Tour Test: Golf’s Waiting Game

06/26/2023 Tour Test: Golf’s Waiting Game

By: Marissa Kasch

Golf’s Governing Bodies May Have Formed an Alliance, But The War is Far From Over (By Marissa Kasch)

You know that family member that you really can’t stand, but you still have to see every year at holidays? With the recent merger between the PGA Tour and LIV Golf, a lot of holidays are coming.


The PGA and LIV have been at odds for the past year and a half. They have been locked in a battle for the game of golf after the exchange of multiple lawsuits. But throughout it all, LIV and PGA golfers exchange niceties and act cordially at events where they cross paths. Much like Christmas or Thanksgiving with your in-laws. In both cases, the courtesy is transparent, but everyone knows the tension that’s lying beneath the surface. However, the two leagues have made a decision to surprise us all – players included: The feuding leagues are joining together. Pop the popcorn because this may be the best reality show yet.


The Basics of the PGA-LIV “Mergery”

So, what exactly is this “merger”? If you were to describe the newfound relationship between the leagues with a Facebook relationship status, the profile would read: “It’s complicated.” Essentially, both leagues, plus the DP World Tour, signed an agreement to combine their commercial rights into one company.


Sounds great, doesn’t it? Everyone puts aside their differences and finally gets together. Unfortunately, it’s not that easy. In theory, the merger may be a great business benefit, but it fails to account for the personal aspect of the relationship. And as golfers can attest, those personal aspects have been shattered.


When the LIV first emerged, there was considerable controversy surrounding the Saudi-backed league. Some even speculated that it would be the end of the PGA. Golf and sports fans alike were upset that the LIV was luring beloved PGA players to their experimental league under the promise that they would make significantly more money. Though many fans argue that money and contracts have too large an influence on sports, most ultimately understand the lure of a higher payout, but this is different.


LIV Golf is funded by the Saudi Arabia Public Investment Fund. PGA Tour fans are quick to point out that playing for this money only encourages controversial and dangerous activity in Saudi Arabia. And many Americans, not just golf fans, can point to moments in history that suggest the LIV money comes from a source dressed in questionable conduct (historically).  Nevertheless, LIV offered enormous signing bonuses to several golfers. Phil Mickelson received $200 million just for signing while Dustin Johnson and Brooks Koepka also received nine-figure buyouts. Tiger Woods turned down over $700 million. Many fans waited anxiously to see if their favorite golfers would defect to the “dark side.”


The Fallout From “Merger Day” 

As more players left the PGA, fans took to social media to express their disappointment and anger with the LIV Tour and to denounce these players. Likewise, PGA Tour players also spoke out about the tour and pledged their allegiance to the PGA. As this rift has widened, it has become commonplace to hear fans root for certain players solely because they are PGA players. Likewise, some fans have abandoned their love for a favorite golfer solely due to their decision to join the LIV. Indeed, the separation caused a considerable amount of conflict between the two leagues, their fans, and their players. That’s not something you can fix overnight.


Player Reactions

It should not be surprising the PGA players feel cheated and lied to by the tour they remained loyal to. Aside from the obvious animosity, PGA players feel toward the LIV and its players, they also feel the LIV players got the best of both worlds. LIV players got to make a lot of money, denounce the PGA, play in all the majors (even win one), and do so all under the governance of a new league. After all of that, everyone assumed that the decision to join the LIV was a permanent one with no option to return to the PGA. This assumption was basically confirmed by the PGA when Commissioner Jay Monahan suspended players who left the league for LIV and revoked their PGA memberships. Now, Monahan is leading efforts to merge the two leagues, a feat that clearly nobody expected.


Golfers took to Twitter to express their emotions, mostly conveying a feeling of betrayal despite fierce loyalty. And why else wouldn’t they take to Twitter? After all, it’s where they first heard the news of the merger. As Collin Morikawa tweeted, “I love finding out morning news on Twitter.” Other players used it as an outlet to express their frustration with Monahan. “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 2 years,” Dylan Wu tweeted. “The hypocrisy. Wish golf worked like that. I guess money always wins @PGATour.”


Players are extending their efforts to oust Monahan beyond social media. In fact, Rex Haggard of the Golf Channel said that several players have called in or texted calling for Monahan’s resignation and denouncing his hypocrisy. Essentially, the PGA players are upset that their LIV counterparts were able to have their cake and eat it too while they were left in the dust, fighting a fight that ultimately didn’t matter.


Rory McIlroy is one of the biggest opponents of the LIV Tour. “The people that left the PGA Tour irreparably harmed this tour, started litigation against it,” McIlroy said. “We can’t just welcome them back in.” He went on to convey further disdain for the LIV Tour. “I still hate LIV. I hope it goes away, and I would fully expect that it does,” McIlroy said.


On the other hand, LIV players don’t have much to say, if anything at all, about the merger. However, the things they have said carry a much more positive connotation than do comments from PGA players.


“Awesome day today,” Phil Mickelson said via Twitter in response to a CNBC News announcement about the merger. His tweet was complete with a smiley face emoji.


Other LIV golfers have declined to discuss the topic in press conferences or assert that they have no opinion on the matter. When Brooks Koepka was asked about his thoughts, he responded simply by saying, “I haven’t paid too much attention to it, honestly. I’ve been trying to prep for this week.” It is unclear whether Brooksy doesn’t want to comment on the news, or whether he truly is just that dialed in. One thing is for sure: This news couldn’t have come at a worse time, just days before last weekend’s U.S. Open.


Next Steps

Now, the PGA-LIV alliance is being reviewed by the Department of Justice for antitrust concerns. So far, both the Justice Department and the LIV Tour have declined to comment. However, the PGA released a statement saying, “We are confident that once all stakeholders learn more about how the PGA Tour will lead this new venture, they will understand how it benefits our players, fans, and sport while protecting the American institution of golf.” Well, that sounds all well and good (and carefully crafted), but we’ll have to wait to see if the DOJ agrees.


We all know the government reviews and trials; they’re usually not over too quickly. This review could delay the agreement for a considerable amount of time. We can only imagine how this will affect tensions between players and leagues, especially after the U.S. Open and in preparation for other majors. If the agreement is not able to pass after review, we’re looking at a whole different story. Rate of play…


Who knows? The situation may provide answers by the British Open next month. For now, it’s the waiting game.


Photo: Icon Sportswire / Getty Images