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Sunday, September 24, 2023

PGA Tour, LIV Golf and DP World Tour announce shock merger

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The PGA Tour, DP World Tour and LIV Golf announced a shock merger on Tuesday, unifying the three top men’s golf tours in the world in a single for-profit entity backed by a multimillion-dollar investment from Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund.

The surprise move comes despite the PGA Tour spending over a year rallying against the Saudi-backed LIV Golf tour and barring its members from competing in events. Until news of the merger on Tuesday, the two organizations were considered two of the most bitter enemies in professional sports.

The controversial launch of the LIV Golf tour, which held its first international series last year, also saw many of its members lambasted for being wooed away from the PGA by the promise of Saudi money. The merger means those players now have a route back to the PGA Tour.

The merger, which reportedly comes after a month of secret negotiations, means that existing antitrust lawsuits between LIV and the PGA Tour will be dropped.

A statement released by all three parties reads: “The parties have signed an agreement that combines PIF’s golf-related commercial businesses and rights (including LIV Golf) with the commercial businesses and rights of the PGA Tour and DP World Tour into a new, collectively owned, for-profit entity to ensure that all stakeholders benefit from a model that delivers maximum excitement and competition among the game’s best players.

“In addition, PIF will make a capital investment into the new entity to facilitate its growth and success.  The new entity (name TBD) will implement a plan to grow these combined commercial businesses, drive greater fan engagement and accelerate growth initiatives already underway.”

Golfers that had signed up for the LIV Tour and been ostracized from the PGA community — including Phil Mickelson, Cameron Smith and Dustin Johnson — will be able to reapply for PGA Tour membership, according to the statement.

“Further, the three organizations will work cooperatively and in good faith to establish a fair and objective process for any players who desire to re-apply for membership with the PGA Tour or the DP World Tour following the completion of the 2023 season and for determining fair criteria and terms of re-admission, consistent with each Tour’s policies.”

“I recognize that people are going to call me a hypocrite,” PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan said in a televised statement. “Any time I’ve said anything I’ve said it with the information I had at that moment, and I said it based on someone that’s trying to compete for the PGA Tour and our players.

“I accept those criticisms but circumstances do change and I think looking at the big picture got us to this point.”

While those players that did join LIV Golf have responded positively to the merger — Mickelson called it “awesome” — many of those who opposed it or who turned down lucrative deals to join it, like Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods, are yet to comment on the move.

As of press time Wednesday, McIlroy is due to make a statement to the media later on the same day.

BY JIM BULLEY [jim.bulley@joongang.co.kr]