DUBAI: The most bitter war to engulf a sport that has been around for more than six centuries came to a surprising, and welcome, end on Tuesday when the North American PGA Tour and European DP World Tour shook hands on a deal with the Saudi Public Investment Fund-backed LIV Golf.
It has been a tumultuous 12 months for men’s professional golf since the 48-player league was launched with a tournament in England a year ago this week. The newcomer sharply divided opinions, forcing players and lovers of the sport to take sides. But it also quickly gained acceptance, and a significant fan base, as a much-needed alternative to the usual tour events.
Vehemently opposed to the idea of an upstart organization threatening its established territory, the PGA Tour banned from its events all players who joined LIV Golf. This led to legal challenges on both sides, and players denigrating one another. Major championships and sponsors were asked to choose sides. The very legality of tournaments such as the Ryder Cup and institutions such as the Official World Golf Ranking was being questioned.
In short, the usually prim and proper world of golf was in shambles. However, the Public Investment Fund was vindicated for its belief in its product on Tuesday, when the PGA Tour agreeing to merge their commercial interests.
The exact details were sparse in the joint press release that was issued but a decision has been made to form a new, yet-to-be-named, for-profit entity. The two tours and the PIF will “implement a plan to grow these combined commercial businesses, drive greater fan engagement and accelerate growth initiatives already underway.”
The good news is that LIV Golf will continue to exist and now benefit from the PGA Tour’s full pool of players and its mighty media and sponsorship expertise. There is a distinct possibility that players such as Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy, who were vehemently opposed to LIV Golf, could tee up in team-format events next year.
The reverse also applies; players who switched to LIV Golf, such as recent PGA Championship winner Brooks Koepka and reigning Open champion Cam Smith and stars such as Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson and Lee Westwood, will be reinstated on their respective tours at the end of the season.
Still, there are likely to be a tense few months ahead. Players on both sides were taken by surprise by the announcement and some are already expressing concern they were not informed about the talks that were taking place and only found out about them through the media.
Following the announcement, two-time Major champion Colin Morikawa tweeted: “I love finding out morning news on Twitter.”
One potential roadblock could be the fact that players such as Woods and Hideki Matsuyama reportedly rejected big-money offers of $800 million and $400 million, respectively, to join LIV Golf. The PGA Tour and its commissioner, Jay Monahan, will have to give them a solid justification for proceeding as they have done.
Yet there can be no denying the fact that the arrival of LIV Golf has been an absolutely amazing development for PGA Tour and DP World Tour players as well.
It prompted the PGA Tour to up its prize money significantly, increasing its Players Impact Program bonus pool to $100 million and introducing 12 designated events with $20 million prize purses. Meanwhile, 10 top DP World Tour players will be given PGA Tour membership at the end of the season, and all increases in prize funds for the next 11 years have been guaranteed by the PGA Tour.
It has also been good for college golfers. The decision by players such as Eugenio Chacarra and David Puig to opt for LIV Golf led to the establishment of the PGA Tour University program, which gave top-ranked National Collegiate Athletic Association players direct access to the main Tour.
After speaking to a couple of LIV Golf players, who were also caught unaware by the announcement, the prevailing sentiment was a feeling that they have been vindicated for their stance, after copping a lot of criticism and abuse from fellow players and fans on social media.
The board of directors of the new entity will include PIF Governor Yasir Al-Rumayyan, as chairperson, and Monahan as SEO. The former will also join the PGA Tour Policy Board.
One question everyone seems to be asking is what changed from last week, when host Jack Nicklaus was dismissive of the absence of LIV Golf players from his Memorial Tournament, and McIlroy was once again critical of their inclusion in Europe’s Ryder Cup team.
Unconfirmed reports suggest that the PGA Tour was feeling the heat in legal proceedings filed by LIV Golf. A long-drawn-out court case would not have been beneficial for either side, hence the compromise.
However, the most important thing is that peace has prevailed — and golf can only prosper with the coming together of these giants.