PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan accepted that he will be labelled a hypocrite and admitted players who turned down millions to join LIV Golf could be compensated following the shock declaration of peace in golf’s civil war.
Players reacted with surprise and a sense of betrayal at the news that the PGA Tour and DP World Tour were merging their commercial operations with the Saudi-backed LIV Golf series.
The stunning announcement came after 12 months of unprecedented disruption in the men’s professional game following the launch of LIV, which held its first event from June 9-11 in 2022 in Hertfordshire.
Monahan faced calls to resign at a players’ meeting which he described as “intense and certainly heated”, with his previous comments that anyone who took LIV money would never play on the PGA Tour again cited and greeted with applause, according to Tour Advisory Council member Johnson Wagner.
“I recognise that people are going to call me a hypocrite,” Monahan said.
“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.
“It probably didn’t seem this way to them but as I looked to those players that have been loyal to the PGA Tour, I’m confident they made the right decision.
“They have helped re-architect the future of the PGA Tour, they have moved us to a more competitive model. We have significantly invested in our business in 2023, we’re going to do so in ’24.”
Asked if the likes of Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy would be compensated for turning down lucrative offers to remain with the PGA Tour, or whether those who took payouts to join LIV Golf would have to pay that money back, Monahan said: “I think those are all the serious conversations that we’re going to have.
“Ultimately everything needs to be considered. Ultimately what you’re talking about is an equalisation over time and I think that’s a fair and reasonable concept.”
Monahan said he could not envisage a scenario where LIV events would run concurrently with PGA Tour events from next season and said the deal enabled his organisation to take a competitor “off the board… and for us to be able to control the direction going forward”.
DP World Tour chief executive Keith Pelley had earlier described the deal as a “great victory for global golf”.
However, the manager of one high-profile DP World Tour member told the PA news agency that players were aggrieved at the lack of communication and “extremely shocked” by the decision given the long suspensions and heavy fines handed out to rebel players.
In April, the DP World Tour won its legal battle against 12 players who committed “serious breaches” of its code of behaviour by playing in LIV Golf events without permission.
The subsequent increased fines and suspensions prompted Lee Westwood, Sergio Garcia, Ian Poulter and Henrik Stenson to resign their memberships and become ineligible for the Ryder Cup, where Stenson had been due to captain the European team.
Those players could now return, with the tours pledging to establish a “fair and objective process” to re-apply for membership, although Pelley confirmed they would need to pay their fines and serve their suspensions before being considered for reinstatement.
In response to accusations that the deal amounted to what Amnesty International described as part of the “onward march of Saudi sportswashing”, Pelley said: “We brought the Saudis into the game in 2018 and we had no challenge with what they were trying to do (with the Saudi International).
“The challenge that we had is that they were playing outside the ecosystem (with LIV) and outside of the global professional golf infrastructure, and now they are playing inside it, and I’m energised by the fact that the PIF (Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund) and the PGA Tour will both be working closely with the DP World Tour to grow our tour and grow it for our members.”
The announcement will lead to a “mutually-agreed” end to all pending litigation between the various organisations.
An anti-trust lawsuit against the PGA Tour was originally filed last August by 11 golfers before being taken over by LIV Golf. It was due to be heard in 2024.
PIF will initially be the exclusive investor in the new entity and have the right of first refusal on any capital to be invested.
The PGA Tour will appoint a majority of the board and hold a majority voting interest in the combined entity, with PIF’s governor Yasir Al-Rumayyan the chairman and Monahan the CEO.
Pelley said he had “every confidence” that the DP World Tour would have a seat on the full board when it is finalised but admitted it was too early to tell exactly what the merger would mean for its 2024 schedule, due to be released next month.
Reaction to the merger from rank-and-file members of the PGA Tour was not positive, with Wesley Bryan writing on Twitter: “I feel betrayed, and will not be able to trust anyone within the corporate structure of the PGA TOUR for a very long time.”
Former BMW PGA Championship winner Ben An wrote: “Win-win for both tours but it’s a big lose for who defended the tour for last two years.”
McIlroy and Woods emerged as the biggest defenders of the PGA Tour and both had called for LIV CEO Greg Norman to step down before there could be any chance of peace talks.
Norman’s name was conspicuously absent from the announcement of the merger, while defending champion McIlroy is due to speak to the media on Wednesday ahead of the RBC Canadian Open.
Norman later wrote on Twitter: “A great day in global golf for players and fans alike. The journey continues!!”