Now that Saudis are in partnership with PGA Tour, will players find their money easier to take?


Keep in mind, as you ponder the stunning marriage announcement concerning the LIV and PGA Tour and DP World Tour, the devil — and the delight — will be in the details. And those details are still to come.

In the meantime, there will be anger from those who claimed the moral high ground. PGA Tour stars like Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and Justin Thomas who disregarded the fat checks passed around, cited Saudi Arabia’s despicable human rights history and danced with the one that brought them fame and fortune.

There will be righteous indignation toward those who took the money and ran, who now appear to have sold their souls only to come out on the other side, smelling no worse for wear. 

And there is comment after comment, story after story, calling this new arrangement a “merger,” a powerhouse tag team, a union forged between equal partners in the professional golf universe. But let’s get one thing straight — these are not equal partners.

Perhaps buried in the lede of the truce called on Tuesday morning was the loud “Uncle!” And there’s no question who’s tapping out, figuratively if not literally. This wasn’t an arm-wrestling draw between Bluto and Popeye, this was Bluto pinning Olive Oil. 

LIV was no match for PGA Tour


The PGA Tour features 47 FedEx Cup events this season. By comparison, the LIV has returned for a second season in 2023 with 14 events. To suggest they are standing eye to eye is to talk about Val Kilmer’s Batman in the same context with the Christian Bale version. No comparison.

The truth of it is, the LIV never pulled it off, that is, the whole sports-wash thing. They made a splash, no question. They lassoed some names, most of whom — such as Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson, Sergio Garcia — were either spent, slumping or injured. Names nonetheless. 

To be fair, recent PGA Championship winner Brooks Koepka was among them. And when healthy, Koepka is a force with which to reckon. But Koepka was not 100 percent when he made the LIV leap, and not 100-percent certain he ever would be. He has admitted the concern played a part in his decision. S’true, Cameron Smith signed with LIV, fresh off his first major championship. Let’s just say there’s something to be said for striking while the iron is hot.  

At the same time, it has been quite a while since the LIV signed anyone of major significance. In the end, regardless of who came aboard, the LIV product never was part of serious golf conversation. What news did golf fans ever hear about the LIV that was not financial in nature. How many times did LIV ever occupy a sentence without riding shotgun to “dollars?”

The dialogue was never about amazing shots, dramatic finishes, impressive scores or plain old golf. It was “who signed” and “what did they get.” Period. The model was not sustainable.

With team concepts, 48-player fields, zero cuts, 54-hole formats, shotgun starts and no TV exposure of which to speak … Greg Norman and the LIV were to professional golf what Rogers Hornsby and the 1935 St. Louis Browns were to major league baseball. The ‘35 Browns drew 80,922 fans — not over a weekend, over a season. Their per-game average was 1,044, which probably included groundskeepers, concession workers, and traffic cops outside the ballpark.

Frankly, that number seems comparable to the LIV galleries.  But the discussion also is a little unfair to the Browns because, for better or worse, that team played baseball, the same way everyone else plays it. But when you talk about this new golf partnership, you’re talking about apples and apricots. When the AFL merged with the NFL in the 1960s, both leagues were playing the same fundamental game. When the NBA absorbed four teams from the ABA in the mid-70s, there were subtle differences, influences, but both leagues were playing basketball. They deflated the ABA’s multi-colored ball, and it was game-on. When the NHL swallowed four teams from the dissolving WHA in 1979, New England Whalers forward Gordie Howe was in his 50s. But the game did not change.

That is not the case with this marriage. LIV was attempting to re-invent golf and it didn’t take. The “CW” in its television package stood for “can’t watch.” The tour essentially is a series of exhibitions, with a few names you recognize, many more you don’t and no status or reputation at stake.  

What the PGA Tour-LIV Golf arrangement is all about


In the end, what this will all be about is money. PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan has been willing to keep too many cooks from entering the kitchen because he’s  confident they will embrace the main dish. As Tom Hagen told Sonny Corleone, “this is business, not personal, Sonny.” 

The PGA Tour is, first and always foremost, a business. And this was good for business. 

The Saudis took a shot, but the model was impotent and unsustainable. The silly money might be better served as an investment in the established brand. The LIV Tour will fade to the black, but the Saudis will remain a significant corporate partner in a legitimate big-league enterprise. Hit the rinse cycle.

Those players unwilling to accept Saudi money in the past, will find a compromise in their values in the billions that get pumped in the background, out of sight from the political peepers. Forgiveness and forgetfulness will become more palatable washed down with the monetary windfall they realize. And the price for those who turned coats remains to be seen.

The LIV’s awkward, sometimes obnoxious, insurrection is over. But this is not a simple “merger.” Things will remain as they are for the time being, for 2023. But make no mistake, this is a LIV surrender, and to the PGA Tour goes the spoils, the details of which remain to be seen.

Dan O’Neill writes columns for Sportsnaut. Follow him on Twitter at @WWDOD

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