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What Now Becomes of LIV Golf? Ask Yasir Al-Rumayyan

The new chairman of the board controls the money so he controls the future—not just of LIV but the entire sport

By Alan Shipnuck
June 8, 2023


Adapted in part from LIV AND LET DIE: The Inside Story of the War (and Peace!) Between the PGA Tour and LIV Golf, which can be preordered here.

On Wednesday morning, the day after everything changed, the 200-plus employees of LIV Golf received an email alert to join an all-call with CEO and commissioner Greg Norman. “My first thought was, Greg is saying goodbye,” says one LIV executive.

It was a logical assumption. Norman has been the polarizing face and voice of LIV ever since its inception. But just like everyone else in the game (except for four or five all-powerful shot-callers), Norman had been kept in the dark as the future of the professional game was hashed out in a series of secret meetings. In all the fanfare surrounding Tuesday’s announcement of a merger between the Saudi Public Investment Fund and the PGA Tour, Norman was glaringly absent. Given his year-long war of words with Tour commissioner Jay Monahan—the anointed CEO of the still unnamed joint venture—it had been hard to imagine that Norman would have a role in golf’s new world order. But when Norman finally spoke to his people he didn’t give an inch.

By way of an opening, he said, “Congratulations, you changed golf and you did it in less than a year.” The employees on the call had taken huge professional risks to join LIV and were understandably jittery. Norman radiated confidence, saying the 2024 LIV schedule was nearly finalized. “There will be no operational changes in 2023, 2024, 2025 and into the future,” he said. Then came the mic drop: “LIV is a stand-alone entity and will continue to be that moving forward. And that comes right from the top.”

The man at the top is not Monahan. Or Rory McIlroy or Tiger Woods. Or Keith Pelley or the the lords of the Seminole grill room, Jimmy Dunne and Ed Herlihy, who brokered the truce with LIV through their roles as PGA Tour board members. No, Norman was referring to the new boss of all of them, His Excellency Yasir Al-Rumayyan. H.E., as he is referred to around LIV, is the governor of the Saudi Public Investment Fund, which can alter economies and disrupt industries with its $650 billion war chest. He is also the chairman of the board of Aramco, the state oil company, making H.E. easily the most powerful person in the world who is not a head of state. His newest title is chairman of the board of the new PIF-Tour entity. 

That means Monahan reports to him. 

In trying to make sense of how the ground has shifted beneath their feet, Tour loyalists have been quick to point out that the majority of the seats will be held by the Tour on the reconfigured board of directors of the new supertour. That’s all window dressing. The overarching lesson in this war between the tours is that money always wins. Al-Rumayyan controls the money, so he controls the future of professional golf, even if he is graciously allowing Monahan to be in charge of the day-to-day bureaucracy.

What does this mean for LIV? Norman has been known to bluff and bluster, so his rah-rah pronouncements must always be taken with a grain of salt. In his fraught meeting with his pissed-off Tour membership on Tuesday in Toronto, Monahan said, archly, that a full review of LIV’s commercial viability would be conducted at season’s end. Those in the room took that as Monahan writing LIV’s obituary. But Monahan will not decide LIV’s future. Al-Rumayyan will.

“What people fail to understand is that LIV is H.E.’s baby,” says another LIV executive. “He has poured his heart into its creation.” This included numerous meetings in which Al-Rumayyan fussed over every detail, down to the look of the LIV logo.

Al-Rumayyan served as the midwife during the most tumultuous period in LIV’s creation, the days immediately following Phil Mickelson’s bombshell comments in which he bluntly laid out to me what was really happening in the shadows as the Saudis sought to launch a competitor to the PGA Tour. LIV had been deep in negotiations with Dustin Johnson and Bryson DeChambeau when Mickelson’s comments went public in early 2022, and the folks at LIV were blind-sided by the two players’ public pronouncements of fealty to the PGA Tour. “We first heard about it on Twitter,” says one LIV executive. “It was complete and total panic and chaos. We went from the verge of launching to feeling like, Hey, it was a good run but now it’s over.”

Then Al-Rumayyan organized a group call. To that point in the process, he had been a low-key, reserved presence when dealing with his LIV subordinates. About 30 people were on the call, including a handful of Public Investment Fund employees and LIV consultants Andrew McKenna and Ari Fleischer, who had served as George W. Bush’s press secretary.

“I believe in all of you, I believe in what we are building and we are going to press forward,” Al-Rumayyan said with some steel in his voice. “We will do what we have to do to launch this. Just get me 16 players.”

His resolute tone galvanized the entire operation. “We all went into the call with our heads hanging low, feeling so defeated,” says the LIV exec. “Then it became like in The Wolf Of Wall Street when Leonardo DiCaprio gives that speech and the whole room goes crazy. When His Excellency finished speaking we were all high-five’ing. It was like, Let’s fucking go! We’re gonna fucking do this!

There are easier ways to make money than building a global golf tour from scratch. It says something about Al-Rumayyan, who holds a degree from the Harvard Business School, that the golfer he has become closest to is the dweeby DeChambeau. “He’s a golf nerd. A golf nut,” says DeChambeau. “He plays all the time. He hits the ball straight for not having crazy power. He knows how to get the clubface back to the ball. It’s kind of fun to watch. He has a good putting game, too. I think he loves everything about the game—the camaraderie, the competition, just getting outside and being in nature.” 

It is Al-Rumayyan who pushed and prodded for the creation of Golf Saudi, which first announced its intentions with a tournament on the 2019 European Tour schedule. “Let’s be honest, the key reason the Saudis have become so involved in golf is because of Yasir’s enduring love for the game,” says Keith Pelley, the CEO of the European Tour. “If he was a volleyball fan, they might be building volleyball arenas and creating a volleyball super league and hosting the volleyball world championships.”

During the annual playing of the Saudi International, Al-Rumayyan’s yacht, parked just off-shore, has become a social hub as he hosts golfers for informal gatherings. “It’s a relaxed environment that offered privacy, or so we thought,” says one player who requested anonymity. “But this was interesting: Somehow we started talking about Russia, and just as we were getting going, H.E. nodded at one of his guys, who came over and grabbed both of his cell phones. He set them down next to a speaker and then turned up the music—it was just like in the movies, and then H.E. began speaking very candidly. He nodded toward the phones and said, ‘My own people are always listening.’ I pulled out my phone to hand it to him, but he waved it off and laughed and said, ‘Don’t worry, we are not listening to you—we don’t care enough!’”

Al-Rumayyan has no trouble making the players feel at ease because, for all of his power, he is soft-spoken and courtly, with beautiful manners. He is westernized in his attitudes and his appetites; in the excellent MBS biography Blood And Oil, by Bradley Hope and Justin Scheck, Al-Rumayyan is described as having “a taste for fine cigars and after-hours bars in Dubai frequented by long-legged, short-skirted Russian women.”

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At the completion of LIV’s inaugural tournament in London, in June 2022, Al-Rumayyan was called up to the trophy presentation to give a speech. He drew confused whoops from the crowd when he announced a $54 million bonus for any LIV golfer who shoots 54 in competition. (Hey, it’s not that outlandish of a thought: Jim Furyk has posted a 58 on the PGA Tour and in 2019 an Irish golfer named David Carey shot 57 at an Alps Tour event, though it was on a par-68.) His speech was otherwise boilerplate, but Al-Rumayyan’s effusiveness, and the bear hugs he received from every player on stage, offered a clue to one of the central mysteries behind LIV: What are the Saudis’ motivations? Al-Rumayyan may have bought his way into the chairmanship of the English Premier football club Newcastle United, and he has been known to have kick-abouts on the field after games, but he’ll never connect with his callow players like he did with Mickelson during their long, leisurely pro-am round in London. The Saudi elite can scoop up the most expensive private residence in London, as the late crown prince Sultan bin Abdul-Aziz did with Rutland Gate, a 62,000-square-foot monstrosity in the shadow of Kensington Palace, but they will never be granted memberships at the old-line, aggressively private golf clubs outside of town. Yet during LIV London, Al-Rumayyan strutted around the Centurion Club as if he owned the place, which he kind of did, at least for one week. The status he enjoyed, the reflected glow of hanging out with famous golfers, the connections he made with the London movers and shakers who played in the pro-am and crowded the three-story tower of luxury suites…it’s hard to put a price tag on all of that, but for a dude who controls an investment fund that is projected to reach a trillion dollar valuation by 2025 and an oil company that enjoyed $141 billion in profits for 2022, what’s a few billion dollars between golfing buddies? 

As always, Al-Rumayyan is playing the long game. He is a close friend and confidante to the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman. MBS has staked his reign on Vision 2030, his effort to remake the Saudi economy, to say nothing of its society. Creating a robust tourist sector is one of the pillars of Vision 2030. Golf helped put Dubai on the map with tourists (and the international business community), but it’s a crowded city with little memorable terrain; Saudi Arabia has soaring mountains and 1,500 miles of coastline that offer vast potential for epic golf destinations. Tapping LIV’s star power has always offered numerous possibilities for cross-pollination—how about a resort featuring a Mickelson-designed golf course and a sleek hotel with interiors curated by Paulina Gretzky? 

LIV had to spend lavishly to launch, but by the end of the first, abbreviated season Al-Rumayyan had already tightened the screws. That included relieving Majed Al-Sorour of his day-to-day duties as managing director, a measure of H.E. ‘s ruthlessness because Al-Sorour is a close friend who has overseen security for Al-Rumayyan’s family. “The PIF guys, they’re laser-focused on the numbers,” says another LIV executive. “They are very smart and very disciplined. Everyone says the Saudis have unlimited money, but that’s because they have made one clever move after another to grow the PIF into what it is. Despite the narrative, they don’t burn up money recklessly. There is always a larger plan and they won’t stop until they have executed that plan.”

And that is the key to understanding LIV’s future. To get its investment back, or even turn a profit, the PIF is counting on selling the 12 LIV team franchises, in which the PIF has a 75 percent equity stake in each. (The team captains own the other 25 percent.) Internally, LIV has thrown around $500 million valuations, which seemed like science fiction…until the alliance with the PGA Tour. As part of Norman’s all-call, LIV’s global head of partnerships, Monica Fee, spoke about how her phone has been “ringing off the hook” since the merger announcement, citing Marriott, Anheuser-Busch, Fox and ESPN as those who had already made inquiries. Getting the stamp of approval from the PGA Tour has allowed LIV to be openly embraced by corporate America, at last. (This has always been part of Al-Rumayyan’s vision, too; how many blockbuster deals will the PIF now do by leveraging relationships with the Tour’s sponsors?) If LIV can get some of it tournaments on network TV through the Tour’s existing deals (still a big unknown), that brings a whole new level of visibility, and value, to the franchises. 

So how would all of this work? Conversations with various LIV insiders leads to a consensus of a schedule of maybe a dozen tournaments. Some would be slotted on dark weeks when no traditional Tour event is being played, but a handful would be co-sanctioned as part of the new unified schedule. Imagine the riveting frisson of an event with the six strongest LIV teams and a half-dozen squads of Tour regulars! LIV had already been considering an expansion to 14 teams. Doing so for 2024 would be a way to make whole some of the embittered players who turned down mega-offers. Says one LIV exec, “Now we can finally get Hideki [Matsuyama] and Jon Rahm. I would say every big name on the PGA Tour will get an offer. Except Rory. Nobody wants that little bitch on their team.” 

After news of the deal broke, McIlroy said, “I still hate LIV.” He added, “You can’t just welcome back” the golfers who left the PGA Tour and caused “irreparable harm to the Tour and started litigation against it.”

Keeping LIV going solves a few problems: The players could be denied full PGA Tour membership, which would prevent them from playing in the FedEx Cup playoffs or enjoying the Tour’s famously generous retirement program. This would give McIlroy (and many of his colleagues) a measure of the retribution they crave. But the LIV players could be allowed to accept sponsor’s exemptions into their favorite Tour events—the maximum is seven per season for non-members—helping those tournaments attract more stars and further reunify the game. And Tour members being able to moonlight at some LIV events would give them access to the bloated purses, which would certainly smooth over some of the hard feelings.

Many, many details still have to be sorted out, including Norman’s role. The new company that the PIF and the PGA Tour are creating are distinctly different from LIV, so perhaps Norman will continue to oversee his fiefdom. If not, someone close to him says, “He has a huge golden parachute. Greg will be fine.” If he doesn’t have a place in the new landscape, Norman can ride off into the sunset having helped achieve the sweeping change he sought for nearly three decades. But that’s the past. The future of golf doesn’t belong to Norman. Or Monahan or McIlroy. It belongs to Yasir Al-Rumayyan. 

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29 thoughts on “What Now Becomes of LIV Golf? Ask Yasir Al-Rumayyan”

  1. I read a lot here about how great Yasir is for golf….fine, whatever…but he was on TV with Jay, not Greg. It was Jay who sent his players a memo on the morning of the announcement and sat in front of them a few hours later. Greg was nowhere to be seen for over 24 hours. And if all you say and Greg says is true, why wasn’t Yasir on the call the same way he was on TV with Jay?

    This simply doesn’t pass the sniff test, Alan, and you’ve crossed over from being embedded to being in bed with LIV.

    1. What you see on camara is the result of what was happening back stage. LIV supported by PIF and the NEWCO will be supported also by PIF … LIV and NEWCO are brothers/sisters… same parents. Norman and Monaham are each going to be reporting to the same BOSS. Non is going to be above the other. Nevertheless, Norman helped enormously and has being one of the key players and brains to shape whats going on in the wonderful world of golf…. The golf industry has never ever have a wealthy entity backing up its dreams to became a game for the people. I Do not like to compare but along history many players had helped to grow the game with out the support of an entity like PIF. Imagine what Arnold Palmer could do in his years if he has PIF support. Well, GREG NORMAN after decades wanting to do something about expanding golf world wide in a different dimension like we all were seeing throughout the years, finally he got the shoot…. and after the last two year… he has proven that his intentions were and are good for the game and for the pockets to whom make this to happen… more golf, more money in the golf industry is the best thin that can and could happen in this wonderful game of Golf. Thanks, Luis Pantin cell +18323865479

  2. I was wrong about you. And I’m happy to admit it. This article is the product of a very well informed, rational, and unbiased reporter. In addition, the interview you gave to Rich Eisen was infinitely superior to a day of Golf Channel rantings.

    When you torched Phil and nearly cratered LIV, I held you in contempt for four reasons. First, Phil is the most engaging and entertaining player and sports exists to deliver these things. Second, the PGA tour had become unwatchable. There were too many players. The 20 or so interesting ones were lost in the crowd. The courses and tournaments were largely boring. I’ve long held a very negative view of Rory, who had become the face of the sinking ship. Third, every innovation LIV brought made golf interesting again. Your release on Phil nearly killed it. And fourth, while I am exceedingly well informed regarding Saudi Arabia and MBS, I saw LIV as overwhelmingly positive. It was the opposite of what was being presented in the press. As a nation, America could be blamed for doing that which LIV was being accused, while we should be applauding SA for investing in something positive. Moreover, should SA and MBS give up on the USA, the US economy craters instantly with the loss of international reserve currency status.

    While I am less informed than you regarding the innerworkings of LIV, I see this playing out very similarly. And I think it is a very good thing for golf and sports fans. I also see it as an opportunity for MBS and SA to achieve something enormously positive. Yasir Al Rumayyan is a significant improvement on Al Waleed bin Talal Al Saud. He is the right man for this mission. And Greg Norman, is the right man at the right time to push this all forward.

    Congratulations Alan, you are now the most credible voice in the room. I was wrong about you and I’m happy to admit it. Well done!

  3. … basically, the game we have all come to love is now essentially owned and controlled at the top level by murderers and those who demonize and diminish females and those who are gay. Does this mean that any person (male or female) who desires to play golf at the highest level is left with a choice….be complicit in earning a living by accepting blood money or find another career? Regardless of the endless and canned “box of words” that are being used by any spokesperson, executive or player associated with the PGA Tour, the reality is that blood money is now a major part of professional golf. Like it or leave.

    1. Some of the innocent people that we (the US) have drone striked would love to help you off your high horse. It’s just sports, relax.

    2. This is the beauty of a free country right here, in your own words:

      “… any person (male or female) who desires to play golf at the highest level is left with a choice…”

      There are people in the world who get up each day and do not have a choice. If they do have a choice they may not have great options. We have both in the United States and other Western nations.

      If the source of the PIF money is so against one’s principles then one would be hypocritical to pursue a career in pro golf. Simple as that. The Brandel Chamblees of the world now have a choice — their actions can match the verbal bluster of the last 12 months, and they can walk away, or they can be hypocrites and continue to get paid. You and/or Brandel don’t get to impose your morals on other people.

      A middle man through which PIF money passes does not unlink him or anyone from the source of the money. Taking money directly (via LIV) or taking money through a third-party is the same thing and anyone who says differently is a rationalizing hypocrite.

      I watched LIV in the beginning and it was mildly interesting until it wasn’t. So I stopped watching it. Have zero interest in it. Doubled down on watching PGA events because the great fields were offset by the grinder fields — both of which I love to watch. So not a LIV supporter in any way, shape or form. The problem with making an irrational, emotional stand on something is eventually your actions will violate your own bluster.

    3. Michael Cedric Dutton

      Why do you keep painting everyone with the same paint brush? If your brother commits murder, does that make you also guilty? Every country has it’s radicals, the USA has one of the highest mass murder rates with all the constant shootings so what should we label the rest of America? I believe this man is trying to change the image of Saudi Arabia in his own way. He is passionate about golf if you didn’t read the article but they way you are carrying on, because of the simple fact the he is a Saudi, he not allowed do anything until the rest of Saudi sorts their shit out.

    4. So, the US has killed more innocent people than Saudi Arabia has ever imagined doing, but the US PGA is fine. Got it. I haven’t watched golf in years except for three of the majors (Masters and the two Opens). I hate the playoff aspect they introduced years ago. It is all boring as hell. LIV brought us some entertainment in golf. Rory can go pound sand and I used to really like him. This news about a merger makes me happy. Until it shakes out, I will stick with Premier League and baseball and rugby when I can find it on US TV (not an easy task). Oh yeah, and LIV golf. The PGA as a monopoly can go pound sand. Also, I have actually served in some of America’s splendid little wars, so I know of what I speak. Not a single American has an ounce of moral high ground on Saudi Arabia (and I don’t support either countries bullshit).

  4. Former Follower

    Mr. Shipnuck – you are obviously on the payroll. Mr. Bamberger – I trust you are still in the “kingdom”. Last question before I delete this bookmark in disgust – you can answer via email: which one of you is responsible for the line which can’t be unread – “taking the dirt road home”?

  5. As someone who got into playing and watching golf during the pandemic, I think I’ll just stick to playing. I lost a lot of respect for the game.

    1. This take always cracks me up. Do you think anyone truly cares about your respect? Who are you to have such pomposity?

  6. So what happens if Yasir gets hit by a car in London tomorrow or develops terminal cancer? If SA’s business interest in golf starts and ends with Yasir, is it really that sustainable long-term notwithstanding its financial backer? As you mentioned earlier, there are far easier ways to make money than running a golf league.

  7. Why can’t sportswriters see this for what it is…a hostile takeover of professional golf by Saudi Arabia? In two years there will be no LIV, no PGA Tour, and no DP Tour. There will be one entity that will rule over world wide professional golf. I’m not sure what the name will be but let me take a guess…the IPGA Tour (the International Professional Golfers Association Tour). The annals of American business history are filled with examples of hostile takeovers where everyone is assured at the time of takeover that the corporate entities will largely remain the same and then a year or two later a consolidation is quietly implemented. That is what is going to happen here. Why is it so hard to face facts: Saudi Arabia now owns men’s professional golf. Their next takeover will be the LPGA. It’s the perfect sports washing opportunity for a country that oppresses women. Whatever you think of the Saudis, they now own professional golf. Deal with it.

  8. I have a hard time believing that they’re going to continue to prop this thing up now that they (PIF) got what they wanted. I’d bet on not seeing LIV by 2025 if not sooner.

    1. The plan is to leverage the agreement into a mainstream TV deal and corporate sponsorships. Now that they are no longer getting blacklisted by the PGA for working with LIV, they will get a TV deal. ESPN throws away all kinds of money on stuff no one watches like the WNBA. Either they or a streaming service will pay for LIV. Apple TV paid big money for MLS rights that get fewer views than a lot of YouTubers. Yasir thinks he has 12 franchises worth a total $6.5 billion. He isn’t shutting that down November and throwing this investment away.

  9. James R Hawley

    The *WAR* is just beginning. Both tours will exist in their future forms only because one person, H.E., likes golf and *currently* has control of the money. This is not a serious business model. Professional golf from now on is a charity and if H.E. gets bored, decides he prefers pickleball, or dies at the hands of one of his jealous Russian prostitutes putting the tour(s) back together will be a monumental task.

  10. My major issue with this issue, as well as PIF spending billions to attract end-of-career football stars from europe is: how does this help grow the game in that kingdom? If they spent half of what they gave to Phil on getting students in their country to play golf, that would have made a way higher impact that buying out gol” worldwide. I pity the saudi people: their wealth is being spent on golf because, as Bryson put it, “H.E. Yassir “ is a golf nerd. It is like the NEOM project, and the new Cube in Riyadh, wasted fortunes. King Abdullah Economic city , where they hold LIV events, is supposed to be home to 2 million, after several years trying there are 7000 person. Total failure. You also say in the podcast that they want european tourists come over the KSA to play golf, how does this grow the game there? I’m a european golfer, and it will take a lot to make think of going there to play golf in the winter.

  11. Been a reader for a long time, but just gotta say that uncritically passing off what LIV sources are telling you as the facts of the situation are a tough look. None of the workings of this have actually been worked out, nobody knows if the DOJ or the EU will even approve it, and that’s just the start. Declaring winners and losers and predicting the future is folly, and certainly not journalism.

  12. LIV is history. It served its purpose, which was to bring the Tour to the bargaining table. It may stick around through 2024, depending upon how soon the merger gets completed. However, ask yourself why PIF would want to continue to fund a massive money-loser that has not caught on with the golfing public, particularly given that the PIF’s primary monetary and reputational interest is now with the PGA Tour?

    One other point: while it will ultimately depend upon the terms of the deal documents, being the Chairman of the Board, if you do not control a majority of the Board seats, carries no real power, and is almost a ceremonial position. PIF’s power and influence depends solely upon its money and the Tour’s need for future cash infusions.

  13. Alan, you may want to read the SI interview with Jimmy Dunne before you send that last chapter to your publisher. A little bit of a rewrite on your part probably is going to be a wise idea. This is what a journalist can do rather than just take dictation from the PIF….just sayin’.

  14. Thats not appropriate to a famous writer to write down LIV-pros, gamblers, narcissts daydreams. To stay accepted by H.E.?

  15. This article appears to have been written by H.E. himself or he threw a wad of oil money your way to get the positive “Good for the Game” BS. It’s all about the money and the golfers who left the PGA for that pot of gold in the Arabian sands will never have enough money to satisfy their thirst. First, most of the greedy players that jumped ship were multi-millionaires already, so they will never have enough cash on hand. The LIV golf game is a grown-up version of Putt-Putt golf and will fade away and the game of golf will be controlled by people who are not the most popular human beings on the planet. One other thing I would take Rory anytime over Norman & Weird Phil.

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