The playing of a Presidents Cup, for so long the Ryder Cup’s poor relation, in Saudi Arabia now has to be on the table. The deal struck between LIV Golf and one-time rivals, the PGA and DP World Tours, is all about bang for buck.
The Saudis will believe they have saved face by joining forces with golf’s establishment – there will be no more potentially embarrassing litigation – but their desperate bid to earn legitimacy via sport also means this deal has to work two ways.
The Presidents Cup, a PGA Tour entity which involves the rest of the world except Europe against the United States, is an example of potentially useful collateral. So too is LIV’s controversial commissioner, Greg Norman.
The Australian’s long-time and deep-rooted resentment towards the PGA Tour is such that his involvement in what has been portrayed as golf’s brave new dawn is inconceivable. Whether next week, next month or quietly over a longer period of time, Norman will have to step back from his integral role in the disruption plan.
Long before a “merger” that was only weeks in the making, the PGA Tour had made it plain there was no chance of amicable discussion while Norman was in the room. When it surprisingly transpired, he was not. Norman is not the only one attached to LIV who will surely soon discover services are no longer required.
Yasir Al-Rumayyan, the governor of Saudi’s public investment fund, insists the controversial and multi-billion dollar deal “makes financial sense to us”. Pushed on whether he anticipates significant monetary return, Al-Rumayyan added: “That’s the whole idea.”
This is of course a departure from the LIV we have come to recognise. An aggregate of hundreds of millions of dollars has been thrown at players to join the rebel tour. Pat Perez, who has posted one top 10 in 27 major starts, played in eight LIV tournaments during 2022 and collected $8m for his efforts. Perez was not the only one who could not believe his luck.
A team concept, pushed so strongly as LIV’s supposed unique selling point, has failed to attract brand sponsors. As a commercial enterprise, LIV has made about as much sense as whacking a six-inch putt with a driver.
Al-Yumayyan will undoubtedly argue to his master, Mohammed bin Salman, that joining forces with the PGA and DP World Tours justifies a trivial outlay in the grand scheme of all things Saudi, but the truth is the LIV model in isolation was heading nowhere fast. All Al-Rumayyan managed to do was convince Jay Monahan of the PGA Tour that further sums would be better spent on collaboration than in propping up LIV and funding legal battles.
The 14-strong LIV schedule which will play out in the coming months is almost certain never to be seen again. A stop in Valderrama clashes with the PGA Tour’s Rocket Mortgage Classic. The following week, LIV returns to the Centurion Club as the PGA Tour hosts the John Deere Classic.
The DP World Tour stages the British Masters and Made in Himmerland tournament on the same weeks. In a time of collaboration, there is no point in LIV trying to grab eyeballs at the same time as their new bedfellows. Especially, that is, because a key objection of the DP World and PGA Tours to LIV’s existence was that they wandered into European and North American territory.
“I can’t see that scenario,” said Monahan of competitions running concurrently, including with LIV branding. “But I haven’t gotten into the full empirical evaluation of LIV that I’m going to do to be able to comment on that. But I don’t see that scenario, no.”
The DP World Tour – formerly the European Tour – planned to release a schedule for next year at next month’s Scottish Open. “We are going to have some conversations about some of the changes that we’re making in 2024,” said the chief executive, Keith Pelley. “We would like to get, by the Scottish Open, at least a framework out. But these are live conversations.”
Quite naturally, now there is scope to do it, the DP World Tour wants to increase the possibility of high-profile LIV golfers enhancing fields.
It would be a surprise if the Saudi Public Investment Fund (PIF) agreed to ditch LIV entirely. That would, after all, undermine consistent proclamations about its validity. LIV windows will have to be found, most likely right at the end or beginning of years, which do not tread on toes. Location is also important: Adelaide, for example, delivered success for LIV. Saudi itself is an obvious port of call.
Monahan has promised to take a closer look at team golf without offering any further detail. It must also be noted that while some LIV players will grasp the opportunity to step back towards traditional tours from 2024 – which will involve varying degrees of difficulty – that avenue will not appeal to all.
Ian Poulter, Sergio García, Lee Westwood and Henrik Stenson, for example, resigned from the DP World Tour. Without swallowing pride, these golfers will be left with precious little playing opportunity unless LIV continues even in modest form. Many among the LIV rebels have contractual deals.
Monahan used the existence of a “framework agreement” as justification not to inform his two most high-profile allies, Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods, of the PIF deal until immediately before it reached the public domain. Yet over the most crucial negotiation of his career, Monahan had to establish fundamentals. LIV in present format is mutually pointless.