And just like that the guns stopped firing. Peace has broken out in golf after a year that was more bitter, toxic and fractious than almost anything in recent sporting history.
In a shock statement at 3pm on Tuesday, the PGA Tour and DP World Tour announced across 1,030 jolting words that they were joining hands with LIV in the most unlikely of unions.
Such was the level of surprise that even Greg Norman, LIV’s disruptor-in-chief, is understood to have been in the dark until a few minutes before his bosses in Riyadh authorised the release. His future is one of many unanswered questions as this bizarre and inconceivable marriage begins its fumble for functionality.
To go by the words of Keith Pelley, chief executive of the DP World Tour: ‘It is too early to tell what it means.’ What is known between a multitude of vagaries is that all the tours will remain entities in their own right, so not a fuller amalgamation of tournaments, as has been speculated.
Within that is the possibility of a team event between the circuits, which is privately said to be gaining traction, but the main area of collaboration for the time-being noses on what has been dryly conveyed as an over-arching commercial hub filled by the Saudi Arabian money tap.
Greg Norman was in the dark over the shock LIV merger until just minutes before the release
The process that saw the Saudis handed the keys to golf accelerated over the past month
Rory McIlroy is thought to have rejected a package worth over £400m to join the breakaway
While that sounds a little woolly and hazy, the clearest abbreviation is that a truce convenient to all parties has been purchased by the Kingdom, and with it they have effectively seized the keys to the front door of golf, as well as the back. In the space of a year, they pretty much took over an entire sport.
For now, there will be a tremor of relief that the muggings and litigation have been brought to an end. But in their place are all manner of other mysteries, not least of which is how this will be sold to those players who chose to forego massive offers from LIV, only to then see this merger and the freedoms it will soon afford to the rebels.
They are freedoms that mean they can have their cake, eat it and then cross back over to their former tours to eat more cake.
For instance, what will Rory McIlroy make of it? It is understood he rejected a package worth in excess of £400million to join the Saudi breakaway bunch and ever since has been the single most vocal critic of Norman and his circuit.
It was always telling that while McIlroy was leading that fight, PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan was far less visible, evidently happy for the world No 3 to do the heavy lifting for him.
That extended beyond the Northern Irishman’s public comments, because he was also the key cog behind the scenes when it came to the Tour’s response and subsequent restructure, which in one case meant a seven-hour meeting in Florida.
The exhaustion of those efforts contributed to McIlroy missing the cut at the Players Championship, setting the tone for what has so far been a disappointing season.
By his own admission, the civil war has had a profound impact on his game, with the apparent kicker that those he was sweating for have got into bed with the enemy.
Amanda Staveley, a key ally of Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, was a peace broker
Staveley (pictured with Yasir Al-Rumayyan) has been heavily involved for a number of months
Mail Sport’s Riath Al-Samarrai revealed Staveley’s involvement as a peace broker last month
None of which should assume McIlroy played no role in the events leading up to the announcement. Far from it, actually. While Pelley and Monahan have refused to divulge any of the more tangible details of the journey from loathing hatred to partnerships, Mail Sport has been told the process accelerated enormously in the past month.
It was during that period when we exclusively revealed a truce was in the works via LIV’s moves to enlist a peace broker in the form of Newcastle United director Amanda Staveley who is, of course, a key ally of Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund.
She travelled to the Masters in April and sources say she has been ‘heavily involved for months’ alongside the prominent former banker Michael Klein.
It is understood she met McIlroy prior to Christmas, so it is likely for a numbers of reasons that he is one of the few golfers who had an inkling this was coming. He will be speaking on Wednesday ahead of his defence of the Canadian Open and his thoughts ought to be very interesting.
The symmetry there is that he will be talking exactly a year after one of the most dramatic press conferences his sport has ever known. It was 12 months ago this week that the LIV defectors rocked up at Centurion in St Albans for their inaugural event and were promptly blasted with a range of questions around their complicity in Saudi sportswashing.
Among it all, Ian Poulter and Lee Westwood were asked if there was anywhere they would not play, such as Vladimir Putin’s Russia or North Korea. A moderator, once of the Bush White House, was then chased from a room while being asked if he accepted blood money.
PGA AND LIV IN SHOCK MERGER
Ian Poulter and other LIV defectors were questioned over their complicity in sportswashing
Within minutes of the opening tee shots that week, the PGA Tour would go on to issue statements suspending all those who had crossed over.
The DP World Tour did likewise and in the vicious fallout we have seen friendships shredded – McIlroy and Sergio Garcia were the most notable protagonists in that regard.
There have also been nine-figure lawsuits and counter-suits, the chaos of Henrik Stenson’s captaincy abdication from the European Ryder Cup team, protests from 9/11 survivor groups and character assassinations, in a sport that previously was more conditioned to rows about anchored putting and the right way to deal with loose impediments.
At some stage along the way, Monahan himself played the 9/11 card, with the pious indignation of a leader who ran with the popular idea that dealing with the Saudis was morally wrong.
If there was any clarity on a mad Tuesday, it came from confirmation of what we already knew: this was never about the origins of the money. Only its distribution.
LIV GOLF TIMELINE
- June 9, 2022: LIV Golf held its inaugural event in England, prompting the PGA Tour to suspend all members who competed in the rival event.
- August of 2022: Phil Mickelson and 10 other LIV Golfers filed an antitrust lawsuit against the PGA Tour in response to their suspensions. The plaintiffs accused the PGA of using an unlawful monopoly to stifle trade.
- October of 2022: The PGA files its countersuit against the Saudi Public Investment Fund, which funds LIV Golf. PIF governor Yasir Al-Rumayyan is named in the lawsuit.
- January of 2023: The PGA files a motion, claiming the PIF interfered with its contracts by luring players to join the upstart league.
- June of 2023: LIV Golf and the PGA Tour decide to merge, bringing an end to their competing lawsuits.