The PGA Tour and LIV Golf are engaging in an arms race for the future of golf, with the former getting a $3 billion injection of cash from the Strategic Sports Group this week, while the latter is content luring defectors with massive contracts. The endgame for the PGA Tour? Try to keep golf as close to its traditional self as possible.
The PGA Tour’s deal with SSG will fund tournament purses for the next five years, give players $1.5 billion in equity shares, as well as seven seats on the 13-member board, and a fancy new name: PGA Tour Enterprises. The deal is a temporary life preserver for Tour commissioner Jay Monahan, and another shrewd investment by noted sports franchise owners John Henry and Tom Werner (Fenway Sports Group), Mark Attanasio (Milwaukee Brewers), Steve Cohen (New York Mets), Wyc Grousbeck (Boston Celtics), Arthur Blank (Atlanta Falcons) and Tom Ricketts (Chicago Cubs).
The Fenway Sports Group, which owns the Boston Red Sox, Liverpool FC and the Pittsburgh Penguins, headed up the deal and adds another piece to its growing portfolio. For the other billionaires involved, this is a no-brainer. Instead of buying Park Place or Pennsylvania Avenue, they got an entire side of the Monopoly board at a solid value.
Apparently, adding investors will help with the regulatory scrutiny that the PGA Tour-LIV merger is receiving, yet I’m not smart enough to know how more money/power allays that fear. (My guess is that more cash makes it easier to bribe government officials, but don’t quote me on that.)
This move likely won’t expedite the pending deal, and if anything, may prolong the talks that were supposed to end on Dec. 31. Had the PGA Tour been more proactive when these defections began, $3 billion might’ve been enough to maintain its autonomy. The increased prize money and equity are certainly nice, but it’s too little too late as Jon Rahm, Dustin Johnson, Phil Mickelson, Cameron Smith, Brooks Koepka and Bryson Dechambeau received LIV contracts worth $950 million in all. And that’s before factoring in prize money.
The PIF spent almost $1 billion on six players. While they’re six of the biggest names in golf, I doubt the top six PGA Tour players will receive two-thirds of the $1.5 billion in equity sharing. The Tour did say the allotments will be weighted based on ranking, yet with the ambiguity surrounding who is and is not a member — the top 125 golfers in the FedEx standings are given a card for the following season — divvying up the equity will be interesting.
Speaking of which, Tiger Woods finished 228th in the FedEx Cup rankings a season ago, so in theory, he will get fractions of pennies compared with what he could’ve made off a jump to LIV. Not that Woods cares or needs the money, but a player’s value isn’t always on par with his ranking. The last season Mickelson qualified for the FedEx rankings (2020-21), he finished 70th. Only Rahm ($300-plus million) received more blood from the Saudis than Lefty ($200 million).
Of Monahan’s many mistakes, thinking he can skew the bargaining process by adding a bunch of billionaire backers — when he’s negotiating with people who possess an almost bottomless fund — might be the dumbest. The only high ground the PGA Tour had was moral, and that vanished once they opted to merge.
Making rich people even richer isn’t going to win the PGA Tour any brownie points. Pissing off the Saudis might regain some respect — up until the Tour is so anemic it needs a blood transfusion. The longer golf fans’ favorite players are operating in obscurity (aka on the CW) and not teeing it up at their second- and third-favorite stops, the higher the risk of losing casual viewers and the revenue they provide.
Sure, we all love it when defectors invade the majors and everybody side-eyes everybody, but those tournaments in between are quickly becoming irrelevant. Longtime sponsors like Wells Fargo, Honda and Farmers Insurance have already severed ties. It’s time for Monahan and the PGA Tour to face their fate because these last grasp Succession-esque ploys only work if Logan Roy is dead, and the Saudis aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.