It’s hard to underestimate the shock waves that reverberated through the golf world following the arrival of LIV Golf back in 2021.
Not only did it seem like a direct challenge to the PGA Tour, the financing, courtesy of the Saudi Arabian Public Investment Fund, also drew criticism through many quarters.
The grounds for the latter were a fear of sportwashing, namely Saudi Arabia aiming to counteract criticism for alleged human rights abuses by sponsoring sport. A similar furore occurred over the Fund’s purchase of Newcastle United FC in the UK.
However, in professional sport there’s one hard and fast rule – money talks. So, the huge sums offered to players to get them to sign up with LIV Golf proved irresistible to many of the sport’s biggest names.
One exception was the player who would have caused the biggest conceivable PR coup by joining up – Tiger Woods. He was allegedly offered around $700 million but thought better of it in the end.
The arrival of LIV Golf also sparked a civil war in the game with the players who had jumped ship being banned from all PGA tournaments, denying them the right to earn ranking points and preventing entry into competitions like the Ryder Cup.
But now it seems like good sense has prevailed with a merger between the PGA Tour and LIV Golf being announced in May.
The shape of the merger
The coming together means that the multiple lawsuits that have been instigated between the two sides are now history.
It’s thought that the impetus to end the enmity came from senior officials of the PGA Tour, perhaps sensing an even greater financial opportunity by working together.
Despite all of the hullabaloo following the merger, there seem to be many questions waiting to be answered. The first is who will be in overall control of the new, as-yet un-named sporting entity.
The PGA Tour has stated fairly categorically that it will be in charge. But Yasir Al-Rumayyan, governor of the Public Investment Fund, has reportedly told LIV Golf players that there will be no changes to the current status quo.
Looking at the six-page draft agreement this does set down some key principles but there are also many areas in which very little clarity is provided. This may well be because the differing golfing bodies involved are testing out their potential power and leverage under the new arrangement.
There is also a distinct feeling that, however things work out, Saudi Arabia will have achieved the country’s objective of owning a major stake in one of the world’s most lucrative sports.
The fact that LIV Golf has failed to secure any major broadcasting rights deals in the two full years of its existence may also have influenced its enthusiasm for the merger.
Fans’ and players’ reactions
As yet fans of golf are still weighing up what it will mean for them with questions like what form any new tournaments will take and whether they’ll have more or fewer opportunities to bet online.
Players seem to fall into two camps when it comes to how they’re reacting to the merger. Almost as soon as it was announced, the LIV golfer Phil Mickelson hailed it as “awesome news”. Meanwhile PGA Tour players including Collin Morikawa and Mackenzie Hughes were affronted to hear about the merger via Twitter.
A player who has been one of the most vocal critics of LIV Golf is Rory McIlroy. Surprisingly, he believes that the merger will be good for golf on the whole but also feels that the players who defected should be subject to sanctions of some kind.
He hasn’t specified whether these should take the form of financial penalties or not being allowed to enter tournaments, but he certainly wants some form of retribution.
What next for the Great White Shark?
One individual who may well face an uncertain future is LIV Golf’s CEO, Greg Norman. He has seemingly been left out in the cold over all the negotiations so far, reportedly only being told about the merger shortly before the rest of the world.
It’s a well-known fact that he has had a stormy relationship with Yasir Al-Rumayyan, particularly following his clumsy pronouncement on the alleged murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi by the Saudi secret service.
He has also far from endeared himself to the PGA Tour having been instrumental in the creation of LIV Golf. So he shouldn’t be too surprised if he finds himself looking for a new job soon.
As to what next season will look like for the merged entity is anyone’s guess. There may be more LIV Golf 54-hole shotgun start tournaments between two teams or these may be dropped in favor of more conventional formats.
But for the answer to this, and many more questions, we’ll just have to wait and see.