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PGA Tour boss says body 'could not compete with unlimited' Saudi money

Comments by Commissioner Jay Monahan come days after merger between PGA Tour, Saudi-backed LIV Golf and European Tour
LIV Golf CEO Greg Norman greets fans during day three of LIV Golf Invitational on 19 March 2023, at the Gallery Golf Club in Tucson, Arizona (AFP)

The PGA Tour could not match Saudi Arabia's deep pockets, the Wall Street Journal reported on Saturday, citing a person who heard the remarks by PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan.

Monahan's comments came days after the PGA Tour, European Tour and rival Saudi-backed LIV Golf circuit announced a landmark deal to merge and form a commercial entity to unify golf.

Speaking to employees, Monahan on Thursday said that the Tour had spent almost $5m in its legal fight with the Saudi-backed LIV Golf circuit. The legal wrangling was likely to last for several more years.

The Tour had already dipped into $100m of its reserves to pay for its schedule.

"We cannot compete with a foreign government with unlimited money," Monahan said, according to the WSJ report. "This was the time… We waited to be in the strongest possible position to get this deal in place."

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The PGA Tour, European Tour and rival Saudi-backed LIV Golf said in a joint news release on Tuesday that they would work cooperatively to allow a process for any LIV Golf players to reapply for PGA Tour and DP World Tour membership following the 2023 season.

"After two years of disruption and distraction, this is a historic day for the game we all know and love," Monahan, who had long been a vocal critic of LIV Golf, said on Tuesday.

The LIV Golf series is bankrolled by the Saudi Arabia Public Investment Fund (PIF) and critics have accused it of being a vehicle for the country to attempt to burnish its reputation in the face of criticism of its human rights record.

The announcement of the merger includes an agreement to end all pending litigation between the participating parties.

Additionally, PIF will make a capital investment into the new entity to facilitate its growth and success.

"Today is a very exciting day for this special game and the people it touches around the world," said PIF Governor Yasir al-Rumayyan.

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"We are proud to partner with the PGA Tour to leverage PIF's unparalleled success and track record of unlocking value and bringing innovation and global best practices to business and sectors worldwide."

The rival LIV Golf circuit launched in 2022 and lured some big-name players away from the rival circuits with staggering sums of money in 54-hole events that feature no cuts and paydays for every golfer.

Besides backing the LIV Golf league, Saudi Arabia's $600bn PIF, chaired by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, acquired the English Premier League football club Newcastle United FC in 2021 and also considered buying Formula 1 motor racing last year.

The crown prince has sought to boost the kingdom's holdings in sports and entertainment. While he has pushed through some social reforms, he has also overseen a crackdown on dissent and waves of executions.

Critics have accused Saudi Arabia of engaging in "sportswashing" to cover up its poor human rights record. Just in the past week, three people were executed in the kingdom, bringing the number of executions to 47 in 2023.

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