PGA Tour: With the clock ticking on LIV Golf, Saudi PIF deal, this is where we stand

The end of the most tumultuous year in golf history is quickly approaching.

Back in June, the PGA Tour, together with the DP World Tour, settled on a “framework agreement” with the Saudi Arabian Public Investment Fund (PIF)—the beneficiary of LIV Golf.

That announcement, made publicly on CNBC’s Squawk on the Street, shocked the sporting world, as it appeared to end a bitter rivalry between the PGA and LIV.

But that initial framework agreement instead accomplished three goals: it dropped all lawsuits between the two sides, meaning all records and communications would not be disclosed in court. It also announced a new entity, NewCo, which would oversee professional golf in the future. Then, it revealed that the PIF had a right of first refusal to any outside investors in NewCo.

Interestingly, the Saudi PIF might have already done that.

The framework agreement also set Dec. 31, 2023, as the date on which a formal, more thought-out agreement would be agreed upon.

In August, at the Tour Championship in Atlanta, PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan disclosed that conversations were progressing but failed to provide specific details.

Jay Monahan, Tyler Dennis, PGA Tour, Tour Championship

PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan and President & EVP Tyler Dennis speak at the Tour Championship on August 22, 2023.
Photo by Keyur Khamar/Getty Images

PGA Tour EVP Tyler Dennis added that discussions between the two sides were occurring “weekly.”

Yet, this week, Davis Love III, the longest-serving member of the PGA Tour policy board, said in an interview with Golfweek that “nothing is going to happen really fast.”

Love III does not see any way to an agreement by the end of the year, which aligns with a Bloomberg report from Oct. 6. That report indicated that the agreement would be delayed.

Which honestly makes sense and would be the best thing for professional golf.

There are so many variables associated with this unprecedented deal.

Never before has an American sports league struck a deal with a foreign sovereignty, let alone one like Saudi Arabia. The Kingdom has a terrible history of human rights, dismembered a reputable journalist in barbaric fashion, and recently engaged in talks with Iran after its proxy—Hamas—launched a vicious terrorist attack on innocent civilians in Israel on Oct. 7.

The Saudi Kingdom wants to use sportswashing—hence its investment in LIV Golf—to cleanse its past while also becoming an economic power on the global stage. It knows that oil, its primary export, is a depreciating asset, so it has no choice but to diversify its economy.

Should the Saudi Kingdom fail to do so, its economy could collapse, leading to a widespread panic among its citizens. That could lead to a depression and perhaps a revolution, when a country’s inhabitants have a greater chance of becoming radicalized. Desperate times call for desperate measures, and if you look throughout history, radicalized individuals assume power in times of crisis. That would lead to even greater chaos in the Middle East.

Saudi Arabia, Formula 1

Mohammed bin Salman, the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia who also serves as deputy prime minister and minister of defense, is seen at the 2021 Grand Prix Formula One of Saudi Arabia.
Photo by Cristiano Barni/Getty Images

Of course, the Saudi Kingdom does not want to relinquish its power or vast economic wealth, reportedly north of $700 billion. Hence, the astonishing investment in sports, American Fortune 500 companies, and Saudi tourism.

The Kingdom cannot afford to lose its economic viability, and it instead must try and elevate itself to a global power—perhaps on par with the United States, China, and the European Union.

So these variables need to be considered, which are much more important than whether or not LIV Golf should receive Official World Ranking Points.

“I’ve been drug back into the board conversations, and I’m learning more and more,” Love III added in his interview with Golfweek.

“There’s a whole lot I don’t know, but I do know there is nothing going on right now besides where do we want to go? We might have screwed up the last three years, but now how do we set up the PGA Tour for the future? Is there a different model? We’re independent contractors, maybe we’re not independent contractors? The lawsuits are dropped; now what do we want to do, what does (the PIF) want to do? Do they really want to keep blowing that much money on LIV? Probably not.”

The 1997 PGA Champion makes an interesting point about the PGA Tour’s recent history.

In 2022, when LIV Golf launched, Monahan appeared on the CBS broadcast of the RBC Canadian Open and asked, “Have you ever had to apologize for being a member of the PGA Tour?”

Many players who flocked to LIV received harsh criticism for going to play for the Saudis, especially from those who lost family members on Sept. 11, 2001. 15 of the 19 hijackers on 9/11 were Saudi citizens, and possible links between the hijackers and the Kingdom exist.

Regardless, the Tour changed its structure to react to LIV Golf, elevating pursues, instituting more no-cut events throughout 2024, and providing more players a greater opportunity to make money—whether through the Comcast Top 10 or the Player Impact Program.

But these have been reactionary policies to golf’s great schism instead of being proactive.

Phil Mickelson, a champion for LIV Golf, has discussed the PGA Tour’s failure to adapt to outside investments multiple times on social media over the past year.

Consider this post from last week:

According to Mickelson, the PGA Tour turned down calls with Endeavor and Silver Lake over the past few years.

Monahan and the PGA Tour ignored the Saudi’s calls, too, as the Tour did not want to engage with a possible rival tour.

Majed al-Sorour, the CEO of the Saudi Golf Federation, even penned a letter to Monahan expressing his Kingdom’s desire to collaborate with the PGA Tour. The commissioner dismissed that as well.

“The Saudis were proposing to fundamentally alter his business and force him to give up some control,” writes Alan Shipnuck in LIV and Let Die.

The future of professional golf can be stemmed down to one word: control.

The PGA Tour is a billion-dollar company that awards its players millions of dollars each week. It has control over the American market and is the top circuit in the world. Aspiring professionals from around the globe have one goal when they first turn pro: to make the PGA Tour.

That is power.

But on the flip side lies the Saudis, who have an insurmountable amount of cash. They have created a golf league of their own and have had great success. LIV Golf has also forced the PGA Tour to adapt and even stripped it of some of its marquee players.

Their possible investment in the Tour was maybe because they wanted to influence the sport. Or maybe not; regardless, they clearly yearned for a seat at the table and wanted a return on their investments.

“Says an adviser to Golf Saudi, ‘Not taking the meeting has to be one of the biggest mistakes in the history of golf,” Shipnuck writes.

“You’re the commissioner of the PGA Tour, and somebody wants to pour a billion dollars into the Tour to improve your product and make your players fabulously wealthy, and you won’t talk to them? In corporate America, that’s a fireable offense. Monahan needs to be responsible to his shareholders—the players.’”

The Tour undoubtedly has made its mistakes throughout this whole saga.

Whether it was not taking the initial call with the Saudis, not being fully transparent with its players, or even leaning on the 9/11 families throughout 2022 and early 2023, the PGA Tour is not innocent.

But it has a chance to change the scope of professional golf for the best in the future.

Forget the Dec. 31, 2023, deadline.

The PGA Tour and the PIF should take as long as necessary to get this agreement right for everyone involved, especially since the tour and LIV Golf already have their 2024 schedules established.

There are too many variables to consider and too many logistics to figure out over the next two months. The stakeholders need to think long-term, not short-term.

Sure, negotiations have reportedly taken place for months, but the powers that be should extend the deadline to make sure they have the time needed to figure out a resolution.

If no resolution comes about, then golf will remain divided forever, thus serving as a massive detriment to this great sport that millions love around the world.

Jack Milko is a golf staff writer for SB Nation’s Playing Through. You can follow him on Twitter @jack_milko for more golf coverage. Be sure to check out @_PlayingThrough too.

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