The Saudi-backed golf series, which will expand next year, has forced the PGA Tour to redesign its economic model. The drama between the two golf entities seems far from over.
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DORAL, Fla. — To hear the 52-year-old Phil Mickelson’s account, whatever happened this year in his golf career — a greed-fueled rupture, a simply-business parting of ways, an inevitable estrangement, a lucrative exercise in denial and downplaying — has yielded something close to sublime.
“I see LIV Golf trending upward, I see the PGA Tour trending downward and I love the side that I’m on,” Mickelson said this month in Saudi Arabia, the country whose sovereign wealth fund bankrolled the new LIV Golf circuit, including a Mickelson contract believed to be worth about $200 million.
As the series closes its first season Sunday, when its team championship event is to be decided at Trump National Doral Golf Club and a $50 million prize fund divided, it can credibly claim that it has disrupted men’s professional golf more than anything else since the late 1960s, when what would become the PGA Tour emerged.
It has done so with a checkbook that seems boundless, nearly unchecked brazenness and self-assurance, and the political cover of a former American president who has looked past Saudi Arabia’s record on human rights. It has not, though, been a romp without resistance or an instantaneous and definitive dethroning of the old order.
The PGA Tour, now redesigning its economic model so urgently that it is tapping reserve funds, still commands the bigger roster of current stars and the loyalties of the tournaments that matter most to history. The tour, less tainted by geopolitics, has lucrative television deals; LIV Golf is on YouTube. Players earn world ranking points at PGA Tour events; they drop in the rankings the longer they compete in the new series. Dustin Johnson knows this well, as he is now No. 30, down from No. 13 when he signed with LIV in May. (But perhaps Johnson does not mind all that much: He captured LIV’s individual championship and has won at least $30 million on the circuit this year, after accruing about $75 million in career earnings during a PGA Tour tenure that started in 2007.)
What many golf executives are figuring out, though, is that it is possible to revile much about LIV, from its financial patron to its devotion to 54-hole tournaments to its defiant dispensing of starchy atmospheres, and yet recognize that the PGA Tour had left itself vulnerable to at least a spasm of drama. Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy, who ascended again to the world’s No. 1 ranking after a tour event last weekend, have been two of LIV Golf’s foremost critics — and two leading architects of a new strategy to fortify and reinvent a PGA Tour that had some popular players feeling undervalued and some younger ones struggling for financial breakthroughs.
Donald J. Trump is running for president again, being investigated by a special counsel again and he’s back on Twitter. Here’s what to know about some of the latest developments involving the former president:
Taxes. The Supreme Court cleared the way for a House committee to receive Mr. Trump’s tax returns, refusing his request to block their release in the waning weeks of Democratic control of the chamber. The House had been seeking to obtain the documents since 2019.
2024 campaign. Following disappointing midterm elections for Republicans that many blamed on the former president, Mr. Trump announces his third White House bid. But days after, key allies are inching away from him and a crowd of possible G.O.P. rivals has emerged.
Manhattan D.A. investigation. The Manhattan district attorney’s office has moved to jump-start its criminal investigation into Mr. Trump. Prosecutors are returning to the long-running inquiry’s original focus: a hush-money payment to a porn star who said she had an affair with Mr. Trump.
Oman real estate deal. The government of Oman is partnering with Mr. Trump and his family on a $4 billion real estate project in the Middle Eastern country. The deal with a foreign government creates new conflict-of-interest questions for Mr. Trump’s just-launched presidential campaign.
Twitter reinstatement. Elon Musk, who recently bought Twitter, reinstated Mr. Trump to the platform as part of a shake-up of the social media service. Whether Mr. Trump will agree to return to Twitter is not clear. He has started his own social network, Truth Social, in which he has a financial stake.
The efforts of Woods and McIlroy have helped stabilize the tour to some degree. Pressures linger, though, and they go well beyond an ongoing antitrust inquiry by the Justice Department. LIV Golf is planning 14 events next year, up from eight in 2022, and has said it will offer $405 million in purses, an increase from the $255 million that has been up for grabs this year. Its business model could expand to draw in new investors for LIV teams, and if the series can find a way into the world ranking system, its appeal among prospective players could rise further.
There is no guarantee of that, though. If the organizers of the sport’s elite tournaments, some of whom have criticized the new circuit, bar even some of the scores of LIV golfers from the British Open, the Masters, the P.G.A. Championship and the U.S. Open starting next year, the upstart will have to find a way to diminish the siren songs of the green jacket and the claret jug. If LIV continues without a television deal, it will be starved of access to potentially millions of fans. And the PGA Tour can still depict the series as a brutal regime’s project to look better on the global stage.
That perception, more than anything else, has been one of the tour’s most powerful public relations tools so far, and it may long temper the flow of corporate sponsorship dollars through and around the LIV world.
Worries about Saudi influence, though, have not deterred former President Donald J. Trump from offering vocal support for the series, keeping the circuit with a powerful ally and clear access to at least some good courses. The site of the team championship, run by the Trumps for years, was a PGA Tour mainstay for decades, and Trump courses are expected to be fixtures of LIV’s 2023 season.
Trump, in a brief interview with The New York Times as he left the 18th hole near Miami on Thursday, said he had not entertained any second thoughts about his family-controlled golf courses hosting LIV events. Although Trump’s family has not disclosed how much it is earning from LIV tournaments, the former president suggested that his conversations with Saudi officials had persuaded him that the kingdom’s embrace of golf was “very important to them” and that “they’re putting a lot of effort into it and a lot of money into it.”
As president, Trump publicly resisted American intelligence agencies when they concluded that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had authorized the 2018 murder of the Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi. Asked on Thursday about Saudi Arabia’s human rights record, Trump said, “We have human rights issues in this country, too.”
Earlier in the afternoon, though, Trump had been eager to criticize the PGA Tour and to extol the virtues of LIV leaders.
“They should have embraced instead of fighting,” he said of the PGA Tour after he played the 17th hole during a pro-am event. “You’re not going to beat these people. These people have great spirit, they’re phenomenal people and they have unlimited money — unlimited.”
The PGA Tour, he added to a small clutch of reporters, “has been destroyed by the PGA” Tour.
The PGA Tour’s supporters dispute that and point to plans for bigger purses next year and the preservation and elevation of what McIlroy, for instance, has called a “pure meritocracy.” Nineteen of the world’s top-20 golfers are still affiliated with the tour, with Cameron Smith, the reigning British Open winner and the world No. 3, the exception.
But there is no use playacting as if there has not been a siege, and although LIV has plenty of players who toil in something close to anonymity, it has lured enough big, if sometimes aged, names to ensure that its flaws have not swamped the series from its first moments. This is not the World Tour that Greg Norman, LIV’s commissioner, tried to create in the 1990s and then watched meet a speedy end.
So not long after noon Friday, after the AC/DC song “Thunderstruck” washed over the grounds and a team of parachutists steered to landings, Mickelson and Smith stood at the ninth tee, ready for their shotgun start. Dozens of people, but not hundreds, gathered to watch two men who had combined for seven major championships.
At least a few of the fans seemed to talk more about the millions the players were earning than the golf. But there were stars and some strain of competitive golf — and the PGA Tour’s logo nowhere to be found.