TORONTO, June 6 (Reuters) – PGA Tour players were blindsided by news of a merger with the rebel Saudi-backed LIV Golf on Tuesday that left them, fans and politicians demanding answers.
A bitter feud that had divided the sport for almost two years ended without warning when the PGA Tour, DP World Tour and LIV Golf announced a shock agreement to merge and form one unified commercial entity.
The bombshell announcement prompted golfers at the Canadian Open to call a players’ meeting on Tuesday to get details of a deal that many only learned about on Twitter or a later email.
“I’m guessing the liv teams were struggling to get sponsors and PGA tour couldn’t turn down the money. Win-win for both tours but it’s a big lose for who defended the tour for last two years,” tweeted South Korean An Byeong-hun.
PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan described a closed door meeting on Tuesday with players who had stayed loyal to the Tour as “intense” and “heated.”
“This is an awful lot to ask them to digest, and this is a significant change for us in the direction that we were going down,” he told reporters.
But he insisted that the players who rejected millions of dollars to join the Saudi venture will see that they had made the right financial decision.
“They’re going to win,” he said.
“They’re going to continue to grow, and we’re in a control position on their behalf as we move forward in this structure.”
Some players at the meeting called on Monahan to resign, PGA Tour member Johnson Wagner told Golf Channel.
Rickie Fowler, Will Zalatoris and Hideki Matsuyama were all reported to have been offered over $100 million to jump to LIV Golf until Monahan pleaded with them to stick with the PGA Tour.
“I think one of the big things will be, moving forward, is how are players re-integrated back into the system,” said Canada’s Adam Hadwin. “If they are. We don’t even know if they will be.
“I mean, so that being one of the big talking points throughout this year and a half from the commissioner about how these guys will never play on the PGA Tour again, it will be interesting.”
Monahan said LIV golfers will be able to reapply for Tour membership in 2024.
Almost exactly a year ago Monahan came to Canada declaring war with LIV Golf, saying players jumping to the breakaway league would be banned from the circuit.
Branding defectors like Hall of Fame golfer Phil Mickelson, former world number one Dustin Johnson, reigning PGA Championship winner Brooks Koepka as free-riders, Monahan declared golfers remaining loyal would never have to apologise for being a member of the PGA Tour.
“I recognize that people are going to call me a hypocrite,” Monahan said.
“Anytime I said anything, I said it with the information that I had at that moment… I accept those criticisms. But circumstances do change.”
The LIV Golf series is bankrolled by the Saudi Arabia Public Investment Fund and critics have accused it of being a sportwashing enterprise for the country to attempt to improve its reputation in the face of criticism of its human rights record.
The fans and politicians also questioned the reasons for the sudden about-face.
“So weird. PGA officials were in my office just months ago talking about how the Saudis’ human rights crimes should disqualify them from having a stake in a major American sport. I guess maybe their concerns weren’t really about human rights?” tweeted Democratic U.S. Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut.
Golf fans took to social media, many blasting the PGA Tour for its hypocrisy.
The 9/11 Families United group, which has protested at LIV Golf events in the United States over Saudi Arabia’s connection to the attacks on the Twin Towers, issued a scathing statement accusing the PGA Tour of using them when it suited their cause only to turn their backs on them and aiding the Kingdom’s sportwashing efforts.
Fifteen of the 19 hijackers involved in the 9/11 attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people were from Saudi Arabia. A U.S. government commission found no evidence that Saudi Arabia directly funded al Qaeda.
“PGA commissioner Jay Monahan co-opted the 9/11 community last year in the PGA’s unequivocal agreement that the Saudi LIV project was nothing more than sportswashing of Saudi Arabia’s reputation,” said 9/11 Families United Chair Terry Strada.
“But now the PGA and Monahan appear to have become just more paid Saudi shills, taking billions of dollars to cleanse the Saudi reputation…”
Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto, Additional reporting by Rory Carroll in Los Angeles. Editing by Toby Davis and Sonali Paul
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