It’s not often a quote from an infamous drug lord is relevant in sports, but in the case of the PGA TOUR’s multi-year battle with LIV Golf—that came to a surprising conclusion on June 6 when the rivals announced their new friendship via a merger that not only sent shockwaves throughout golf, but sports and politics—it’s quite fitting.
“Everyone has a price—the important thing is to find out what it is,” Pablo Escobar said.
While the PGA TOUR’s exact price has yet to be revealed, the merger between golf’s two biggest entities reinforces Escobar’s quote and the old adage that money talks.
The initial rumors and reports of a new golf league that would rival the PGA TOUR first came about in 2019 with the announcement of the Premier Golf League. Later rebranded as LIV Golf—a name paying homage to the 54 holes its tournaments comprise—the PGA TOUR’s rivals went from rumor to reality in October 2021 with two-time Open Championship winner and World Golf Hall of Fame inductee Greg Norman serving as CEO.
Backed by the Public Investment Fund, the sovereign wealth fund of Saudi Arabia that manages more than $600 billion in assets, LIV began offering jaw-dropping figures to some of the game’s biggest stars including Tiger Woods, who turned down a reported $700 million, while Phil Mickelson ($200 million), Dustin Johnson ($125 million), Bryson DeChambeau ($125 million), Brooks Koepka ($100 million) and others took the money and ran.
Johnson, a two-time major winner, said the opportunity was in “his and his family’s best interest,” and “too compelling to pass up,” while others cited “growing the game” as their justification for defecting.
Knowing the PGA TOUR could soon be bled dry with other stars favoring more money for less play, the nonprofit 501(c)(6) began counting its own cash to introduce high stakes designated events with larger purses as well as a Player Impact Program (PIP), which rewarded players who “generate the most positive interest in the PGA TOUR.” The PIP pool even doubled from $50 million to $100 million spread across 20 players, who were also required to play in all of the elevated events they were eligible for, although they were permitted to skip one.
“When you have the top OWGR players playing each other, that level of competition is very special and you just see a different kind of engagement in the telecast and with fans there locally,” said Mary DePaoli, Executive Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer at RBC. “Having these designated events is helping elevate the sport. When you’ve got the best players doing that, you create new storylines for fans to grab onto.”