Rory McIlroy speaks with the media in Canada
Rory McIlroy speaks with the media in Canada

PGA Tour and Saudi Arabia PIF merger reaction: Ben Coley's analysis of major golf news

What a dark day for professional golf. The first domino has fallen, the rest will follow. Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund, best simplified not by the acronym PIF but by the initialism MBS, is for now a minority partner alongside the two main men's tours. In time, it will add the LPGA Tour, the LET and others too. Many professionals will make more money because of it, but at what cost?

That's no easy question to answer; we simply do not know. What's clear is that Saudi Arabia's ambition is not only to use sport to wash its reputation, but to become the dictator of professional sports as a whole. Football, golf, boxing and Formula One have each taken steps in its direction, golf's now the most significant, its own reputation further diminished as a consequence. Tennis and more will surely follow.

One can argue that this secures the future in the way that money is seen to do. There is truth in that. Saudi Arabia's vast wealth may not last forever, but it is not running out anytime soon. Those of us naive enough to believe that the PGA Tour would hold firm against it were wrong; those of us who believed the lies we were told have been made to look foolish. Against a backdrop of stale viewing figures and dwindling sponsors, leadership chose to yield.

The man at the very top of the pile, so plainly out of his depth, is Jay Monahan. The emptiest of suits can at least pad out his tailoring with the fistfuls of dollars he will make. Perhaps in signing this deal he did what needed to be done. Less necessary and more revealing was his willingness to use the 9/11 Families United organisation as Saudi Arabia will now use him: a pawn to be dispensed with when the noise gets quieter. How shameful.

Ben Coley on golf's sale to Saudi Arabia

Monahan's time will soon be up, just as Greg Norman's may be. Norman has at least performed his role, the fake usurper whose anger towards the PGA Tour and absolute faith in every word he says made for a Matsson Pain Sponge, Succession's prescience likely to be played out again and again. He'll get paid and he'll celebrate like he was right all along, even when it becomes clear that LIV Golf was just another dispensable means to an end.

At least Norman won't have to backtrack on what it is about LIV Golf he so enjoys. Those players who left for the money but hubristically tried to pass off greed as ambition will return to golf as they once knew it, those with any ambition or the necessary skill left that is. As recently as Monday, Phil Mickelson made the laughable claim that events like the Genesis Invitational were never as strong as the ones he's now playing. Another volte face awaits, but when you've so many faces what's the trouble.

History, I hope, will remember those who had no choice. Rory McIlroy never even got as far as a number with LIV Golf and made clear his hatred for that product, such as it is. He drew his own lines, as all of us do, and never are they perfect, but at least his were principled. It's clear that he sees worth in the history of his sport and those who came before him; that he is driven not by money first and foremost, even if he feels entitled to be made rich by his brilliance.

We are yet to hear from Tiger Woods, whose TGL product is due to launch in January, McIlroy as partner. Its future is another unknown but if we are to believe Norman's claim that Woods turned down close to a billion dollars to become the face of LIV Golf, let us add that to the complex story of the finest golfer of his generation, weigh it with the other pros and cons attached to the biggest name in the sport. If only he were healthy enough to ride to the rescue of the game which has shaped his entire life.

By now we've heard all of the whataboutisms concerning all manner of life's conflicts. Each of us will make compromises and, to those in favour of letting oil money drown sport, all of those compromises are made equivalents. This is the sort of reductive thinking most are able to leave behind in adolescence, but on Elon Musk's twitter it still prevails. China this, arms deals that, as if to say those of us discussing the current state of golf don't have thoughts which extend beyond it.

It's all so very wearying to have to spell out, but let's try: it's not good for any sport to be ruled by any nation state, whose ambitions for it will always be flexible and never grounded in a love for the game itself, whatever that game may be. That golf is to be governed by one so callous and so cruel makes this something close to the worst-case scenario.

Rory McIlroy feels like 'a sacrificial lamb' after PGA Tour-LIV Golf merger | Golf Channel

So where does it leave us? For now, in limbo, the PGA Tour yet to reveal its 2024 schedule and Monahan hinting that LIV Golf may either cease to exist, or at least stop competing directly with what is indisputably now the main and best product. In the immediate future, it seems little will change. Tuesday's hurried announcement didn't just catch everyone who knew nothing of it off guard, it came without semblance of a long-term vision from those in the know.

The DP World Tour has at least clarified that we shouldn't expect Ryder Cup returns for Paul Casey or Sergio Garcia, nor Ian Poulter or Lee Westwood, this September. With respect to their achievements, neither LIV, PIF nor MBS ought to matter where the latter duo are concerned; their brilliant Ryder Cup careers came to a natural end in 2021. Perhaps captaincy is back on the table, but Garcia at least ought to be made to offer a better apology than he's previously managed, and Westwood's smugness might need to dissolve.

As for the knowing taps on the nose, the money always wins my friend, I reject that view. It might win in boardrooms, but that is not where the heart of sport beats. Three weeks from now I'll play three rounds of golf with my friends. We'll drink, we'll laugh and we'll compete for our own green jacket, bought in a Nairobi market and now carried proudly to wherever we go next. Not a penny will change hands.

Then I'll prepare for the Open Championship and its modest, meaningful jug. Can money buy that? Perhaps one day. Forgive me if I lack trust in golfing institutions, even those as wedded to the sport's history as the R&A. That's what Monahan and his entourage have taken, along with the money: the good will of those who fell in love with this sport because it meant something that you couldn't measure by counting higher and higher.

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