Just like that, a flick of a switch as it were, the angst between the PGA Tour and, by extension, the DP World Tour with LIV Golf and its Saudi Arabian benefactors disappeared. Abracadabra, or some such sorcery at play. For, like a lightning bolt out of the blue, the factions united with a merger that will have one and all singing from the same hymn sheet and countless amounts of oil money pouring into the coffers.
Who saw it coming?
Not many of the players, it would seem, with reactions from those previously on either side of the divide flummoxed by the development which established a new, as yet unnamed, entity to propel men’s professional golf going forward. All friends again, all supping from the same source of filthy lucre and all hard feelings and wild words forgiven and forgotten apparently.
It is, for sure, a remarkable and complex turnaround, especially from the PGA Tour and the DP World Tour who had played out the perceived roles of the good guys fighting the dark forces of LIV. That all litigation, which had been ongoing up to the shock announcement, is now off the table while the new entity (in which the PGA Tour will have a majority say) will be primarily sourced by the Saudi Arabia Public Investment Fund (PIF) is proof, if it were needed, that money ultimately talks.
The moral high ground, if it was ever there, has been lost
So much for real money whispering; for the last year, ever since LIV’s arrival which fractured the very foundations of men’s professional golf and led to friends falling out, the relevant parties seemed so far apart that this sudden deal to unify takes some head scratching to comprehend.
The moral high ground taken by a number of players – with Rory McIlroy at the core of those advocating the traditions and sanctity of the PGA Tour – must now be squared off with the fact that the new entity is sourced from the very same fund that was so reprehensible. It’ll be interesting to see how past statements on the matter can be sanitised in this new world order, one admittedly where the pieces of the jigsaw remain to fall completely into place. And you must wonder what dynamics will be at play in Ryder Cup team rooms.
There’s little doubt that the Saudi Arabian sovereign wealth fund’s influence – call it sportswashing if you will – has won out in the grander scheme of things: the fact that footballer Lionel Messi took wads of dollars as a Saudi sporting ambassador, while Cristiano Ronaldo went the step further and moved to play there and Karim Benzema followed suit this week, without any of the flak directed the way of the golfers, may in a way have justified a turnaround, although the scale of the 180 degree turn is quite remarkable.
While there are elements of the new agreement that seem unclear in the direction that will be taken – with LIV continuing and the PGA Tour and the DP World Tour respective schedules’ staying in place and any of the so-called “defectors” having the right to re-join the traditional tours at season’s end – what is clear is that the PIF is the primary source of funding for men’s professional golf globally and the main stakeholder.
What is very interesting, however, is that New York financier Jimmy Dunne, who is on the PGA Tour’s policy board, has been named as one of the directors for the new entity. Dunne, aside from his investment acumen, was critical of those defecting to LIV, and is also a close friend and adviser to McIlroy. So, his inclusion as one of the main driving forces on the new entity and as someone who has been sufficiently appeased of past criticisms, must be taken as a gesture of a clean slate moving onwards into this new professional golfing world, one awash with Saudi money.
That the commercial merger is a done deal is quite the shift, on all sides. It will take time for it all to soak in and to play its way into being, and there will be the need for reconciliation among players who engaged in wars of words, but the only certainty from this development is that more money will be at play. The moral high ground, if it was ever there, has been lost.
Indeed, as much as this development and its timing came as a bolt from the blue, perhaps there was too an inevitability that this was the only outcome likely.