Rory McIlroy has admitted to being “surprised” by the merger between the PGA Tour, DP World Tour and Saudi-backed LIV Golf – but says it will ultimately be good for professional golf.
The controversial deal will combine the commercial operations and rights into a new, yet to be named for-profit company.
The new entity will be backed by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) which, according to a statement, will “make a capital investment into the new entity to facilitate its growth and success”. The PIF would also have the exclusive rights to further invest in the commercial entity.
The move which took most people in the sport by surprise will bring an end to over a year of rifts between the various tours, resulting in multiple lawsuits being filed and the suspensions of numerous LIV golfers from the PGA Tour and DP World Tour.
McIlroy has been a fierce critic of the rebel tour since its formation last year and has “mixed emotions” about the deal which has stunned the golfing world.
“It was a surprise, I knew there had been discussions going on in the background but I didn’t expect it to happen as quickly as it did,” he said.
“I think ultimately when I try to remove myself from the situation and try to look at the bigger picture and I look 10 years down the line, I think ultimately it’s going to be good for the game of professional golf.
“It unifies it and secures its financial future. There’s mixed emotions in there as well.
“I don’t understand all the intricacies of what’s going on. There is a lot of ambiguity, a lot to still be thrashed out but at least it means the litigation goes away, which has been a massive burden for everyone and we can start to work toward some kind of way of unifying the game at the elite level.”
The PGA Tour will appoint a majority of the board and hold a majority voting interest, with PIF’s governor Yasir Al-Rumayyan the chairman sitting alongside chief executive, PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan – a previously outspoken critic of LIV – at the helm.
Breaking the news to players in a letter, Monahan said: “Today is a momentous day for your organisation and the game of golf as a whole.
“The PGA Tour – your Tour – is leading the formation of a new commercial entity to unify golf, one that sees the end of the disruption and distraction that has divided the men’s professional game for the better part of three years.”
Greg Norman, previously the front man for LIV Golf, was only informed of the merger minutes before the news was made public, calling into question his future with the organisation.
When it launched last year, LIV Golf offered vast sums of money to tempt some of golf’s biggest names away from the PGA Tour and DP World Tour, with players like Phil Mickelson, Bubba Watson, Brooks Koepka, Dustin Johnson, Cameron Smith, Lee Westwood, Sergio Garcia and Ian Poulter all jumping ship.
McIlroy added: “I think the future of the PGA Tour looks brighter as a whole. What that looks like for individual players in keeping a Tour card, bringing players back into the fold, that’s where the anger comes from.
“I understand that and there still has to be consequences to actions. The people that left the PGA Tour irreparably harmed this Tour, started litigation against it. We can’t just welcome them back in. That’s not going to happen.”
PIF bankrolled the rebel tour, with many accusing it of being a vehicle for the country to try to boost its reputation after criticism of its human rights record.
Amnesty says the deal shows Saudi will do all it can to deflect attention away from its dreadful human rights record.
Felix Jakens, Amnesty International UK’s head of priority campaigns and individuals at risk, said: “It’s really just more evidence of the onward march of Saudi sportswashing.
“It’s been clear for some time that Saudi Arabia was prepared to use vast amounts of money to muscle its way into top-tier golf – just part of a wider effort to become a major sporting power and to try to distract attention from the country’s atrocious human rights record.”