One year after historic PGA Tour-LIV ‘agreement,’ golf appears as lost as ever

June 7, 2024

Golf isn’t a sport that generates “this can’t be real” news, even accounting for the world No. 1 player getting arrested before his tee time at a major. But the most seismic “this has to be fake” golf news in a decade hit one year ago Thursday. That’s when the PGA Tour and Saudi Arabian Public Investment Fund announced — after months of bare-knuckle media sparring — that they had reached a “framework agreement” that would reshape men’s professional golf as we know it.

The two parties announced that they were ending legal hostilities, that they would create a new combined organization to help shepherd golf into its next era, that everybody involved would make so much money, and that this would all be done by Dec. 31.

You probably don’t need a spoiler warning for this: Except for the “so much money” part, exactly none of that has happened.

One year after the stunning announcement of the framework agreement — negotiated in secret by just a few principals, dropped on the heads of PGA Tour players with little to no warning — men’s professional golf is stuck in a swampy mire of its own creation.

Looking back at the initial news out of that day, which we described as “stunning,” it’s fascinating — but definitely not stunning — how few of the promises of that initial announcement were kept:

The Saudi PIF was to be the sole financial investor in the new, yet-to-be-formed commercial entity that would run golf, with the right of first refusal on any additional investors. The PGA Tour neatly sidestepped that aspect with the January announcement that Strategic Sports Group, an entity made up of several American professional sports owners, would invest $1.5 billion in the Tour. The move bumped the PIF off its “exclusive” financial perch, perhaps for good.

An early version of the framework agreement included a provision that neither side would poach players from the other; that provision was dropped over antitrust concerns. But an informal hands-off agreement persisted … right up until the bombshell December announcement that Jon Rahm would be jumping to LIV Golf. So much for working together toward a common goal.

The PGA Tour and the PIF did not, in fact, come together to devise a pathway for LIV Golf players to return to the PGA Tour after the 2023 season. At the moment, and for the foreseeable future, the only time that Tour and LIV players cross paths is at the four majors.

No deadline for the finalization of the agreement was mentioned in earliest announcements beyond a simple, and wildly optimistic “few weeks.” The two sides blew right through a self-imposed Dec. 31 deadline, then an informal before-the-Masters one, and now there is no deadline at all.

With no end in sight in the PGA Tour-LIV Golf split, it could be years before Jon Rahm and Rory McIlroy square off against one another in any tournament outside of the four majors. (Photo by Warren Little/Getty Images)More

So what happened? The simple version is that power and money collided, and everyone wanted a larger share of both. We don’t really know what’s going on behind closed doors, if anything, but we can guess, based on the comments of those who have been — even if only briefly — in the room.

The players, shut out of the initial agreement, have taken their revenge, claiming a much larger share of power in the direction of the Tour. That has, in turn, put a strain on the relationship with existing Tour executives and board officials, tilting the board’s power in the players’ direction. The Saudi incursion forced the PGA Tour to massively increase its purses across the board at its tournaments, and the players are now happily reaping the rewards of that … for however long it lasts.

Jimmy Dunne, who helped broker the initial framework agreement, resigned from the Tour’s policy board right before the PGA Championship, timing his moment for maximum media effect. Dunne indicated that there has been “no meaningful progress” on any sort of agreement between the Tour and the PIF. Mark Flaherty, another board member, resigned soon afterward. The Tour’s player representatives, including Tiger Woods, Jordan Spieth and Patrick Cantlay, continue to insist that all is well, but their words don’t mean much in the face of others’ actions.

Meanwhile, LIV Golf churns onward. In addition to welcoming in Jon Rahm, the tour reintroduced Anthony Kim to the golf world after a 12-year absence, and then saw Bryson DeChambeau nearly swoop in and claim the PGA Championship. LIV Golf players still don’t have a direct pathway to the majors via official world rankings, but the majors have shown a willingness to invite LIV players to play, regardless.

Few of the principals involved in this entire imbroglio have given more than lip service to golf’s fans, with most falling back on creaky old “grow the game” lines. Fans have noticed that the sport’s attention appears to be on everything but the on-course experience, and have tuned out. A compelling tournament — or a compelling figure’s arrest — can bring them back, but the trend is clear. One year out from what should have been a momentous day in the sport’s history, and golf still seems like it’s wandering in the forest, trying to find a wayward drive and wondering how things all went so sideways.