There will be more rubbish spoken about this than there will be at a conspiracy theorists’ convention. But in the end, neither of the protagonists in the great golf culture war can with any certainty at all claim to be the winners with this great ‘merger’.
The PGA Tour and their ‘strategic partners’, the DP World Tour, have climbed into bed with the Saudi Arabian Public Investment Fund. The PIF was the monetary force behind LIV Golf, so, naturally, all the headlines are that the PGA Tour and LIV Golf are ‘merging’. In truth, there appears to be much still to be worked out. So it’s not entirely clear what the merger entails.
Reading and re-reading the press releases, and watching the ‘interview’ video of Keith Pelley of the DP World Tour (it was patently and painfully staged), and the MSNBC interview of the PGA Tour’s Jay Monahan and PIF’s Yasir Al-Rumayyan, there is not a single word about the continued existence of LIV in any shape at all after its 2023 season.
To quote Eamon Lynch (I realise that doing so might not sit well with some people, but so be it): “If this were a genuine victory for LIV’s concept, the announcement would have featured Greg Norman, the league’s chief executive and propagandist. Instead, he was not mentioned. Still, not the first man disappeared after his utility for the Saudis concluded.”
Of course, Norman’s is not the only ‘big’ name conspicuous by its absence from the announcement. If ever anyone went out on a limb (forgive the expression in this Saudi-soaked context) for his cause, it was Rory McIlroy. Quite what this sudden rapprochement has done to him can only be imagined. And as the cosying up between Monahan and Al-Rumayyan appears to have been about seven weeks in the making, perhaps it is no surprise that McIlroy slow-marched his way through two turgid performances in the Masters and the PGA Championship. And withdrew from an ‘elevated’ PGA Tour event, the virtues of which he himself had so evangelically extolled. His career might have looked very different had he not taken on himself the leadership role – or was it forced on him? – in the battle against the godless LIV. Someone owes him something that will be, at very least, an apology.
How will all of this kissing and making up change the face of golf? It would appear that the long-ballyhooed ‘global schedule’ might, at last, make an appearance, at least in rudimentary form, from 2024.
In that global schedule, it seems probable that there will be a nod to LIV’s alleged ‘selling point’, the team concept. If it takes place in a small window – say from September to December – Ernie Els will feel vindicated for his suggestion for accommodating Norman’s fantasies (I believe he might have used the term ‘hit and giggle’) in the ‘silly season’ before the end of the year.
It also seems probable that several of the DP World Tour’s events will enjoy some sort of elevated status, both in terms of prize-money and in having the week to themselves, or at least unchallenged by a PGA Tour event of remotely similar status.
Lost between those broad brushstrokes is the position of a circuit like the Sunshine Tour. There is hard work to be done to make the co-sanctioned tournaments it has with the DP World Tour retain a status that justifies the interests of the newly-born behemoth. Perhaps the PIF people will pour some of their money into a tournament like the South African Open to help it retain its status as one of the prestigious titles around the world. Perhaps the lure of increased visibility on a global stage will entice local commercial support too – and not just for the flagship of the local schedule.
As for the players that have been caught in the crossfire, the only winners seem to be those who kept their powder relatively dry. Brooks Koepka, for example, will emerge from this with his reputation and ability to compete at the highest level (that’s neither LIV nor the PGA Tour, if you were wondering) intact. Koepka has never been much of a stoker of animosities – other than with Bryson DeChambeau, and wasn’t that fun? He stayed true to himself and his belief that the LIV jump was of personal benefit to him on a number of levels, and he didn’t waste his energy on the pettiness that characterised much of the conversation about the great divide. There are one or two others like him, but they haven’t shown much yet. Much golf, that is.
The most vocal of the anti-establishment critics have been players who were already in the process of riding off into the sunset. Many of them will stay on the edges in the new dispensation, and probably remain outside consideration for Ryder Cup captaincies, for instance. Their golfing relevance is in any case tending towards the PGA Tour Champions, or the Legends Tour, now.
To their credit, the South Africans playing in LIV this season have remained admirably uncommunicative about their situations. But it will be good to see them able to participate in the mainstream again. All of them have international success in their futures, and now, perhaps, that can be achieved without the wretched dogfight that was the golf landscape over the last two years.
With details conspicuously absent from what we know so far, it’s premature to celebrate anything just yet. But it does seem sure that LIV Golf as we have come to know it is winding down.