Scott Stinson: Golf's holy war may be over, but no one knows who's getting the spoils

Scott Stinson: Golf's holy war may be over, but no one knows who's getting the spoils

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It has been more than a week since golf’s holy war ended in a shock union.

At the time there were many questions. The list of them just keeps getting longer.

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The simplest, and the one that we are no closer to knowing, is: Who won?

Over at the U.S. Open in Los Angeles, where both sides of the PGA Tour and LIV Golf schism have convened, a pattern has emerged as the best golfers in the world are asked for their thoughts on what happened last week, and what they expect in the future.

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The golfers say they haven’t the faintest idea. This goes on for a bit. And then someone asks what club they plan to hit on the short par-3 15th.

Jon Rahm: “There’s a lot of unanswered questions.”

Brooks Koepka: “I wasn’t going to waste time on any news that happened last week.”

Cam Smith: “I know as much as you guys do.”

Matt Fitzpatrick: “I just don’t know what’s going on. I don’t think anyone knows what’s going on.”

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That’s two PGA stars and two LIV heavyweights, none of which sound the least bit clued in on what it all means. Is LIV doomed? Will the PGA Tour incorporate some of its events? Will the new entity formed out of the Saudi-PGA détente welcome the LIV defectors back like nothing happened?

TBD, it seems. Fitzpatrick, the reigning U.S. Open champion, said it best: “It’s pretty clear that nobody knows what’s going on apart from about four people in the world.”

Those four are presumed to be Jay Monahan, the PGA Tour commissioner; Yasir Al-Rumayyan, the head of Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund; and PGA Tour board members Jimmy Dunne and Ed Herlihy. None of them have said anything certain about the future of golf other than that there is a framework deal in place for peace in our time and the rest of the details are yet to be sorted out.

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This is, in a word, odd. Why announce a “landmark agreement” when you haven’t even figured out what has been agreed upon?

The only explanation offered so far is that golfers are a bunch of Chatty Cathys who couldn’t be trusted to keep any of this quiet while a deal was being constructed, so the dealmakers got out ahead of it. It’s like signing the Treaty of Versailles, except the whole thing just says “Treaty of Versailles.”

Into that void has stepped a fair bit of speculation. Greg Norman, the one-time LIV frontman who had taken on a less-visible role in its second season, has reportedly told LIV staff that it remains a standalone entity that will continue into 2024 and beyond. An unnamed LIV executive said that it would now be able to bring over all the stars who had so far resisted it, while claiming that they didn’t want Rory McIlroy, one of LIV’s most strident critics.

Neither of those things makes any sense, in terms of what the PGA Tour was presumably trying to accomplish with this move. Why combine forces with the breakaway league if it’s just going to remain broken away?

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The news release issued last week, which is long on hyperbole and short on specifics, does say that the new deal “combines PIF’s golf-related commercial businesses and rights (including LIV Golf) with the commercial businesses and rights of the PGA Tour” into a new entity. That doesn’t sound like a scenario in which LIV, with its 54-hole tournaments and goofy teams, would be left unchanged.

The belief that LIV will live on in some form is rooted in the fact that it’s the baby of Al-Rumayyan, a golf nut who also will be chairman of the new entity and who, crucially, is cutting the cheques. That does make some sense: The dude with the money has the power.

Except that has been explicitly denied by some of the interested parties. Tour players speaking in Toronto at the RBC Canadian Open, including McIlroy wearing his metaphorical I Hate LIV hat, insisted that the new thing will be a PGA Tour joint.

And Monahan, according to a report in The Guardian, sent a letter to U.S. Senators probing the new venture that said, “The PGA Tour will at all times hold the majority of the board seats and be in control of this new entity, regardless of the size of PIF’s investment.”

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Which, I mean, OK?

It sure seems weird that Al-Rumayyan would agree to spend billions of dollars of the Crown Prince’s money while giving up control of the whole thing, unless the Saudis are happy enough to have just bought a seat a golf’s head table.

There is somewhat of a precedent for this in the PIF’s purchase of Newcastle United in the English Premier League. There, the Saudis insisted that they were just the fellows providing the money, while the club would be controlled by U.K.-based minority partners. This position was meant to dissuade fears of a state-run football club.

Ironically, in one of the many LIV-PGA lawsuits, the PIF told a U.K. court that it was, in fact, an instrument of government, and thus shouldn’t be subject to that country’s disclosure laws.

That awkward bit aside, the Newcastle example at least suggests that His Excellency, as Al-Rumayyan is known to friends, can be content in some instances to be the money guy but otherwise in the background.

He’s also the chairman of Aramco and a board member of countless other entities in which the PIF is an investor. Busy guy, His Excellency.

The next LIV Golf event is in Spain in two weeks. Let’s see if the list of people who know things has extended beyond four by then.

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