What just happened to golf?
On Tuesday, PGA Tour commissioner Joseph William “Jay” Monahan IV announced that the PGA Tour will merge with LIV Golf, creating a new super tour along with Europe’s DP World Tour.
So much for the war between golf’s establishment and LIV, the upstart league backed by Saudi Arabia’s $620 billion sovereign wealth fund. Starting next year, Monahan will be the super tour’s CEO, answering to its chairman, Yasir al-Rumayyan, a close ally of Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman.
So much for moral posturing. Just last year, with LIV critics citing the Saudi regime’s ugly human-rights record, its links to 9/11 and Saudi thugs’ murdering and dismembering columnist Jamal Khashoggi, Monahan claimed the high ground. With Phil Mickelson, Brooks Koepka and other stars defecting to LIV for hundreds of millions of dollars, Monahan said, “I would ask any player who has left or any player who would consider leaving, ‘Have you ever had to apologize for being a member of the PGA Tour?’” Some of his fans called LIV the Bonesaw Tour. Even Mickelson described LIV’s Saudi patrons as “scary motherfuckers.”
Then Monahan took a mulligan. Without consulting or even informing Tour players, he made the most far-reaching deal in golf history. “People are going to call me a hypocrite,” he said Tuesday. Still he was certain he and a few other men, operating in secret, had the game’s best interests at heart. “Together, we are going to move forward, to grow and expand this great game and take it to new heights.”
The news delighted Donald Trump, who backed the right horse. Rejected by golf’s establishment — he lost the right to host last year’s PGA Championship after Trump supporters overran the Capitol on January 6 — Trump cast his lot with LIV. “All of those golfers that remain ‘loyal’ to the very disloyal PGA… will pay a big price when the inevitable MERGER with LIV comes,” he posted on Truth Social last year.
The merger isn’t proof that LIV was viable. “Insanity,” one PGA Tour player called it. “The LIV tour was dead in the water. Now you’re throwing them a life jacket? Is the moral of the story to just always take the money?”
As Monahan sportswashes his hands, a new era will pose questions for golf fans. As with NFL football and the specter of CTE, fans will need to weigh their enjoyment of the game against any qualms they may have about the Saudi regime’s efforts to burnish its reputation. (The Cato Institute’s Human Freedom Index ranks Saudi Arabia behind Russia, Turkey and China, just ahead of Iran.) But memories fade. “From the standpoint of Khashoggi,” Trump said recently, “that has died down so much.”
At a press conference before this week’s RBC Canadian Open, Rory McIlroy sounded defeated. “It’s hard to keep up with people who have more money than anyone else,” said McIlroy, one of the old tour’s most vocal supporters in the war against LIV. He looks like a sucker now. Even so, McIlroy said, “When I try to remove myself from the situation and look at the bigger picture, and look at ten years down the line, I think ultimately it’s going to be good for the game.”
That is the new party line. Forget what you used to say. Forget the 9/11 families protesting outside the gates and follow the money, because you can’t play golf at the game’s highest level without serving Mohammed bin Salman.
Have you ever had to apologize for being a member of the PGA Tour?
You do now.