In 2022, the LIV Golf rival circuit was introduced, captivating numerous renowned players from the PGA Tour, among them the esteemed Hall of Fame golfer Phil Mickelson. This momentous occasion was hailed by the PGA Commissioner as a significant milestone for the sport.
Following a tumultuous year of unprecedented disruptions in the men’s professional golfing realm, the shock announcement has been made regarding the combination of the PGA Tour and the commercial entities of the LIV Golf circuit. This agreement also encompasses the DP World Tour, widely known as the European PGA Tour. The rival circuit, which emerged in 2022, successfully enticed several prominent players from the PGA Tour, including the iconic Hall of Famer Phil Mickelson, former world number one Dustin Johnson, and the reigning PGA Championship victor Brooks Koepka.
Notably backed by the Saudi Arabia Public Investment Fund, the LIV Golf series has faced criticism, with accusations that it serves as a means for the country to improve its global reputation amid scrutiny of its human rights track record. In an official statement, Jay Monahan, the Commissioner of the PGA Tour, expressed, “After enduring two years of disruptions and distractions, this is a historic moment for the beloved game we all cherish. This transformative partnership acknowledges the indomitable strength of the PGA Tour’s history, legacy, and pro-competitive model. It unites with the DP World Tour and LIV Golf, including the captivating team golf concept, to establish an organization that will benefit golfers, commercial and charitable partners, as well as fans.”
As part of the agreement, both sides have agreed to drop all ongoing lawsuits against each other. However, the specific nature of the LIV Golf League for 2024 remains unclear. Keith Pelley, the CEO of the DP World Tour, remarked, “This is an extraordinary day. We are thrilled not only to reestablish our relationship with PIF but also to have the opportunity to expand on our current Strategic Alliance partnership with the PGA Tour.”
Initial reports about a rival league to the PGA Tour surfaced as early as 2019, but it wasn’t until late 2021 that the proposal gained significant traction. LIV Golf Investments was established, with the sovereign wealth fund of Saudi Arabia, PIF, as its majority shareholder. An antitrust lawsuit against the PGA Tour, originally filed by 11 golfers in August of the previous year, was subsequently taken over by LIV Golf and was scheduled to be heard in 2024.
This remarkable truce in the world of sports holds significance beyond the realm of golf, further solidifying Saudi wealth, status, and soft power. When LIV Golf splintered the golfing community by introducing their rebellious series last year, the PGA Tour of America expressed its moral outrage clearly. The PGA accused the Saudi sovereign wealth fund of utilizing the “sport of golf to ‘sportswash’ the Saudi government’s deplorable reputation for human rights abuses.”
Significant sums of money in signing fees and prize money successfully enticed stars such as former world number one Englishman Lee Westwood and six-time major champion Phil Mickelson, who were subsequently banned from the PGA for their defection. Now, it appears that the PGA will assist in reshaping the Saudi image through golf, as the merger announced by LIV resembles a Saudi takeover.
In April, the DP World Tour emerged victorious in its legal battle against 12 LIV players who committed “serious breaches” of the Tour’s code of conduct by participating in LIV Golf events without permission. The subsequent imposition of increased fines and suspensions prompted Lee Westwood, Sergio Garcia, Ian Poulter, and Henrik Stenson to resign their memberships and become ineligible for the Ryder Cup. With the merger decision, these players could potentially return to the fold, as both tours have pledged to establish a “fair and objective process” for players to reapply for membership after the current season concludes.
The timing of this merger decision is noteworthy, as it arrives less than a fortnight before the commencement of the men’s golf season’s third major championship, the US Open.