124th U.S. Open

Pinehurst No. 2



Scoreboard Watching

The biggest winners and losers from the PGA Tour-Saudi deal (at least based on what we know now)

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June 07, 2023

News of the PGA Tour-Saudi Arabia Public Investment Fund “partnership” trickled out in different stages on Tuesday. It started as, Well, that’s obviously a mistake. Then came shock, followed by … actually most of us are still stuck on shock.

But even as we struggle to process how this vicious year-plus-long schism between rival golf circuits has resulted in such a seemingly amicable result, sports writers need quick answers in the way of a scoreboard. Hence, our editors provide a first-blush accounting of the deal’s winners and losers, some of which might be contradicted within the hour.

Winner—Saudi Arabia: This is arguably a better outcome than LIV Golf succeeding on its own, for golf’s professional tours embracing the kingdom’s Public Investment Fund as a formal business partner—and thus allowing it into the sport’s political matrix—is exactly the aspiration at the heart of its Vision 2030 plan, a blueprint to help sell the ostracized country to the rest of the world. —Joel Beall

Loser—Idealists: Those who billed this as a moral crusade against LIV and its questionable source of funding were reminded Tuesday that golf is ultimately run by capitalists. This, it turns out, wasn’t a battle of good vs. evil, but a clumsy courtship between two sides beholden to their bottom lines. —Sam Weinman

Winner—Cam Smith: Much was made last year of the then-reigning champ of the Players Championship, the PGA Tour’s flagship event, being stripped of his coveted parking spot at TPC Sawgrass. For many, such an honor would be mostly ceremonial, but it was a real blow for the Jacksonville-area resident, who relied on the tour’s headquarters to keep his game sharp by practicing and playing. During this year’s Players, the Aussie was spotted playing a muny down the road, an odd sight for someone who could have been defending his title. Now, Smith could get his home course back, and, yes, that parking spot. Or at least, some parking spot. Maybe Dallas resident and current Players champ Scottie Scheffler will let Cam borrow his. —Alex Myers

Loser—Older LIV golfers: The elder golfers who signed with the renegade league benefited most last year, racking up big checks for winning (like Henrik Stenson) or simply showing up and being part of a team (like Pat Perez). But you have to wonder where guys like that fit in now that they’re part of a much bigger and deeper talent pool. LIV needed those recognizable names (Lee Westwood, Martin Kaymer, Charl Schwartzel, etc.)—even if they were past their prime—to build credibility, but will this new entity need them anymore? And does this change how much money they’ll get from their original contracts? Heck, even a guy like Dustin Johnson clearly still has plenty of game, but it’s hard to imagine the 38-year-old ever making $38 million in season earnings again. That being said, there are plenty of other players out there who are jealous of these guys for getting to ride that gravy train for as long as they did. —AM

Winner—Phil Mickelson: In the early portion of this saga, Mickelson had not only become a punchline, he had destroyed his own legacy. All the goodwill he built up with his remarkable PGA Championship win at age 50 at Kiawah Island was gone when he got in bed with the people he called “scary motherf—-ers.” But, as Mickelson proclaimed before all this chaos began, this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reshape the sport and how the PGA Tour operates. Tuesday’s news all but confirmed Mickelson, among others, achieved exactly that. Of course, another way to look at it is that Mickelson brought those same scary MFers to the PGA Tour’s doorstep, which now seemingly taints the entire golf world at large. Then again, it appears Saudi Arabian influence can be found in more than a few places these days. Mickelson didn’t make this world, he just lives in it and takes advantage of it like the rest of us. Whether or not he can salvage his legacy remains to be seen, but at this very moment, #PhilWasRight. —Christopher Powers

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Maddie Meyer/PGA of America

Winner—Equipment companies: They stayed neutral throughout, even when it wasn’t easy. It was awkward when one of their big names made a surprise jump to LIV and got comparatively fewer TV eyeballs. Should they support their guy and buy into the team concept, or let it play out? They chose the latter, and can proceed with the cleanest hands of all. —Luke Kerr-Dineen

Loser—LIV Twitter trolls: They were the insurgent force who loved railing against the corrupt establishment. These were the true believers—the belLIVers, if you will—in the LIV product. They wanted it to win outright. Whose mentions are they going to rage fill now? —LKD

Winner—Our collective corporate literacy: Is it a merger? A partnership? Why does the tour get the most board seats but the other guys get the chairman? The point isn’t that we have a clear answer to all these questions. But whereas most golfers’ understanding of economic principles rarely extends past paying off a $5 nassau, the past 24 hours has introduced a whole new set of business concepts to understand. —SW

Loser—The team golf concept: We may see some aspect of it survive, but between the names that 6-year-olds would choose (Range Goats?) and the franchise idea being a total non-starter, the only teams we care about—Ryder or Presidents—are attached to the cups. —Tod Leonard

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Patrick Smith/LIV Golf

Winners—The Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup: There will be no question now that the best guys are competing, and fans will be as fired up for their teams as ever. (Here’s hoping they get this solved for Italy in September.) —TL

Loser—Golf as a soap opera: Not to say this has been all tidied up just yet, but a resolution between the PGA Tour and LIV Golf suggests golf’s days as an edge-of-you-seat melodrama is in its final act. Gone will be the will-he/won’t-he speculation, the subtle digs in social media and even on network broadcasts, and in its place will be the same civil discourse and polite platitudes that have defined the game for most of the last century. We can accept it, but it doesn’t mean we have to like it. —SW

Winner—Donald Trump: The former President has made a lot of claims that haven’t come true, but you can’t argue that he predicted this outcome with a Truth Social post last July. “All of those golfers that remain “loyal” to the very disloyal PGA, in all of its different forms, will pay a big price when the inevitable MERGER with LIV comes, and you get nothing but a big “thank you” from PGA officials who are making Millions of Dollars a year.” Nailed it. And Trump could benefit from this as well, because this MERGER seems to at least open up the possibility of the PGA Tour returning to some of his courses. And that could make him Millions of Dollars. —AM

Loser—Brandel Chamblee: First off, I’m a big Brandel fan and I don’t think any analyst does more research—or has a better vocabulary. But this is a particularly bad result for him and it puts him in a tough spot. After railing against the Saudi-backed league on a daily, heck, hourly basis on live TV for the better part of two years, Chamblee will now be analyzing golfers being paid by the very regime he despises. Among golf media, he’s certainly not alone in dealing with this, but he was the face of that position (Hence, Brooks Koepka’s mocking tweet on Tuesday) and the situation seemed to bother him more than anyone. “This is the saddest day in the history of professional golf,” Chamblee said when he went on air after the news broke. Unless there’s a big change in Brandel’s mindset, he’s in for a lot more sadness in the coming years. —AM