a NEW YORK, RIYADH, PONTE VEDRA BEACH dateline and the PGA Tour calling LIV's second year a "groundbreaking season." Players are noticing the about-face.
"Tell me why Jay Monahan basically got a promotion to CEO of all golf in the world by going back on everything he said the past two years?" Dylan Wu asked. "The hypocrisy. Wish golf world like that. I guess money always wins."
Which brings us to our next point…one has a lot more money than the other.
Both models were unsustainable
LIV's plan to make money was to build up the team concept, hope the 12 teams have value and then sell them for hundreds of millions of dollars to rich people who want a fancy toy. It was always a pipe dream. Golf simply isn't a team sport, and the whole team concept, from the corny names to the hard-to-follow competition itself, was pretty cringy. They were never going to make money on this, nor were they going to overtake the PGA Tour as the tour of record for golf history. The PGA Tour has a decades-long headstart, they've got Tiger and Jack and Arnie's legacy to build on, and they're an American corporation rather than a Saudi entity. LIV was never going to succeed on its own.
But having pits of cash certainly has its benefits, and they could afford to pump a few more billion. the PGA Tour, on the other hand could not afford it. Rumors in the golf world are swirling that the PGA Tour has gone deep into its reserves, with some suggesting they might've borrowed money against future TV earnings, to fund these designated events this year. They had no choice but to beef up their prize money if they wanted to keep the players. But unlike the Saudi government, the PGA Tour can't just funnel billions of dollars to professional golfers. It's entirely possible that the PGA Tour knew this kind of spending was unsustainable on their end and, crucially, that it was sustainable on the Saudis end. If the Tour couldn't keep up money-wise, eventually more and more players would leave. At some point, that reaches a critical mass.
Did the DOJ investigation have a role?
The Department of Justice has been looking into the PGA Tour for the potential of antitrust violations, and you have to wonder if that played a role in such a dramatic shift in the tour's posture. Could the feds have sniffed around, seen some things that crossed the line, told the PGA Tour they weren't going to escape clean from this? And the PGA Tour decided it's in its own best interest to merge?
That's certainly the cynical explanation rather than the official one, which is the parties coming together for the betterment of the game.
In other legal news, both sides agreed to drop all pending litigation against each other. The only unhappy people with that development are the lawyers who won't get paid quite as much.
The players are shocked…and pissed?
"This is supposed to be a member-run organization and they didn't tell us shit."
That's how one player put it. The PGA Tour has said all along that the tour is its players—that players are involved in every decision, they're the lifeblood of the tour, etc. That's hard to take seriously given how this played out. If players knew this was a possibility, we would've heard about it last week at Memorial. The LIV rumor mill has been spinning for months and I've heard some pretty batshit suggestions, but never a peep about this. A Financial Times articles says negotiations for this have been going on for two months, and one source told me that Monahan began telling people in the golf ecosystem at the Masters that he and Yasir "would sort this out." For all that to be kept from the players is sort of amazing in today's ecosystem.
"I'm shocked and disgusted by the lack of communication," says Nico Echavarria.
How do you handle the LIV guys who took the money…and the ones who didn't?
"I mean, I couldn't have gotten the same as some of those guys, but I definitely feel I could've gotten some good money."
That's from Harris English, and you better believe there are a ton of players feeling the same way. They stayed loyal to the tour. Some turned down generational sums of money. Rickie Fowler reportedly turned down $75 million. Hideki Matsuyama, the rumors had it around $300 million. And now the guys who did go and take the money get to come back and play under the same umbrella? That's going to rub a ton of people the wrong way. I think back to what Matt Fitzpatrick said on the Fore Play Podcast in March.
“I would not let them back,” Fitzpatrick said. “You made your choice. In my opinion, you made your choice to jump ship because you think there’s a better product out there, so that’s why you’ve gone. I don’t think you should be allowed back.
“My thing is, you wanted to go play somewhere for more money, less events, for all the reasons that they give. So why should you be allowed to come back and take someone else’s spot who’s committed to the PGA Tour? That would be my argument.”
The statement provides only loose guidelines for how the LIVers will return:
"The three organizations will work cooperatively and in good faith to establish a fair and objective process for any players who desire to re-apply for membership with the PGA TOUR or the DP World Tour following the completion of the 2023 season and for determining fair criteria and terms of re-admission, consistent with each Tour’s policies."
A source close to the PGA Tour told me LIV guys who want to return will have to pay a fine, and that not every fine will be equal. (A guy like Phil Mickelson, for example, would likely stand to pay more). But who is that money going to? Will it be distributed to the PGA Tour players who stayed loyal?
What will the schedule and tournaments look like?
Again, the statement provided only very loose information.
"The new entity will work to ensure a cohesive schedule of events that will be exciting for fans, sponsors and all stakeholders. PIF will initially be the exclusive investor in the new entity, alongside the PGA TOUR, LIV Golf and the DP World Tour. "
Huge for the DP World Tour to get in the mix here—the former European Tour had fallen to the wayside and become a feeder tour, but it's really a proud institution in a golf-rich part of the world with fantastic tournaments. The coming together of all these entities—the PGA Tour based in the U.S., the DP World Tour in Europe and LIV with a strong Asia tie—could eventually lead to golf's white whale: the creation of a world tour, with events in the U.S., Scotland, France, Italy, Australia, Japan etc.
But that's a far-off proposition. So what's on the docket int he near future? For 2023, no changes—the PGA Tour will complete its season and LIV will complete its. One source close to the PGA Tour told me that the 2024 PGA Tour schedule will look a lot like what you'd expect it to look like. That would seem to suggest they're moving forward with the designated events model. But will LIV Golf's format be involved in some capacity? Will there be team competitions? Will players get equity in those teams? Will there be any "LIV" events at all? Will it be similar to the Aramco series on the LPGA Tour, where there's a group of events sponsored by LIV that pay huge money? Perhaps they take over the fall season, which has been a bit of a dud for the PGA Tour the last couple years?
Again, all this is yet to play out. This is just the beginning of this story.
The morality argument loses. Money wins
Money over morality. At the end of the day, this is what's happening. That's not a judgement but merely an evaluation.
The PGA Tour spent so much time and energy telling us how bad the Saudis are. How women are treated in that country, how they murdered a journalist, how they were involved in 9/11. Guys like Brandel Chamblee and Eamon Lynch have been hammering that point for months. That's all true, and it all remains true. Nothing has changed on that front in the last 12 months.
And yet, there's Jay Monahan speaking on CNBC alongside Yasir al-Rumayyan. Al-Rumayyan will now be a member of the PGA Tour policy board. This is what they wanted: to be accepted into the sporting ecosystem. To have a seat at the table. To get involved in sport and use it as a way to normalize themselves to the west.
The PGA Tour did everything in its power to stop that from happening. In the end, there was simply too much money. And as depressing as it might be, it remains true: money always wins.