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The Saudis buy professional golf
For months, the PGA Tour has clearly stated that LIV — the upstart golf tour backed by the Saudi government — was little more than an extravagantly financed effort to paper over egregious Saudi human rights abuses. LIV, which is financed by Saudi's Public Investment Fund (PIF), lured players away from the PGA Tour by guaranteed payouts of $100 million or more.
Here is an excerpt from a PGA Tour legal filing last September:
LIV has executed a campaign to pay the LIV Players astronomical sums of money to induce them to breach their contracts with the TOUR in an effort to use the LIV Players and the game of golf to sportswash the recent history of Saudi atrocities…
The money convinced stars like Phil Mickelson, Brooks Koepka, Bryson DeChambeau, and Sergio Garcia to defect. But many of the PGA Tour's best players, including Scottie Scheffler, Jon Rahm, and Rory McIlroy, turned down the money.
In June 2022, 9/11 Families United, a group of families and survivors of the 9/11 attacks, wrote a letter to American players who joined the LIV Tour. "Given Saudi Arabia’s role in the death of our loved ones and those injured on 9/11—your fellow Americans—we are angered that you are so willing to help the Saudis cover up this history in their request for 'respectability,'" the group wrote. "When you partner with the Saudis, you become complicit with their whitewash, and help give them the reputational cover they so desperately crave—and are willing to pay handsomely to manufacture."
In an interview, PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan responded to the letter. "I have two families that are close to me that lost loved ones [on 9/11] — my heart goes out to them," Monahan said. "I would ask that any player that has left, or that would ever consider leaving, have you ever had to apologize for being a member of the PGA Tour?"
The answer to that question, moving forward, will be "Yes."
The PGA Tour and LIV, according to the official press release, will create a "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." PIF "will make a capital investment into the new entity to facilitate its growth and success." Further, PIF will "be the exclusive investor in the new entity" and "have the exclusive right to further invest in the new entity, including a right of first refusal on any capital that may be invested in the new entity." PIF says it is investing "billions." PIF will also become a "premiere corporate sponsor" of the PGA Tour.
In the press release, Monahan engaged in precisely the kind of sportswashing the PGA Tour previously decried. "I applaud PIF Governor Yasir Al-Rumayyan for his vision and collaborative and forward-thinking approach that is not just a solution to the rift in our game, but also a commitment to taking it to new heights," Monahan said. "This will engender a new era in global golf, for the better." Who is Al-Rumayyan? He "serves as right-hand man to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman," who the CIA says is responsible for the murder and dismemberment of US-based journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Last June, Monahan said that the Saudi financing of LIV was "not an issue for me because I don’t work for the Saudi Arabian government," but it "probably is an issue for players that chose to go and take that money." Now, Monahan will serve as CEO of the new joint venture between the PGA Tour and LIV, an entity financed by the Saudi government.
On Tuesday, 9/11 Families United released a new statement: "Our entire 9/11 community has been betrayed by Commissioner Monahan and the PGA as it appears their concern for our loved ones was merely window-dressing in their quest for money." Eamon Lynch, a commentator for the Golf Channel, said the merger "reduces elite golf to public relations for a tyrant."
The PGA Tour is purportedly a non-profit membership organization of golfers. But many PGA Tour players, who were convinced by the PGA Tour's leadership to turn down millions from LIV, were blindsided by the news. Several expressed their dismay.
Mackenzie Hughes, a successful PGA Tour player with over $13 million in career earnings, tweeted: "Nothing like finding out through Twitter that we’re merging with a tour that we said we’d never do that with." Collin Morikawa, one of golf's superstars and the winner of the 2021 British Open, also said he found out about the merger on Twitter. Another PGA Tour winner, Michael Kim, said he was "very curious how many people knew this deal was happening," questioning whether the PGA Tour was truly operating as a "player run organization." Byeong-Hun An, a South Korean PGA Tour golfer, called the merger with LIV "a big los[s] for [players] who defended the tour for [the] last two years." Wesley Bryan, who won on the PGA Tour in 2017, said he felt "betrayed" and "will not be able to trust anyone within the corporate structure of the PGA TOUR for a very long time."
LIV and the PGA Tour have been battling in the courtroom and the media for years. So why did they reach a deal now to combine forces? Critically, the deal includes "a mutually agreed end to all pending litigation between the participating parties."
LIV claimed that, as part of the lawsuit, Al-Rumayyan and PIF did not have to comply with discovery requests because they were protected by "sovereign immunity" that is afforded to foreign governments in U.S. courts. In February, a federal judge denied "LIV Golf’s sovereign immunity claims and ruled that its Saudi Arabian benefactors are subject to discovery and must turn over relevant information and sit for depositions." The judge found there is a "commercial activity" exception to sovereign immunity.
The discovery process could have exposed embarrassing details about the Saudi government's efforts to use LIV to bolster its influence and reputation. PIF has spent several months appealing the ruling in an effort to avoid those disclosures. But its options were running out.
Now they have solved the issue by offering a huge payday to the PGA Tour.