PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan spent more than an hour explaining to players Tuesday afternoon why he changed his mind about taking Saudi funds in a surprise collaboration, saying it ultimately was for their benefit.
And to think it was nearly a year ago to the day that Saudi-funded LIV Golf teed off in its inaugural event as a rival and a threat, flush with defectors from golf’s top circuit.
A merger, it seemed, wasn’t in the cards. But on Tuesday, professionals from both tours were caught off guard by news that their worlds would collide — that the PGA Tour, European tour and LIV Golf were merging.
“As time went on, circumstances changed,” Monahan said in a conference call after the meeting. “I don’t think it was right or sustainable to have this tension in our sport.
“I recognize everything I’ve said in the past. I recognize people will call me a hypocrite. Any time I’ve said anything, I’ve said it with the information I had, and I said it with someone trying to compete with our tour and our players.”
Before Monahan could send a memo to players, a news outlet broke the embargoed announcement that the tours were merging commercial interests. Some players learned about it on social media.
And that’s where they responded.
“Nothing like finding out through Twitter that we’re merging with a tour that we said we’d never do that with,” Mackenzie Hughes tweeted.
“And everyone thought yesterday was the longest day in golf,” tweeted Collin Morikawa, who also said he found out about the merger on Twitter.
Justin Thomas was in the middle of a practice session when he said his phone lit up with notifications. Tyrell Hatton simply tweeted an NFL blindside hit. Sepp Straka felt that was an accurate depiction.
Not getting in on the social media reaction was Rory McIlroy, who spent the past year vehemently defending the PGA Tour against LIV before going quiet on the topic in recent weeks. McIlroy is the defending champion at the Canadian Open.
Monahan described Tuesday’s meeting as “intense, certainly heated.”
“I’m not surprised,” he said. “This is an awful lot to ask them to digest. This is a significant change for us. As I’m trying to explain as we go forward, this ultimately was a decision in the best interests of all at the PGA Tour.”
Phil Mickelson, among the loudest LIV defectors, called Tuesday “an awesome day.”
It wasn’t immediately clear how the unification would work going forward.
Players who switched to LIV inked lucrative signing bonuses — in Mickelson’s case, a reported $200 million — yet now might have a way to rejoin players who opted not to take money from a league that some have called a Saudi Arabia “sportswashing” initiative.
Michael Kim jokingly tweeted that he might live stream the meeting. But he added: “Very curious how many people knew this deal was happening. About 5-7 people? Player run organization right?”
Monahan said he was operating under a pledge of confidentiality and the circle of trust had to shrink.
He relied mainly on two board members, New York attorney Ed Herlihy (the PGA Tour board chairman) and financier Jimmy Dunne, who lost colleagues and friends from Sandler O’Neill when terrorists flew a jetliner into the south tower of the World Trade Center.
Still to come are details on how this venture will work and what it means to the tour — players that want to return, what consequences they face for defecting, and whether LIV Golf will even exist next year. Monahan said an evaluation would determine how to integrate team golf.
“I don’t want to make any statements or make any predictions,” he said. “But what is in place is a commitment to make a good-faith effort to look at team golf and the role it can play.”
PGA Tour member Byeong Hun An joked that Hideki Matsuyama “could have bought spirit airlines” if he had signed with LIV (Matsuyama was seen boarding a Spirit Airlines flight after the Memorial in Ohio). He also said his guess is “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 (players) who defended the tour for last two years,” he tweeted.
Dylan Wu, a 26-year-old second-year player on the PGA Tour, called the merger “hypocrisy.”
“Tell me why Jay Monahan basically got a promotion to CEO of all golf in the world by going back on everything he said the past 2 years,” Wu tweeted, adding: “I guess money always wins.”
AP Sports Writer Ryan Kryska in New York contributed to this report.