Winners and Losers in the New PIF-Tour Alliance
The gang is all here as the author weighs in on the fallout from the unveiling of golf’s new world order
By Alan Shipnuck
June 6, 2023
Golf’s year-long fever dream reached a climax on Tuesday morning when every stakeholder in the game was confronted with the most confounding sight imaginable: PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan and His Excellency Yasir Al-Rumayyan, the driving force behind LIV Golf, sitting elbow to elbow on CNBC, all smiles as they announced that the war is over and the Tour, the Saudi Public Investment Fund and the European Tour will be merging into a new, as yet unnamed entity to reunify the game. This ended two months of high-stakes brinksmanship and secret meetings in London, Venice, San Francisco and New York. Only a handful of players were alerted to the breaking news in the minutes before Monahan and Al-Rumayyan went on-air. Every other player and executive on both sides of golf’s great divide found out in real-time.
“I turned on CNBC and saw Jay and Yasir and it was like, Did I accidentally take an edible?” says one LIV executive.
PGA Tour veteran Peter Malnati, a member of the board of directors, said, “I’m too stunned to opine.”
Speak for yourself, Peter. So much remains unknown about how the new mega-tour will function but here is a (very) early look at the winners and losers in the biggest (non-Tiger) golf newsbreak this century.
Golf fans! Putting the sport back together means all of the best players will face off more than just four times a year at the major championships, once all the details get worked out. There was a hole in this year’s Players Championship without defending champion Cam Smith just as Pebble Beach didn’t feel right without Phil Mickelson. The press conference bitchiness and social media daggers will now (mostly) cease, which will be a relief to many fans who have been turned off by the tribal negativity. The new unified superschedule should be far more interesting, incorporating venues from around the world. And incorporating LIV’s team element with more stars and the built-in frisson of mixing old antagonists should add some razzle dazzle. Golf has plenty of 72-hole stroke play events, there is certainly room for a more baked-out team component for maybe half of dozen events on the new unified schedule.
Greg Norman. It remains to be seen if he will have an official role in the new firmament—seems doubtful, since he was glaringly absent in today’s announcement—but Norman has nurtured the idea of a world tour for three decades and been a driving force at LIV, which forced this compromise. He can ride off into the sunset having finally achieved the validation he so desperately needed.
Phil Mickelson, Brooks Koepka, Dustin Johnson, Cam Smith, Bryson DeChambeau and the other LIV captains. They collected huge upfront money and have 25% equity stakes in their teams. The Saudi Public Investment Fund is now underwriting this whole sport and it will be sure to look after the interests of those who have been loyal to LIV. That means ensuring there will be at least a handful of team events on the new schedule, which will drastically inflate the value of the franchises as they get network TV exposure and access to the Tour’s traditional sponsors. For those predicting the demise of the LIV-style team element, that is the core identity of what the PIF has invested in, and, more to the point, LIV has always been Al-Rumayyan’s baby. He will not walk away from it entirely. Otherwise, the PIF is pouring billions of dollars into merely propping up the PGA Tour and European Tour, both of which previously rejected overtures for partnership. One LIV captain, upon hearing the news on Tuesday morning, had this to say: “Time to start recruiting.”
Mickelson. He’s always wanted to be seen as the smartest guy in the room. For all the hubris, Phil was right.
The European Tour. In golf’s new world order the ET has been reduced to being a feeder for the PGA Tour, and week-to-week the tournaments have few stars and even less buzz. Now the Euro Tour gets a lifeline as part of the new global schedule. Fences will need to be mended, and for CEO Keith Pelley to take a more nuanced approach to reinstatement, but now the possibility exists that the Tour can welcome back Sergio Garcia to the Spanish Open, Lee Westwood to Wentworth, Martin Kaymer to the German Open and bring back into the folk the rest of the big names who decamped to LIV.
Mohammed bin Salman. The scariest motherfucker in geopolitics has staked his reign on Vision 2030, his effort to remake the Saudi society and economy. Growing the sports and leisure sector is a key component and the Saudis now control a global professional sports league that caters to an affluent, sophisticated audience. And the PIF suddenly has new business ties to many of the biggest companies in the world, and the ultimate bit of sportswashing: the stamp of approval from the PGA and European Tours.
Donald Trump. The USGA, PGA of America, R&A and PGA Tour have all renounced him as a tournament host. But Trump has three venues on this year’s LIV schedule and further commitments going forward. We’ll see if/how they are honored but this merger may give Trump a side door back into the golf world.
Jimmy Dunne. The dude already wakes up and has to decide if he wants to play at Cypress Point, Pine Valley, Shinnecock Hills, Augusta National or Seminole, as he is a member at all of them. Now the ultimate insider has burnished his reputation as golf’s preeminent deal-maker.
Eugenio Chacarra, James Piot, David Puig, Chase Koepka, Peter Uihlein, sundry others. Earning a spot on the PGA Tour is brutally hard. These college kids and career journeymen signed with LIV and now will have new avenues onto the Tour.
The CW. It is unknown how the existing TV rights for all the tours will be reconciled with the new schedule but the CW is now poised to get some big-time tournaments with an array of stars that will surely attract much bigger numbers than the LIV events have so far this season.
Money. It remains undefeated.
Rory McIlroy. He put his heart and soul into being the Tour’s most outspoken advocate, wearing himself out in the process, only to get sold out by Monahan. The reality is the Tour didn’t need McIlroy anymore. His fierce advocacy helped keep many other stars loyal to the cause, but the Tour had put itself on a financially unsustainable path, with sponsors already beginning to flee. Now that the Tour has access to unlimited oil money, McIlroy is cannon fodder.
Monahan. He turned the battle with LIV into one of legacy, and then morality. Neither argument kept his players from defecting. Then, despite admitting the Tour could never compete dollar for dollar with the PIF, he tried to do exactly that. LIV was always going to win a war of attrition—anybody could see that. The Saudis reached out to Monahan in April 2021, hoping to partner with the Tour. Monahan wouldn’t take the meeting. He could have co-opted them then with minimal disruption to his business. Instead he chose to fight, and now the Tour as we knew it is no more. One fired-up player agent texted this to me on Tuesday afternoon: “The facts are this: Jay grossly misjudged the resources and fortitude of the PIF and did nothing proactive to make the tour less vulnerable to a competitive offering. Upon realizing that the PIF would finance LIV with huge economic incentives, Jay’s solution was to restructure the tour schedule and purses but he failed to ensure that such changes were economically viable. The marketplace answered that question definitively as sponsors were lining up to get out of their deals. The suggestion that the tour’s outlook was bright was wishful thinking at best. With Koepka’s win at the PGA Championship, the PGA Tour’s ultimate plan of ‘waiting them out’ as washed-up diminishing assets became more of a dream than a strategic plan to combat an existential threat. Jay has proven to be grossly unqualified, unprepared and incapable of providing the true leadership that the PGA Tour players deserved through this process. He mixed his ego with his ignorance. As a result of this, the PGA Tour is now essentially an asset of the Saudi Public Investment Fund. Well done Jay!”
Brandel Chamblee. He has been the most outspoken critic of LIV Golf and its benefactors. I salute Chamblee for the courage of his convictions but it turns out that PGA Tour leaders have a different value system, leaving Chamblee alone on an island…with only Eamon Lynch for company.
Every PGA Tour player who turned down the LIV money. How does Hideki Matsuyama feel today? He rejected an offer of more than a quarter-billion dollars. Rickie Fowler, winless since 2019, said no to $75 million. On and on it goes. They were all saluted for their principled stance, but now Monahan has said yes to the money he implored his players to walk away from!
The European Ryder Cup team. Euro Tour CEO Keith Pelley took a hard line after the merger was announced, saying that the rule is still in force that a player must be a tour member to play in the Ryder Cup. Further, those who resigned their membership would have to pay the fines (over a million British pounds already) and serve their suspensions to be reinstated. That seems to slam the door on Sergio Garcia or Thomas Pieters helping to fortify an underdog Team Europe in Rome. At least the LIV alums will be able to play in the ‘25 Ryder Cup once the game is put back together.
White shoe law firms. The legal bills for the Tour vs. LIV lawsuit and countersuit were going to run into the tens of millions of dollars, if they haven’t already. Now that the legal wrangling is over, say a prayer for all the partners at Gibson Dunne; Baker McKenzie; and Quinn Emanual Urquhart & Sullivan.
The major championships. Over the last year their importance and profile have gone through the roof as the only yardsticks left for evaluating how all the best players stack up. Now it’s back to business as usual.
Golf fans. Just when things had settled down a little and the major championship summer was in full swing, the ultimate thunderbolt hits. Now there will be months of endless recriminations and second-guessing and pontificating about the future of the game. Wait, that actually sounds kind of fun!
In 1994, Alan wrote his first cover story for Sports Illustrated as a 21 year-old intern, and in the ensuing quarter-century he typed two dozen more. He is the author of eight books, including best-sellers Bud, Sweat & Tees; The Swinger (with Michael Bamberger); and Phil. Shipnuck has won 13 first-place awards in the annual Golf Writers Association of America writing contest, breaking the record of Dan Jenkins, a member of the World Golf Hall of Fame. Alan lives in Carmel, Cal.