Photo Credit: JazzyJoeyD, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons
Two years ago, when the world was slowly reemerging from the depths of COVID-19 lockdowns and pandemic hysteria, the golf world was hit with a bomb that shook the sport to its very foundations. A rival league, one with a shadowy reputation and bottomless pockets, was about to enter the fray. The LIV Golf Tour, as it was known, was born of an unholy union between the government of Saudi Arabia and a pathological desire to be accepted in the Western world – and they were here to make noise.
To be sure, the announcement of the LIV Golf Tour in October of 2021 was a complete and total surprise. There had been whispers of a rival league to the PGA Tour for decades, and Greg Norman, the two-time US Open champion who would become known as the face of the LIV Tour, even tried instituting his own breakaway league (the World Golf Tour) in 1995. As you might expect, without significant money or leverage, the World Golf Tour quickly folded – but the dream (clearly) didn’t die.
Fast-forward to today, and the LIV Golf Tour has “successfully” completed its inaugural season, depending on your definition of “success”. Eight tournaments were scheduled, and eight tournaments were played – that’s a success. The LIV Tour was able to poach some pretty massive names from the PGA Tour, like Phil Mickelson and his daunting gambling debts, Bryson DeChambeau and his scrawny-then-hulking-then-back-to-scrawny physique, and habitual line-stepper Patrick Reed – that’s a success. The TV ratings though… those were not (and aren't ratings the point?).
So, the LIV Tour existed in this quasi-legitimate state throughout 2022. The payouts were massive, but fans didn’t care. There was music and players in shorts, but no one was watching. LIV had successfully elbowed its way into golf’s universe, but the legends still weren’t taking it seriously. It put a successful dent in the pride and prestige of the PGA Tour, but its own staying power was in serious question. Now, as of last week, we’ve officially gotten to the “back nine” in this story.
In a shocking announcement a few days ago, PGA Tour head-honcho Jay Monahan announced that the PGA Tour will be joining forces with the LIV Tour and the DP World Tour (aka, the European Tour) to form a super golf league, and all of this had happened right under our noses. It was the timing, more than anything, that had thrown everyone off the scent. Before the announcement, pending litigation threatened to drain the PGA Tour’s financial reserves, while the LIV Tour was precipitously close to having some not-so-nice information see the light of day in court. A settlement made sense for both sides.
And really, that's why, short of the timing, this announcement wasn’t all that surprising. The status quo wasn’t sustainable. The PGA Tour needs its stars. It needs to be the place where the world’s best compete against one another. The LIV Tour, on the other hand, just wanted to be taken seriously as a genuine option – a seat at the table, if you will. The Saudis don’t want their dirty laundry aired out for all to see.
Still, it’s all a bit sickening, especially after Monahan and the PGA Tour promised to rain hellfire down on anyone who dared break rank and take the Saudis money. They threatened permanent bans for defectors – now, they’re welcoming them back with open arms. All those threats we made against your careers? We weren't serious! Ha ha!
So now, the PGA Tour and the Saudis are officially in bed together. It’s unclear exactly what the new iteration of the world’s top golf league will look like, but what is clear is that the stain of this move will linger with the PGA Tour for the rest of its existence. 9/11 may have happened over two decades ago, but the wounds have never fully healed. Until we get more clarity from Saudi Arabia on how and why so many of the terrorists who flew the planes into the World Trade Centers and the Pentagon were Saudis, Americans just aren’t going to be so keen on partnering with a regime that kiiiinda wants us dead. Good thing we now know that all it takes to make Americans forget that sordid fact is a couple billion dollars!
If I’m Rory McIlroy or Tiger Woods, I’m royally pissed. Those two went out on a limb for the PGA Tour. They took shots at their peers who took the money and ran to LIV. Tiger turned down a reported $800 million just to make an appearance! They both took visible stands on moral and historical grounds – and the PGA Tour just wiped its ass with their sacrifice. I don’t know what would constitute reasonable compensation for Rory and Tiger, but if I’m them, there’s a number in my head that I want from the now-flush-with-cash-thanks-to-the-Saudis PGA Tour, and it starts with a “B”.
Now, the golf world will try to move forward. The PGA Tour, after resisting for nearly a century, will be forced to modernize. The LIV Tour may have been an immoral, cash-filled swamp, but they recognized that Tour pros, especially the top players, were worth far more than what the PGA was willing to offer. They pounced on that opportunity, and they caught the PGA Tour with their pants down (as I described in June last year). We don’t know yet exactly how the Tour will change, but payouts are sure to balloon. That’s a good thing – but that money is forever tainted. Sometimes, the risk just isn’t worth the reward.