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Saturday, May 18, 2024

Everything You Need to Know About the PGA Tour, LIV Golf, and a Potential Merger

  • Last summer, many presumed that the PGA Tour and LIV Golf would be merged by now.
  • The controversial PIF could still invest in the PGA Tour.
Michael Madrid-USA TODAY Network
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World No. 1 Scottie Scheffler heads into the weekend sharing the 36-hole lead at the Masters with fellow PGA Tour faithful Max Homa and LIV Golf star Bryson Dechambeau, creating a dramatic storyline for the first tournament of the year bringing together players from both tours.

Defending champion Jon Rahm was a staunch supporter of the PGA Tour when he won last year’s Masters after outdueling LIV’s Brooks Koepka in the final round. But in December, Rahm was lured to LIV on the back of a reported $300 million–plus contract. When he faced the media earlier this week, golf’s uncertain future was top of mind. “Unfortunately, it’s not up to me,” the two-time major champion said, while lamenting that his move hasn’t led to more progress.

The top players in golf have been trying to sort out what could be coming next ever since the PGA Tour and Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia, or PIF, agreed to a bombshell deal last summer. But despite some big proclamations at the time, not much has changed in the ensuing 10 months. With the Masters spotlighting the divide in pro golf, here’s everything you need to know about LIV, the PGA Tour, and what exactly is going on between them.

I thought the PGA Tour and LIV Golf were merging. Did that not happen?

You’re right to think that. On June 6, 2023, when the PGA Tour and PIF announced a framework agreement to transform the pro game, nearly every headline claimed that the PGA Tour and LIV Golf were merging. The problem is that the PGA Tour and PIF, which backs LIV Golf, didn’t have an actual deal—just an agreement to eventually reach a deal, which hasn’t happened yet. Until then, the PGA Tour and LIV Golf are going to keep operating as completely separate entities.

But there are LIV golfers at the Masters. They aren’t banned?

No. Players who joined LIV Golf are banned from the PGA Tour, but not the majors championships, which are operated by their own governing bodies. That means guys like Rahm, Koepka (last year’s PGA Championship winner), and three-time Masters champ Phil Mickelson can play at Augusta National. Their previous success earns them a special exemption. Others, like Joaquin Niemann, received special invites from Augusta National, due to recent performance on the course.

What would happen if somebody from LIV won the Masters?

Depends on whom it is. If it’s a previous Masters champion like Mickelson, not much. He’s already invited to Augusta for life. If someone like Niemann won, that would make him eligible for all the majors for at least the next five years—a key accomplishment for a LIV player with minimal options to earn Official World Golf Ranking points.

LIV players aren’t getting world ranking points? 

Nope. The OWGR board has said LIV events don’t meet its criteria for sanctioning. Among the problems are 54-hole tournaments (as opposed to 72 holes), no 36-hole cut, and restricted qualifying measures. So, for now, the only way for LIV players to earn OWGR points is at major championships, if they can qualify, or at other international tournaments into which they are still allowed.

O.K. So, are LIV’s Saudi backers still trying to partner with the PGA Tour to fix all this?

Yes. Despite missing a self-imposed Dec. 31, 2023, deadline to reach a deal, and some rumors that a new deadline had been set around the Masters, the PGA Tour says it is still negotiating with the PIF about investing in its new commercial entity, PGA Tour Enterprises, which already received a $1.5 billion investment (which could grow to $3 billion) from Strategic Sports Group.

Wait, what is Strategic Sports Group?

It’s a consortium of billionaires who already own a bunch of other sports teams in major U.S. leagues. Names you might know include Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank and Boston Red Sox owner John Henry, via his Fenway Sports Group. The investors also include superstars like LeBron James and Drake.

The rapper?

Yes, the rapper.

And what’s been the latest news on those PGA Tour–PIF negotiations?

After the Players Championship in March, a PGA Tour contingent including commissioner Jay Monahan and Tiger Woods (above) met with PIF governor Yasir Al-Rumayyan in the Bahamas. In a memo to players, Monahan called the meeting “constructive” but offered no other details, and neither has anyone else who was there.

So what would happen if the PIF does invest in PGA Tour Enterprises?

At this point, anything could happen. But under the proposed framework agreement last summer, a PIF–PGA Tour deal would have seen LIV Golf’s commercial operations fall under the control of the, at the time, yet-to-be-formed PGA Tour Enterprises. Many people thought that meant LIV’s shelf life was getting shorter by the day. That could still be the case, but negotiations could be getting slowed down by the PIF pushing for LIV to have a bigger future.

Has anybody else big joined LIV since Rahm? Are more PGA Tour players considering making the jump?

Three other players who were ranked inside the top 100 joined LIV ahead of its 2024 season: Tyrell Hatton (was No. 16, now No. 19), Adrian Meronk (was No. 42, now No. 57), and Lucas Herbert (was and still is No. 82). LIV’s roster for the rest of the season appears to be set, so any further player movement likely wouldn’t come until the fall or winter.

What have PGA Tour players been saying about all this recently?

Rory McIlroy has called for resolution so the best golfers can play together again outside of the major championships. World No. 1 Scottie Scheffler has said anyone upset with the state of the game should blame the players who left for LIV. But in general, players don’t have many answers and are getting tired of talking about it.

When will we find out more about this potential PGA Tour–PIF partnership?

At the Players Championship, Monahan said he hoped to have an update the “next time” he meets with the media—which won’t be until the Tour Championship in August.

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