After a year of awkward party photos, public debates full of self-righteous acrimony on both sides, some light journalist-murder apologia followed by mild 9/11-relitigation involving Donald Trump, and very little in the way of people actually engaging with its product, LIV Golf has come out of nowhere to emerge victorious in its war against the PGA Tour. On Tuesday, June 6, the two tours—one, a legacy institution defined by its decorum and respect for tradition; the other, a breakaway upstart defined by its relationship to its benefactor, the Saudi Public Investment Fund—announced that they’d reached an agreement to create some sort of entity that would own all commercial elements of the PGA Tour (the Tour itself would technically remain a separate nonprofit), as well as LIV Golf. According to the New York Times, the members of PGA’s current board will initially have a majority on the new organization’s board, but it will be led by Yasir al-Rumayyan, principal of the Public Investment Fund, which has also reportedly created conditions that will allow it to increase its influence on the entity as it ramps up its investment in it.
In other words: LIV Golf won, the PGA Tour lost. Alfred, fetch my clip of Kendall Roy saying the phrase, “reverse viking.”
On the surface, this plot twist is absolutely shocking. First and foremost, while LIV Golf succeeded in luring over some of the biggest names in golf—Phil Mickelson, Bryson DeChambeau, Brooks Koepka, Cam Smith, and Dustin Johnson, to name just a few—with promises of generous signing bonuses and fewer tournaments, each with guaranteed money for contestants, the breakaway tour failed to deliver on its professed goal of bringing excitement and dynamism to an all-too-frequently stodgy viewing experience. And its actual tweaks to the game were about as limp as its first hype video, which was narrated by a confused-sounding Dennis Quaid.
LIV events involved some sort of hazily explained team format, consisted of 54 holes rather than the PGA’s 72, and featured ostensibly exciting on-course elements such as “music being blasted out of speakers on the tee box” and “LIV Golfers being allowed to play in shorts.” Those aren’t exactly compelling visions of golf modernization, especially in the era of MLB’s pitch clock and the NBA G-League’s experimentation with the Elam Ending. Its first tournaments were streamed on YouTube; it later found a television broadcast partner with The CW, whose current prime-time programming includes Whose Line Is It Anyway? and reruns of FBOY Island. There’s very little evidence that people actually enjoy LIV’s brand of pro golf: It stopped reporting its TV ratings in May, and demand was so low at last year’s LIV event at Trump Bedminster that tickets were selling for a dollar on StubHub.
LIV Golf certainly succeeded in one very specific way, though: People talked about LIV Golf, if only to discuss the breathtaking hypocrisy around its players openly accepting oodles of money from a regime known for openly attempting to paper over its well-documented human rights abuses (including the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi) through “sportswashing” initiatives, such as its LIV investment. The PGA had emerged as the clear protagonist in the public eye, despite its own history of secrecy and shady dealings. We’re talking about a professional sports organization whose biggest annual event, The Masters, is played on a course that didn’t admit a Black member until 1990 or a woman member until 2012. Many of its tournament sponsors do business with Saudi Arabia. In 2022, it allowed a member of its senior-level affiliate Champions Tour to continue competing in tournaments after his partner reported him to the PGA for domestic violence. So, the LIV controversy—aided as it was by Donald Trump, a vocal LIV supporter who allows its events to be played on his courses—ensured that these conversations would get shunted to the side.
And so, it seemed that the most likely outcome of the LIV Golf experience was that it would simply keep fumbling toward what felt like its best possible outcome: a close but usually second-rate competitor, the WCW to the PGA Tour’s WWF, chugging along until it ran out of steam. And maybe that would have happened, except, for, well, we don’t exactly know. This announcement has truly come out of nowhere, taking even PGA players by surprise and leaving observers feeling like Yasir al-Rumayyan of the Public Investment Fund and PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan got together in secret and casually decided the future of the entire sport.
If you were pressed to come up with a plausible explanation for all this, though, you could do worse than following the money. The PGA Tour and LIV Golf have been involved in a pair of dueling lawsuits for the better part of the past year—it truly doesn’t matter over what—and because both parties have the money for great lawyers, the cases ran the risk of becoming perpetual stalemates. Perhaps the PGA Tour’s hope was that unflattering information about defectors to LIV would continue to trickle from court documents into the press, and its former players would be shamed into rejoining the PGA while LIV shrunk into irrelevance. The best-case scenario for LIV, meanwhile, was that its cast of golfers, having already demonstrated a conspicuous lack of shame by joining LIV Golf in the first place, would hold solid while it bled the deep-pocketed PGA dry, thanks to the power of its own Mariana-Trench-depth pockets. Given that the PGA had already upped its own purses in an attempt to keep the troops in line, such a game of financial chicken was certainly tilted in LIV’s favor.
So what happens now? Well, nothing initially. The deal still has to pass muster with various regulatory entities—the writer Matt Stoller, who studies monopolies, called it “comically illegal” in a Substack post—as well as the PGA’s board, which includes the decidedly anti-LIV Rory McIlroy. For his part, McIlroy may view the consolidation as an inevitability. “At least it means the litigation goes away,” he said at a press conference prior to this weekend’s RBC Open, while tepidly defending the deal.
Assuming it does go through, professional golf may very well look different from how it does now. Presumably, the exiled LIV players will be welcomed back into the fold, or at least be free to float between the tours. Maybe the LIV events will one day be folded into the Tour’s tournament schedule, existing as their own category of event, or scrapped altogether due to the toxicity of the LIV brand. There are, however, a couple of things we can be sure of: If this thing happens, we’re going to be in for a lot more awkward videos of professional golfers talking about 9/11, and we won’t be hearing “Lose Yourself” being blasted at Augusta National anytime soon.
Drew Millard is the author of How Golf Can Save Your Life. His work has appeared in Vice, GQ, The Nation, The Believer, McSweeney’s, and the New York Times Magazine.