Dylan Wu sums it up: “I think money always wins,” tweeted the 26-year-old golf pro from the USA. Wu accused the PGA Tour of “hypocrisy”. Their boss Jay Monahan “revoked everything he said in the last two years”. The PGA Tour previously announced that it would form a new “commercial entity” with the Saudi state fund PIF (Public Investment Fund) and the DP World Tour – the former European Tour – “to unite the sport of golf”.
This is a 180-degree turn from the established PGA Tour. It is the umbrella organization for the most important golf tournaments in the world and was unrivaled until LIV was founded. Since 2021, the PGA Tour has been on a confrontational course with the new PIF-funded LIV golf series. In June 2022, for example, the organization excluded 17 professionals who started on the LIV tour from the tournaments in their own series until further notice. Among them were US star Phil Mickelson and Germany’s flagship golfer Martin Kaymer.
The circumstances have just changed, said PGA boss Monahan now succinctly and even admitted: “I know what I have said in the past and what positions I have taken before. I am aware that I will be called a hypocrite. “
One of the largest sovereign wealth funds in the world
The circumstances that have now changed are of a financial nature: the Saudi state fund announced that it would “invest capital in the new company in order to promote its growth and success”. The amount was not disclosed. But apparently it’s high enough to change Monahan’s mind. The PIF is not short of money. The fund manages total assets of more than 600 billion US dollars (around 560 billion euros).
The PIF chairman is the Saudi Crown Prince and Prime Minister Mohammed Bin Salman, who, in his own words, wants to use his “Vision 2030” development plan to modernize the country and make it less dependent on oil revenues. Investments in national and international sport play a major role, not just in golf. The PIF owns the majority shares in the four top football clubs in the country and enables them to make spectacular purchases.
Ronaldo and Benzema signed
The five-time world footballer Cristiano Ronaldo switched to the Al-Nassr club in early 2023, where the Portuguese is said to earn around 200 million euros a year. France’s star striker Karim Benzema, who has hitherto successfully scored goals for Real Madrid, is also ending his career with royal reward in Saudi Arabia: with the PIF club Al-Ittihad.
And the Al-Hilal club, also financed by the state fund, is said to be offering seven-time world footballer Lionel Messi an annual salary of around 400 billion euros if he signs on there after leaving Paris St. Germain. In 2021, the PIF also took over the majority stake in English Premier League club Newcastle United. With former world and European champion Sergio Ramos, another former PSG player could also appear in Saudi Arabia soon.
Persistent human rights violations
Human rights organizations have long accused Saudi Arabia of investing in sport solely to distract from the ongoing human rights abuses in the country. The now announced golf deal is “simply further evidence of the advance of Saudi sports washing,” said Amnesty International. In its last annual report, the human rights organization also accused Saudi Arabia of serious human rights violations, including unfair trials, torture in prisons, mass executions and discrimination against women, which is even enshrined in law.
Survivors of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack and families of the victims also condemned the deal between the PGA and the PIF. Those affected were “shocked and deeply offended,” the organization “9/11 Families Unitedknow. “Saudi agents played a role in the 9/11 terrorist attacks and now fund all of professional golf.”
Exorbitant entry bonuses
With the financial backing from Saudi Arabia, the organizers of the new LIV tournament series were able to throw money around. They attracted golf pros with very high prize money, which was well above that of the PGA Tour, as well as sometimes exorbitant entry bonuses.
Phil Mickelson is said to have received 200 million dollars (185 million euros) for his move to the LIV series. Greg Norman, once a world-class golfer from Australia and now the head of the LIV organizer, indirectly confirmed that Tiger Woods had even been offered more than 600 million dollars (560 million euros). Woods refused and criticized those who turned their backs on the PGA. The 47-year-old has not yet commented on the current deal between the former opponents.
Donald Trump rubs his hands
In contrast to Donald Trump: The ex-US President, who wants to run again for the Republicans in the 2024 election, described the agreement as a “big, beautiful and glamorous deal”. As early as the summer of 2022, Trump had advised professionals to take action in view of the “inevitable merger”: “If you don’t accept the money now, you won’t get anything after the merger and you’ll only say how smart the original signatories were.”
The Trump clan has long had close ties to Saudi Arabia, particularly through Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and former presidential adviser. In addition, LIV Golf boss Norman is, in his own words, a friend of Trump. The 2023 LIV Series includes three tournaments at golf courses owned by the former US President. Perhaps the new deal will also cause a thaw in the sometimes strained relationship between the PGA and Trump. In these circles, friendship begins with money.