PGA, LIV Golf Decide to Stop Fighting and Team Up

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Call it a pro sports mulligan.

After roughly two years of fighting over players, money, morality, and fan attention, the PGA Tour and the upstart Saudi-backed, extremely well-capitalized LIV Golf League announced Tuesday they are putting their differences aside and merging into a singular commercial business — and, crucially, that they’ll start settling their differences on the links, and not in the courtroom.

Skins in the Game

In case you’ve been out of the loop, LIV Golf’s launch sparked something of a golf civil war. Backed by Saudi Arabia’s $620 billion Public Investment Fund (PIF), the LIV Tour lured many high-profile professional golfers — including Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson, and Brooks Koepka — by guaranteeing life-changing sums of money that a career on the PGA Tour simply could not match. But jumping ship came at a cost. For starters, LIV Golf players had to navigate tricky eligibility rules for entering into golf’s four major tournaments. And then of course there’s the moral cost of accepting money from a league essentially owned and operated by an absolute monarchy with a dismal human rights record.

But of course, all that’s behind them now, and the merger — which also includes the Europe-based and PGA-affiliated DP World Tour — couldn’t have come at a better time for LIV:

  • In May, some three months and six events into LIV’s sophomore season, the league suddenly and quietly stopped reporting viewership data from its US broadcasts on the CW network. Prior to the stoppage, the league reported a ratings decline of 24% week-over-week between its first and second events, down to just 409,000, and some local-affiliate CW stations in major markets opted not to air its third event in May entirely.
  • LIV also suffered a significant legal loss in April in its lawsuit alleging antitrust behavior from the PGA, when a federal judge ruled that the PIF and its governor, Yasir Al-Rumayyan, were both subject to depositions and discovery, which experts and analysts considered a setback. The merger will end all ongoing legal disputes, the two leagues said Tuesday.

“The LIV tour was dead in the water. It wasn’t working. Now, you’re throwing them a life jacket? Is the moral of the story to just always take the money?” one anonymous PGA player told ESPN.

Better Together? The details and specifics of the merger are still in flux, but in a memo to PGA players obtained by ESPN, tour commissioner Jay Monahan said PIF would make a significant financial investment — as much as $3 billion, according to the Financial Times’ reporting — in the merged league and serve as its premier corporate sponsor. Sounds tough to us: golf can already be a challenging and frustrating game — the only thing that can make it worse is getting stuck playing 18 holes with your arch-enemy.