The Round Table Special Edition: LIV Golf – PGA Tour merger

Each week we ask our panel of writers, PGA members and golf industry experts to weigh in with their views on the hot topics of the day.

Earlier this week, the PGA Tour and the Saudi Public Investment Fund (PIF) announced a proposed merger that would essentially bring together the PGA Tour, DP World Tour and LIV Golf under one umbrella to be managed by a for-profit company headed by Yasir Al-Rumayyan as Chairman and Jay Monahan as CEO. The PIF would provide funding for the new entity and Monahan, Keith Pelley (DP World Tour) and Greg Norman (LIV Golf) would continue to oversee their respective Tours for the time being. All lawsuits are dismissed. Details on player movement, schedules and future events remain TBD.

Based on what you know so far, what’s your initial take on this proposed merger?

Jim Deeks, Fairways Magazine (@jimdeeks): It was all rather suspicious, in my view.  There haven’t been many details released, and many issues remain unresolved, like what happens to the renegade players who left.  But my overall supposition is that this “merger” is really a capitulation by the Saudis, but one which allows them to hold their heads up.  The PGA held the upper hand heading into court, with the ruling that allowed them to “depose” the Saudi’s head representative, something the Saudis would never want to have happen.  Plus, LIV was going nowhere with golf fans, and I believe would have died a very embarrassing death by the end of next year.  So, better to get out now with what appears to be a merger but will eventually just be a takeover, and a bad memory.

Craig Loughry, Golf Ontario (@craigloughry): This announcement was completely unexpected and as such was shocking. Is this good in the long term for men’s professional golf, most likely. Is there going to be a whole lot of negativity around this? You bet there is, and rightfully so, and for quite some time.

Michael Schurman, Master Professional / Hall of Fame Member, PGA of Canada: Once again, I say “I am not a Saudi Gov’t fan,” but the players deserve to seek the best income source available. All Jay Monahan had to do was listen to Greg Norman a year ago instead of attacking the players and banning them from ever returning to the PGA TOUR. It now sounds as though he was listening. His annual income of $8,000,000 plus $5,000,000 in incentives is about to get a lot bigger. He went to the dance and came home pregnant. In 1968, the same Jack Nicklaus who condemns the LIV players for placing income before love for the game, lead a defection of the PGA TOUR from the PGA of America who owned the tour at that time. His motivation was $$$$$. I don’t recall him mentioning loyalty then. I will give Jay M credit though. Not at any time has he criticized the LIV players for taking what has been called “blood” money. He simply said anybody signing with a competitor will be banned with no path back. I guess that makes it OK for him.

TJ Rule, Golf Away Tours (@GolfAwayTJ): Like many, utter shock.  My very first reaction was that this is a good thing because the sport was fractured, and this will bring everyone together.  Then when hearing some of the initial info, and how Jay Monahan brokered this deal without input from any players, I don’t feel nearly as good about it. We’ll have to wait to see how it plays out.

Peter Mumford, Fairways Magazine (@FairwaysMag): All the Saudis wanted was a stake in men’s professional golf. Their preference was a deal with the PGA Tour. Monahan rejected them so they formed a rival league. That created some competition for the PGA Tour which led to the formation of elevated events and a huge boost in prize money and a lot of legal headaches and giant legal bills. This merger ends the legal costs and any competition. Men’s professional golf is a monopoly again. It’s just run by the Saudis now.

The PGA Tour players heard about the merger initially by tweet, then had a meeting during the RBC Canadian Open with Commissioner Jay Monahan. According to reports, the players were not happy and had a standing ovation when it was suggested that they needed new leadership. Do you think Monahan survives?

Deeks: Yes, for the time being.  A year from now, I wouldn’t put my money on him.

Schurman: Jay M has slept with the enemy, stabbed his employers in the back, deceived his customers (event sponsors and the public), appointed himself as the new CEO and accepted a company policy-changing deal without bringing it to the owners of the company (the players). He just did what I have said he was doing all along: conducting the affairs of the company without providing the owners with adequate information. Other than that, he should last a long time. I have been raggin’ against this guy for months. However, one thing he could do to save himself is convince the Saudis to match the current +$1B in the players’ pension fund which would effectively double their annual payments. Further, the squawking by the players will subside as soon as the purses are doubled. Most people are opposed to ‘sports washing’ as long as someone else has to make the sacrifice.

Loughry: Jay won’t make the cut long term. He can’t. He has lost the respect and trust of the majority of players on both sides. I can think of only one reason they keep him, if the money is so outrageous for the players. But even still, the things he has said to so many people and in public, to turn about face like this, its bewildering.

Rule: I can’t see how he survives based on the reaction from the players prior to, during, and following that closed door meeting.  If he does leave, whoever takes his place has been put in an awfully tough spot to win.

Mumford: A year ago, Monahan displayed terrible judgement and a total lack of forward thinking by not taking a meeting with Greg Norman. A year ago, he told his players not to get involved with the Saudis and most followed his directive. Now he’s done a 180 and cozied up to the Saudis better than any of the LIV players. The hypocrisy is beyond the pale and the PGA Tour players should collectively fire his ass. Despite what Monahan said, this was never about where the money was coming from; it was always about where it was going, and now it looks like a lot of it is headed his way plus a secure post at the right hand of His Excellency Yasir Al-Rumayyan.

Who are the big winners and losers in all of this?

Deeks: The big winners, at least in a legal sense: the PGA Tour organization and its players.  Moderate winners: the LIV players, who will probably keep every cent of what they’ve been paid and some of what they’re owed by LIV and will be allowed back into the PGA roster.  Moderate winners: PGA Tour sponsors, whose events will maintain and perhaps grow their reputations by having no competition from LIV.  Big losers: the Saudis, but they have so much money they won’t care.  If this whole exercise was “sportswashing”, they spent three years washing themselves in a sewer.  Moderate loser: Phil Mickelson, who’s been so outspoken in defence of LIV, and must now keep his mouth shut or risk being permanently shunned by all his former colleagues.  Biggest loser: Greg Norman, who has been thoroughly humiliated by not being informed of the merger, and whose reputation had already been reduced to rubble by the whole experience.  I sure wouldn’t be investing in any of Greg’s business ventures at this point. Moderate winners: the rest of us, who are sick and tired of the whole thing.

Loughry: Rory loses. I feel the most for him, it has taken a toll on him (in his prime too). I’m sure he is irate and is certainly justified. Jay Monahan LOSES, I don’t see how he continues on as CEO in this new entity, not for long. He’ll be sacrificed, he doesn’t have the trust/respect of too many players on both sides. And if the players boycott, where does that leave this newly formed product? The players could do so (form a union) or informally agree not to play and demand his head, and it would have to happen. I recall someone saying over the past year “Greg has to go” and so he did. Winners? Maybe the Players, because I have no doubt the money reaches their pocket at some point. I hope global golf is the winner though. What I mean is I hope events are scheduled ACROSS THE GLOBE and that all top players participate in them. There are golf event starved nations like Japan, South Korea, Australia, Sweden, and CANADA that don’t get to see all the top players regularly. That needs to happen.

Schurman: I hope his replacement (probably Keith Pelley) takes advantage of the new opportunities. For example, with the increased financial support, will the purses increase substantially, will there be a two-tiered system, will there be funding for the PGA TOUR’s ‘feeder’ tours (Korn Ferry, Canadian, Asian, Latin/American and Champions), and will the Euro Tour benefit significantly? Will the TOUR have events in merging markets around the world like the Olympics to help grow the game? I hope there are built-in contingency plans and long-term commitments. Last, where does this leave the LPGA who are just beginning to attract bigger sponsors and have a great product? Is there a place for the ladies to play on some of the teams with the men? Is there a chance to increase their prize money too? As far as golf is concerned, I don’t see any losers. As far as society is concerned, we continue to erode.

Rule: I really hope that the fans are the winners.  I want to see all the best players playing against each other in the historic tournaments around the world, including the majors and the major team competitions.  In terms of the players involved in the situation, you’d have to say that Phil Mickelson is one of the big winners, and Brandel Chamblee is certainly the biggest loser, not sure how he pivots now from his stance in order to save face.  Rory gets screwed the most based on the fact that he was the strongest voice for the PGA Tour, and it must feel like the rug was taken out from under him. Those are my initial reactions but of course once more details are revealed, there will definitely be more winners and losers to be identified.

Mumford: The big winner is the Saudi PIF. They got their stake in men’s pro golf and even though it appears the PGA Tour owns the largest chunk, the PIF controls the money, so you know who’s really in control. The LIV Golfers are winners. It looks like they’ll keep their bonus money and find a way back to the PGA Tour. Greg Norman and Phil Mickelson win cuz they were right. Even if Norman doesn’t hang around, he finally accomplished what he tried to do 30 years ago and likely made a boatload of cash doing it. Losers: Rory McIlroy – he stuck his neck out for the Tour and Jay Monahan chopped his head off; Jay Monahan – he is roundly despised as a hypocrite, a lousy strategist and a toady for the regime he told everyone to avoid; PGA Tour players who chose not to go to LIV despite huge offers – now they’re just kicking themselves; and Brandel Chamblee who railed daily about the evils of the Saudis and defended the Tour for not dealing with them. How does he spin this now?

The Round Table
The Round Table is a panel of golf writers, PGA members and industry experts.

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