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Putting for dollars

Politics may make strange bedfellows, but golf is still the world’s boardroom. Both of those truisms and many others converged yesterday in one of the most surprising mergers in sports history. Expected by seemingly no one, the PGA Golf Tour announced a merger with hated upstart rival LIV Golf, the sport’s new tour funded by the Saudi government that’s turned golfers against each other as they choose sides and loyalties that extend far beyond the fairway. Also included in the European Tour, consolidating golf’s most well-known professional tours into one previously unimaginable supergroup.

It is impossible to overstate just how much PGA Tour management and many of its pro golfers publicly displayed their hatred for LIV, which offered exorbitant prize purses for golfers who joined their ranks. Top PGA stars like Rory McElroy, who turned down generational wealth from LIV, talked openly about Saudi blood money and introduced words like sports-washing into the public vernacular. The PGA stood proudly on moral high ground and demonized LIV’s apostles, including Phil Mickelson, who made a full heel turn in becoming both the tour’s biggest star and its most vocal, and perhaps obnoxious cheerleader. And to athletes who left the PGA for Saudi money, PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan said not long ago, “as long as I’m commissioner of the PGA Tour, no player that took LIV money will ever play the PGA Tour again.” That is only likely to not be false because it’s nearly impossible to imagine Monahan surviving another week in his job, much less through the merger.

To be honest, the word “merger” is a bit kind. While no one seems to know exactly how this thing is going to work, it does look like there will be one company, called NewCo, that will own all of the PGA Tour’s commercial assets – it’s television rights, sponsorship rights, and everything that makes real money – as well as those of the European Tour. It also owns all of the LIV Tour, including the events themselves. And that company will be led by – wait for it – the same person that oversees the giant Saudi bank account that bankrolls LIV already. So this isn’t so much a merger as it is an acquisition. As far as details of what’s next, no one seems to know. That includes how and when LIV players get back on the PGA Tour, what events look like, will LIV be its own brand, how much will PGA Events pay, ad infinitum. Given the secrecy of the process, I’m guessing it will be some time before we get anything approaching clarity.

One thing on which we have crystal clarity is the overwhelming anger of current players on the PGA Tour. And their anger has shifted from LIV, technically is now their partner, to their own management. In a players meeting right after the announcement was made, the vast majority wanted Monahan out, using words like hypocrite and liar and much worse. And to be clear, anyone who held onto some dated notion that this is a player’s run organization can discard that ideology. From hereto forward, they all answer to the almighty dollar.

It's easy to take shots at the PGA Commissioner, the LIV Tour, and anyone who is making boatloads of money off an oppressive regime. And most all of it is true. It’s also fair to point out that much of the outrage coming from the American public comes from people who would likely make the same decision given the chance. I’d like to ask all those folks the last time they checked their retirement investments to see exactly which companies are helping them make money.

Leaving those points aside, the bigger question here, is what’s next. Hypocrisy aside, the real reason the PGA Tour finally said yes to LIV was because they knew they were eventually going to lose. The Saudi Government, if they wanted to, was going to put the PGA Tour out of business, or at least to the minor leagues. But what if the Saudi’s take interest in baseball, or tennis, or, as we’re already seeing, soccer. Granted, it’s a lot easier to overwhelm a golf tour than the globe’s most popular sport. But just pay attention to who’s in the Middle East instead of Europe to get a sense of intentions and potential. And remember that the Olympics is always in search of a savior, and Saudi Arabia has already made overtures.

In the world of pro sports, money always talks loudest. And its politics make very strange bedfellows.

Keith Strudler is the director of the School of Communication and Media at Montclair State University. You can follow him on twitter at @KeithStrudler

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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