This week, the fourth and last major of the golf season is happening at the Royal Liverpool Golf Club in Hoylake, Meyerside, in the U.K. The Open Championship has always brought a lasting legacy and anticipation matched only by The Masters tournament. But, even then, The Open feels as close to the earliest stages of competitive golf allowable now.
Last week, in his preparation for the Genesis Scottish Open, Rory McIlroy hit a persimmon golf club off the tee. The drive (while still fantastic) went noticeably shorter than a normal 300-yard plus McIlroy drive would. The prevailing thought, however, was the beauty in the shot with a, for lack of a better word, primitive piece of equipment.
— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) July 12, 2023
The video of McIlroy using the club of his golf forefathers was shared repeatedly on social media, and debate ensued, mainly over the evolution of modern equipment, which has distorted the game into a long-drive competition. But, the event took on greater significance when related to the current state of golf.
This year’s Open Championship sits on the fulcrum of golf’s future. As Royal Liverpool embarks on hosting its 13th Open Championship, the reverence for golf past is faced with a new challenge for golf’s future.
Where Things Stand
Last week the Senate Homeland Security Subcommittee on Investigations held an official hearing regarding the proposed merger between the PGA Tour, DP World Tour, and its affiliates with the Public Investment Fund (PIF) of Saudi Arabia. The PIF is the entity that has financed LIV Golf for the past year and a half.
Garnering little attention on screen but much off it, LIV forced the PGA to the negotiating table even after a staunch rebuke of what LIV was offering just a year earlier. In a shock announcement last month, the PGA announced the merger, creating a new for-profit entity. While much is still left to the imagination of fans, the hearings provided insight into how the deal was orchestrated.
Representing the PGA were tour officials Jimmy Dunne and Ron Price. No one representing the PIF was present during the hearing. Dunne and PIF Governor Yassir Al-Rumayyan communicated through messaging apps when they first initiated talks in the early spring.
In the documents provided to the subcommittee, some of the more interesting proposals were revealed to be:
- A global “World Golf Series”
- LIV operating independently in the fall
- Greg Norman to no longer serve as LIV CEO
- Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy, owners of LIV Teams
- Two PGA Tour events being sponsored by Aramco (Saudi Oil Company)
- Al-Rumayyan given membership to Augusta National Golf Club
When pressed by legislators for why the PGA changed course, Price, who has filled in as the commissioner of the PGA while Jay Monahan has been on medical leave, said that the level of investment that has been discussed by the Saudi’s is “North of $1 Billion.”
"North of $1 billion."
COO Ron Price revealed the level of Saudi investment discussed in the PGA Tour's merger with LIV Golf during a Senate hearing.
— Yahoo Sports (@YahooSports) July 11, 2023
A Lot to Unpack
If the levels of investment being speculated are accurate, then golf will have the might behind it to stay relevant. Even behind the opposition of many American corporations, LIV was able to secure a television deal this past season. It can be assumed that if the merger continues, the existing golf infrastructure will be improved strictly based on the financing level.
But the thinking behind some of the process shows how off-base the deal’s architects are. For example, having Woods and McIlroy own LIV teams seems like a fever dream. Not only have those two been adamant about their distaste for LIV, but someone like Woods would need help to pass the mandatory event requirements associated with LIV contracts.
To the Saudi’s credit, they have done this type of dance before. Europe, particularly the U.K., has been the PIF’s proving ground for the past two decades. Al-Rumayyan himself is the Chairman of Newcastle United Football Club. Having been through the transition of power in another sporting institution, Rumayyan might have the strategic savviness to make it work.
However, the difference is that PGA is a wholly American institution. Nothing like this has happened before in the American sporting culture. Therefore, it will be hard for Americans to reconcile that relationship with Saudi Arabia. Al-Rumayyan certainly hopes they do. At least long enough for him to receive his Augusta membership.
Converging Interests at The Open Championship
As millions of golf fans gear up for the 151st Open Championship, the event’s storylines keep getting juicier and juicer. A mingling of PGA and LIV players will bring the added interest from last week’s hearings, but the connections don’t stop there. The reigning champion, Cameron Smith, a LIV player, will seek to repeat.
Put aside the rivalries and socio-political perspective, and there is still more to be excited about. Some of the best players in the world are due to be in contention for a major championship this week.
McIlroy is coming off a win at the Scottish Open this past weekend and has been playing an exceptional stretch of golf as of late. Similarly, while he hasn’t broken through with a win in a while, Scottie Scheffler has racked up seven straight top-10 finishes, including a second-place finish at the PGA Championship and a third-place finish at the US Open. High-interest players like Rickie Fowler are rounding their games out at the perfect time. Then, there is the number two-ranked player in the world, John Rahm, who is looking to return to where he was at the beginning of the season. Finally, the crowd favorites from in and around the U.K. will keep the grandstands rowdy all week.
The Open Championship feels like a corporate retreat before a merger is announced. Holding on to the last vestiges of golf’s legacy before fundamentally altering its future. Neither party in the proposed merger will be on home soil, and don’t expect much to be discussed during broadcasts.
A collective like this won’t reunite until later at this year’s Ryder Cup. However, it will be interesting to hear the feeling after the tournament. Is there any hope for a harmonious union taking place? Or will the fissures continue cracking deeper?
But the tournament will also remind viewers of why they love the game. They will be distracted by the incredible talent these players have. Sure, they aren’t hitting persimmon woods, but take a moment like Cam Smith’s putt from last year. A moment like that will forever be remembered because of the atmosphere built around it. The game is indeed in excellent hands with the players who are currently on tour. It’s the hands behind the scenes that are concerning.
Matt Strout is a contributor to Back Sports Page. Matt studied Journalism and Sociology at Temple University for four years and graduated in May of 2022. While there, Matt wrote for multiple student and professional publications covering sports and the City of Philadelphia. Matt is originally from Maine and now resides in California. He has written content primarily for the NBA and PGA Tour. You can catch Matt frequently as a guest on the “Cut The Nets” podcast featured on the Back Sports Page network. When Matt is not writing, he enjoys cooking and playing golf. Follow Matt’s social media on Twitter @TheRealStrout or Instagram @matt_strout96
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