Jun 20, 2023

The PGA-LIV golf merger.

The PGA-LIV golf merger.
Professional golfer Phil Mickelson, who is perhaps the most famous golfer to jump to the LIV Tour. Image: Wikicommons / Peetlesnumber1

What does this say about our current geopolitics?

I’m Isaac Saul, and this is Tangle: an independent, nonpartisan, subscriber-supported politics newsletter that summarizes the best arguments from across the political spectrum on the news of the day — then “my take.”

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Today's read: 12 minutes.

Today, we're covering the PGA-LIV merger, how it relates to politics, and what we know about the deal. Plus, a question (we get a lot) about citing paywalled articles. 


We've been iterating on our YouTube videos — trying new stuff, experimenting with new content, and doing original interviews. Last week, I opened a bottle of whiskey to talk about the Trump indictment. I think it's the best video we've made yet. You can watch it (and leave a comment, question, or thought) here:

Quick hits

  1. Canadian and American Coast Guards are searching for a lost submersible tourist vehicle that had descended to view the wreckage of the Titanic, roughly 900 miles east of Cape Cod. The 23,000-pound truck-sized sub has enough oxygen for its five passengers for about four days, and last transmitted a signal on Sunday. (The search)
  2. The Justice Department said Special Counsel John Durham is going to testify today about his May report on the origins of the investigation into Russia's election interference in 2016. (The hearing)
  3. President Joe Biden held his first 2024 campaign event at a union rally in Philadelphia on Saturday. (The rally)
  4. A Justice Department report has concluded that the Minneapolis Police Department engaged in a pattern of unlawful racial discrimination and excessive force. (The report)
  5. In an interview with Fox News host Bret Baier, former President Donald Trump gave his lengthiest defense yet of his handling of classified documents. (The interview)
  6. BREAKING: Hunter Biden’s lawyers have reportedly come to an agreement with the Justice Department for him to plead guilty to two misdemeanor tax charges while avoiding prosecution for a more serious charge related to the purchase of a handgun. (The news)

Today's topic.

The LIV-PGA merger. On Thursday, The Wall Street Journal reported (paywall) that the Justice Department will review the PGA Tour’s planned merger with the Saudi-backed LIV golf for a potential antitrust violation, raising regulatory concerns for the sports mega-deal that stunned the golf world earlier this month.

Back up: The PGA Tour is the world's preeminent golf league, hosting tournaments in North America, Europe, and Asia throughout the year. Men's golf has four majors: the PGA Championship, the U.S. Open, the (British) Open, and the Masters, which are separate from the Tour. In 2021, LIV Golf, offering billions of dollars in prize money from the Saudi Public Investment Fund, was launched to challenge the PGA Tour. LIV attempted to appeal to players by having looser rules, doing away with the "cut" that eliminates players from tournaments after the second round, having one fewer competition round (so instead of totalling 72 holes, a tournament is 54 holes, thus the Roman number LIV), and encouraging more noisy and rowdy behavior at tournaments, a major departure from the traditions of PGA golf.

After the launch, several major players — including Phil Mickelson — left the PGA Tour to play for LIV Golf. The PGA Tour responded by suspending any player who participated in LIV. The two traded barbs, with PGA Tour supporters saying LIV was a "sportswashing" of the Saudi's human rights abuses, including its role in the 9/11 attacks, while players who left the PGA Tour accused it of attempting to bully players into leaving LIV Golf.

Then, two weeks ago, the two announced a deal to merge LIV Golf and the PGA Tour.

Anything else? Yes. This is all much more complicated than the PGA Tour and LIV merging. First, PGA Tour is a nonprofit organization and will retain full control of how the tournaments in the new tour will be played. A separate, unnamed for-profit entity (currently being called NewCo.) will own LIV, PGA Tour, and DP World Tour (the European version of PGA Tour, which is also in the mix). There will be a board of directors overseeing this new entity, led by Yasir al-Rumayyan, the governor of Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund. However, the PGA Tour will appoint a majority of NewCo’s board members and retain a majority voting interest.

Also: Amid all of this, there were legal battles in every direction. When the PGA Tour suspended golfers for participating in LIV, those golfers responded with an antitrust lawsuit. Then the PGA Tour countersued. Then the Justice Department launched an investigation into the PGA Tour. Neither Saudi officials nor players on tour wanted to be deposed in any of the lawsuits, so PGA and LIV have agreed to drop their lawsuits against each other as part of this deal. The PGA has already lost a reported $50 million of its $100 million cash reserves in legal battles over the last 12 months.

Finally, none of this is a done deal. Jay Monahan, the commissioner of the PGA Tour, continues to call the merger a "framework" agreement. The PGA Tour's board of directors has to approve the deal, and it has to survive new scrutiny from the Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission. Senators Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) are calling for an antitrust investigation and describing the details of the deal as "murky." Rep. Chip Roy (R-TX) has called on the Justice Department to investigate, too. Some Tour representatives have suggested there won't be a conclusion on the deal for at least a year.

Today, we're going to take a look at some reactions to the deal from the right and left, then my take.


There is bipartisan criticism of the deal, with many on the left and right critical of how Saudi money appears to have influenced the PGA. While the sides disagree on who is at fault and what (if anything) the federal government should do, there is concern on both sides about Saudi Arabia's ability to influence large American organizations.

What the left is saying.

  • Many on the left are critical of the deal, saying the Saudis have effectively bought pro golf.
  • Some call out the PGA Tour's lack of morality, saying it never actually existed.
  • Others criticize the PGA Tour's hypocrisy.

The Washington Post editorial board asked "what else is for sale?"

"When the Saudi-backed LIV Golf was trying, early last year, to attract the PGA Tour’s top players, the legacy organization implied it would never align itself with a kingdom trying to 'sportswash' its atrocious human rights record. Now, it appears, the PGA Tour wants to take a mulligan," the board said. The emerging picture "is ugly," as "all of the PGA Tour’s commercial business and rights will be owned by an entity with Yasir Al-Rumayyan, governor of Saudi Arabia’s Arabian Public Investment Fund, leading its board of directors. That means the man widely regarded as Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s right hand now has a grip on professional golf’s greatest athletes."

"What happened to the PGA Tour’s horror at Saudi Arabia’s repression of regime critics?" the board asked. "What about the regime’s appalling treatment of women and religious minorities? What about the murder and dismemberment of Post contributing columnist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018? What about imprisoning people for decades for their social media postings?" All the while, the United States seems to "whiff again and again" on extracting meaningful concessions from Saudi Arabia on civil liberties. "The players and golf fans who believed PGA Tour higher-ups’ claims that their differences with LIV Golf were about morals rather than money got hustled."

In New York Magazine, Will Leitch said the PGA "never had any principles to begin with."

“It seemed that the PGA Tour — hardly an organization known for its nobility or altruism — was managing to subdue its rival while maintaining the moral high ground. But what the PGA didn’t have was access to a bottomless chasm of Saudi oil money. And it turns out that’s all it really wanted," Leitch wrote. Golfers who spent the last two years defending the PGA Tour "found out about the merger via social media," which was a "necessary reminder that the PGA has never been a wholesome, ethical organization (its labor problems are just the tip of the iceberg). It only looked good compared to the alternative."

Now the Saudis get "their most high-profile entry into the world of sports" they've been working on for years and the PGA Tour gets "access to all of the money it wants." And "everyone else — including anyone who would like to watch a professional-golf event without the echoes of bone saws rattling around their subconscious — loses."

In The Atlantic, Jemele Hill called out the PGA Tour's "stunning hypocrisy."

"The problem with the golf merger isn’t just that the PGA Tour eagerly prostituted itself, or that it didn’t even have the decency to consult its players before making the deal, or that it didn’t care that some players actually had moral objections to LIV Golf, or that the PGA’s sudden shift was unfair to other golfers who, under the assumption that Monahan would stand firm, had previously turned down the opportunity to make millions of dollars by defecting," Hill said. "By selling out, the PGA Tour has also permanently aligned itself with a country that tortures prisoners, executes dissidents and others for vaguely defined offenses, subjects women to second-class treatment, and criminalizes homosexuality."

"The PGA’s decision horrified the families of 9/11 victims," she wrote. "Osama Bin Laden and 15 of the 19 hijackers were from Saudi Arabia, and the country had long supported the spread of extremist religious ideology around the world. When casting aspersions on LIV last year, Monahan noted that he was close to two families that had lost members in the 2001 attacks... If the PGA thinks that ignoring all the Saudi monarchy’s sins is just the cost of doing business, then the golf league’s reputation and credibility clearly weren’t worth that much to begin with."

What the right is saying.

  • Many on the right are critical of the deal, blaming both the PGA and President Biden's soft diplomatic approach to Saudi Arabia.
  • Some warn that Saudi Arabia has growing influence throughout the West.
  • Others suggest the deal is a win for fans and players on both sides, and criticize the view that everything big is bad.

The Wall Street Journal editorial board asked if Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman "was trolling" President Biden.

"Over the weekend Riyadh cut its oil production to lift prices. On Tuesday the Saudi-backed LIV Golf announced a merger with the PGA Tour and Europe’s DP World Tour. Call it the revenge of the ‘pariah,’ to borrow Mr. Biden’s epithet for MBS," the board said. "The golf tour merger may rank as the biggest in the sporting world and will benefit all parties involved. Golfers will no longer have to choose between playing in the LIV and other tour tournaments... But the biggest winner may be the Crown Prince, who has been seeking to improve his reputation in the wake of the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018 by Saudi assassins."

"While campaigning in 2019, Mr. Biden promised to isolate and ostracize MBS, despite his value as an ally in the rough Middle East," but "MBS is using the Kingdom’s massive oil-funded sovereign wealth fund to buy businesses and influence in the West… It has invested in Saudi luxury resorts to draw wealthy Western tourists, including golf courses where one LIV tournament is played. Most LIV tournaments are in the U.S. with three at Donald Trump’s courses. Take that, Joe." In the meantime,"the Saudis are making decisions about oil production without concern for U.S. interests."

In The New York Post, Phil Mushnick called it a "slap in the face" to 9/11 families.

"I think of the nice, polite words we still choose to describe the 3,000 dead, words such as 'killed,' 'perished,' 'lost' and 'died.' But we don’t hear or read the stark, unfiltered and indisputable truth. They were murdered," Mushnick wrote. Have the golfers and PGA who "just sold out to the Saudi government" seen the images? "Or have they been blinded by all that money, as if they’d otherwise be homeless?"

"As President, Donald Trump unequivocally blamed Saudi planned and financed terrorism on the same Saudi government that funded the LIV golf tour into a proposed PGA merger. Now 'Sportsman Donald' celebrates the deal with the Saudis as a marvelous happenstance," Mushnick wrote. Meanwhile, "Joe Biden doesn’t seem any more willing or even able to see 9/11 for what it was and remains. He has made the U.S. a petrol patsy of the Saudi Royal Family... A greater betrayal of humanity and exploitation of mass American murders may never be equaled in the name of a sport, a 'game of honor' that sold its soul for buckets of money and buckets of blood."

In Townhall, Daniel Savickas said the deal "perfectly encapsulates" why the American government's approach to antitrust and mergers is flawed.

“From the start, LIV Golf promised a more exciting brand of golf and even started to popularize team golf tournaments – as opposed to the more common format of golfers competing individually. It also created a tour where golfers get paid more handsomely compared to their PGA counterparts. These new innovations – along with the immense wealth of the PIF [Saudi Private Investment Firm] – now gets merged with the tradition and recognition of the PGA Tour,” Savickas wrote.“This should be cheered by golf fans across America.”

Yet regulators on both sides "are still circling," which illustrates "the foolishness of the new, reactionary approach to antitrust policy in American politics. Anything that is big is considered bad." LIV went toe-to-toe with virtually the only name in golf and now a merger has appeared. It's similar to 1966, when the National Football League (NFL) combined with the American Football League (AFL), a "wild success" that now generates $17.2 billion annually. "Mergers and acquisitions are not inherently bad. In fact, they very often are able to provide products, services, and entertainment in ways that separate entities simply cannot."

My take.

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  • The PGA really screwed over its most loyal players and fans.
  • This is very discouraging on a political level.
  • I don't think it's too much to ask for our politicians and our professional sports organizations to stand for something.

More than anything, the PGA Tour absolutely screwed its most loyal fans and players.

The PGA Tour screwed the players it pleaded with (or forced) to remain loyal, the players it guilted into turning down Saudi money by evoking 9/11, and the fans it promised to safeguard against this immoral challenge.

While Tiger Woods was leaving a (reported) $700-800 million deal on the table, Phil Mickelson was texting about how the Saudis are "scary motherf—rs" who killed a journalist and "execute people over there for being gay." Mickelson took the money and jumped on the LIV Tour. Woods declined. Mickelson got to play the LIV Tour, make his money, and now rejoins the PGA. Tiger got nothing, except the PGA Tour reneging on its moral line in the sand after he stayed loyal. Who made out better?

Worse yet, LIV was failing. Its ratings were bad and there were rumors the entire thing was going to fold, which it probably would have. The PGA Tour was winning, but it put down its hand in order to take the cash it had all but called blood money for the last two years.

Politically, the whole thing is discouraging. It's another reminder of how even — or perhaps especially — in geopolitics, money makes the world go round. Saudi Arabia's human rights abuses are well known and well documented. Even if you accept the propagandistic Western notion that “we” are "better" than “they” are (the U.S. is better in some ways, but not in others), and look at this from our purported moral high ground, Saudi Arabia should be treated no differently than Russia or Iran or China. Yet we openly do business with the Saudis, even in the face of overwhelming evidence of their role in enabling the largest and deadliest attack on our country since Pearl Harbor. Why?

Money. Oil. And vague notions of diplomacy.

Is it being too idealistic to wish that our presidents would stop cozying up to murderous dictators after calling them pariahs? I don't think so. Is it too naive to suggest that we should not accept those same “murderous dictators” dumping billions of dollars into the bank accounts of our former presidents’ kids? (Looking at you, Jared). Believe it or not, I don't think so. Is it so unreasonable to think that the PGA Tour, with its millions in cash reserves, having LIV on the ropes, having staked out some of the clearest moral ground imaginable, could withstand a couple years of litigation and player-wrangling to win this thing? I didn't think so.

But maybe it is too idealistic. Maybe it is naive. Maybe it is unreasonable. Maybe our presidents really can't do what's right when oil is on the table. Maybe the ultra-wealthy members of our ultra-wealthy politicians' families can't be stopped from taking billions from the ultra-wealthy Saudis. Maybe a huge, rich, successful sports organization really can't stand for anything, even when it promises to, the moment it sees a well of cash starting to flow.

Maybe that's just the world we've got now.

The only saving grace here is that this deal is far from finished. The size of the deal isn’t the issue, so this merger may pass antitrust muster. But, perhaps the internal strife at the PGA Tour and the fan backlash to the optics here are enough to create some snags. I wouldn't hold my breath, given everything we've seen so far, but the finish line is still a ways out.

Your questions, answered.

Q: I love your newsletter, but I have an ongoing frustration that I hope you can address: many of the links that I eagerly open to read are blocked by paywalls! Any suggestions to deal with this?


Tangle: I've gotten this question a few times recently from readers, so I wanted to give a full answer to this question in case others out there might be wondering the same thing.

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Under the radar.

The U.S. government is buying your data. That's the takeaway from a new report, commissioned by Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines, which said commercially available information (CAI) has provided a rich stream of intelligence for the U.S. government and created a host of privacy threats for American citizens. Federal agencies are acquiring, sharing, and using commercially available datasets, buying "highly revealing personal information" on its citizens — covering everything from when you put your phone down at night to where you park your car. The Wall Street Journal (paywall) has the story.


  • $2 billion. The amount of money Saudi's Public Investment Fund put toward getting LIV off the ground.
  • 11. The number of former PGA Tour players who had sued the PGA Tour for using its monopoly power to crush competition.
  • 14. The number of events on the LIV Tour schedule for this year.
  • 409,000. The number of viewers who watched a LIV Tour event in March, the last ratings report it released publicly.
  • ~2.3 million. The average number of viewers over the PGA Tour's nine events so far this year.
  • Three. The number of LIV Golf events that will be hosted at Donald Trump's golf courses this year.

The extras.

  • One year ago today we wrote about Republicans flipping a Congressional seat in Texas.
  • The most clicked link in Thursday's newsletter was (by far) our video on the Trump indictment.
  • Everything is terrible, but I'm fine: In our recent poll, we asked Tangle readers about their personal financial situation. 20% said they were in excellent shape, 44% said they were in good shape, 25% said they were in only fair shape, and 9% said they were in poor shape. Interestingly, this is a phenomenon in the general population, too: Polls show Americans are generally positive about their own finances, but negative about the economy. Derek Thompson has a piece in The Atlantic about why Americans tend to say everything is terrible, but I'm fine.
  • Nothing to do with politics: A foiled velociraptor statue heist.
  • Take the poll. What do you think of the LIV-PGA merger? Let us know!

Have a nice day.

A movement that started in Australia in the 1990s has been gaining traction, and is having a huge impact on mental health for men across the world. It's called "Men's Sheds," and it gives men coping with PTSD, trauma, and other mental health issues a space to work on craft projects with other men. Men's Sheds is based on the idea that men open up more through shared activity than through direct conversation. “If you put 12 men in a room and ask them to talk about their feelings, six will leave and the other six will try to find the corners,” says Charlie Bethel, the chief officer for Men's Sheds UK. "Men will talk shoulder to shoulder, but not necessarily face to face."

The impact is evident in suicide prevention, where in the UK in 2020 about 75% of suicides were men. In a recent survey of 178 of the UK’s 600 Men’s Sheds, 25 percent of respondents said they had definitely saved a member’s life, and 14 percent felt confident they had. Today, there are 13,000 Men's Sheds across the world, and growing. Reasons To Be Cheerful has the story, and the org is here.

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Isaac Saul
I'm a politics reporter who grew up in Bucks County, PA — one of the most politically divided counties in America. I'm trying to fix the way we consume political news.