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  • Randy Gerlach

Thoughts on the Most Historic Day in Golf History

“[O]nce you sign up with the Saudis, ‘you're kind of with them.’” Jimmy Dunne, perhaps the most connected man in golf, couldn’t have known how prophetic his words would be. It's hard not to reflect on these words on a historic day in men’s professional golf, when the PGA Tour, DP World Tour, and the Public Investment Fund (PIF) announced their plans to form a new global golf entity.

The details of the new entity, how LIV will fit into it, and how LIV players will be welcomed back are scarce. As commissioner Jay Monahan said to reporters Tuesday night, “[n]ow that we’re in a framework agreement. I look forward to talking to all of our players, including them, to make certain that this comes off the right way.” Update, the news did not come off the right way. Players were blindsided and made to look stupid. Collin Morikawa tweeted “I love finding out morning news on Twitter,” with Makenzie Hughes adding “Nothing like finding out through Twitter that we’re merging with a tour that we said we’d never do that with.”

This new global golf entity will probably be good for golf as an entertainment product. As I wrote about a few weeks ago, it sucks only being able to watch Brooks Koepka compete with Scottie Scheffler and Jon Rahm four times a year. Having the best players in the world regularly competing against each other is great for professional golf and for fans. However, the end result can be separated from the process it took to get there.

Monahan went on national TV a year ago at the RBC Canadian Open to respond to a NY Post article about letters sent by 9/11 Families United to Phil Mickelson and others regarding their involvement with LIV and the PIF. He used personal ties to families that lost loved ones and “wondered aloud. . . whether LIV Golfers ever had to apologize for being a member of the PGA Tour.” It takes a lot of mental gymnastics to square that stance regarding a “foreign monarchy” to the one he made on CNBC yesterday applauding “PIF Governor Yasir Al-Rumayyan for his vision and collaborative and forward-thinking approach.” In response, the 9/11 Families United rightfully called Monahan out for “co-opt[ing] the 9/11 community” calling him a “Saudi shill” for “taking billions of dollars to cleanse the Saudi reputation so that Americans and the world will forget how the Kingdom spent their billions of dollars before 9/11 to fund terrorism, spread their vitriolic hatred of Americans, and finance al Qaeda and the murder of our loved ones.”

Putting the morality aspect aside, Monahan implored players to stay loyal to the Tour, to stick up for the pro-competitive model, and to defend the history of Tour events. He was more than happy to trot out Rory, JT, Jordan, and Rahm to answer questions and face the media firing squad each and every week. Tour players were told that players who had defected would face lifetime bans, potentially not be able to play in the Majors, and would be off future Ryder Cup teams. But now, all of that looks like a bluff. Players look silly for not taking the money and trusting that Jay had their best interests in mind.

By all accounts, the PGA Tour was winning the war against LIV as lawsuit by lawsuit came down in favor of the Tour and DP World Tour. On June 6, however, a judge denied the Tour’s motion to dismiss an appeal by LIV Golf. The appeal related to a U.S. District Court’s ruling that Yasir Al-Rumayyan and the PIF were subject to discovery in the antitrust suit. The denial of the motion to dismiss would further draw out an already lengthy court battle and as the Tour was finding out, lawsuits and law firms are expensive. It seems likely the Tour was struggling to convince corporate partners to spend more money to pay for increased purses for events that weren’t otherwise changing. On top of that, sponsors were going to have to continue spending the same amount for worse fields in non-designated events.

All of that is simply to say, this is likely a good deal for the Tour and the PIF. The Tour will be financed like never before and players will make more money than they ever have. Perhaps this was always inevitable. The PIF wanted to be involved in golf and was going to spend money until it happened. At his press conference today, when asked about Saudi money, Rory McIlroy said “I’ve made my peace with it. I’ve seen what’s happened in other sports and businesses. I’ve just resigned myself to the fact this is going to happen.” Maybe that is the answer. Rory went on to say that he knew “lines of communication had been opened up” and discussions were ongoing and from what he gathered, “the Tour felt they were in a real position of strength.” But the back-channel dealing and seemingly overnight shift in Monahan’s stance doesn’t make this feel like a win for the Tour, nor does it make it feel any less gross.

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