The LIV Golf and PGA Merger

In June 2023, the PGA Tour and LIV Golf announced a surprising merger, marking a significant shift in the golf world after years of contention and legal battles. The PGA Tour, established and revered for its history and legacy, faced a bold challenger in LIV Golf, a breakaway league funded by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) and led by golf legend Greg Norman. This merger, described as a partnership, is set to reshape professional golf, unifying under a new commercial entity with Jay Monahan as CEO and PIF governor Yasir Al-Rumayyan on the board​​. The merger will cancel all pending litigation between the PGA Tour and LIV Golf, and Saudi Arabias PIF is the sole investor and expected to put about $3 billion into the newly combined entity.

Origins of LIV Golf

LIV Golf, making its debut in 2022, quickly attracted top players with lucrative contracts, challenging the PGA Tour's dominance. Some top rated players that have joined LIV Golf include Bryson DeChambeau, Brooks Koepka, and Dustin Johnson. Despite its financial allure, LIV Golf struggled to gain a significant viewership, bringing into question its long-term viability​​. The merger with the PGA Tour seems to address these concerns, offering a more stable future for LIV Golf, while providing the PGA Tour with a substantial new source of funding from the PIF, potentially enhancing player purses and financial benefits​​.

The origins of LIV Golf trace back to a strategic move by the PIF to challenge the PGA Tour's supremacy. LIV Golf aimed to disrupt the traditional golf model with a new format, including shorter tournaments and a team concept, designed to attract younger viewers and address perceived shortcomings of the PGA Tour's format​​. The league's controversial funding source, the PIF's link to the Saudi government and associated human rights concerns, has been a point of contention, raising ethical questions and affecting some players' decisions to join or stay away from the league​​. There has recently been increased scrutiny over "sportswashing", in which countries try to cover up deeper ethical issues with blockbuster sports deals.

A Mixed Bag

Players' reactions to the deal have been mixed. Dustin Johnson, a prominent LIV golfer, noted that while the immediate future (2023 and 2024) appears unchanged, uncertainty remains beyond that​​. This merger also paves the way for players previously suspended from the PGA Tour for joining LIV Golf to potentially regain their cards​​. This point is controversial, however, as the PGA tries to strike a balance between reinstating former PGA stars who violated their contracts by moving to LIV Golf, while also not upsetting members of the Tour who remained loyal and may have turned down enormous sums of money offered by the Saudis. 

Prominent PGA Tour players such as Jordan Spieth, Rory Mcllroy, and Scottie Scheffler have felt somewhat blindsided by the deal, as it was made in relative secrecy by just a pair of Tour board members and commissioner Jay Monahan. In order to keep their players' trust, the tour implemented the most famous golfer of all time, Tiger Woods, into the board. Currently, there are rumors that number 3 world ranked golfer, Jon Rahm, may be heading for LIV. The timing of Rahm’s potential departure has drawn suspicion due to its proximity to the December 31 deadline for a definitive agreement between the PGA Tour and PIF. Due to his Master's win in 2023, Rahm also has lifetime exemption into the tournament, and is welcomed into the club as an honorary member, which further clouds his rumoured motives.

Wider Impact

The merger represents a complex blend of business, sports, and politics, with potential implications beyond the golf course. A U.S. Senate subcommittee has initiated an investigation into the merger, citing concerns over the PGA Tour’s sudden change in stance towards LIV Golf and the involvement of the Saudi government through the PIF​​. Additionally, the future roles within the merged entity are not entirely clear, especially for Greg Norman, who had been a vocal advocate for LIV Golf since its inception​​. It is important to note that the deal will also be investigated for antitrust concerns.


ChatGPT, Personal Communication, December 5, 2023

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