Jay Monahan Sold American Golf’s Soul to Saudi Arabia. What’s Next?

The Saudi Public Investment Fund is the "exclusive investor" in the LIV-PGA merger

The PGA Tour logo.
The PGA Tour logo may never look the same.
Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire via Getty

After turning down an offer of $400 million per season to join Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema in playing for one of Saudi Arabia’s state-funded soccer teams, Lionel Messi will be coming to America to take the pitch for Inter Miami of MLS.

Messi, who has an estimated net worth of $600 million, was able to decline the offer from Saudi Arabia and resist the allure of lining his already full pockets with cash from the country’s Public Investment Fund (PIF). If only  PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan could have resisted Saudi Arabia and done the same thing.

In a shocker that sent seismic shockwaves throughout the sports world and led to “heated” conversations between Monahan and some of the world’s best golfers, the PGA Tour announced it was merging with Saudi-backed LIV Golf and Europe’s DP World Tour to form a for-profit global entity. As the press release about the merger made clear, the PIF will be controlling the purse strings, and therefore the direction, of the new venture.

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The PIF controls about $620 billion in assets and already owns LIV Golf

“PIF will initially be the exclusive investor in the new entity, alongside the PGA Tour, LIV Golf and the DP World Tour,” per the release. “Going forward, PIF will have the exclusive right to further invest in the new entity, including a right of first refusal on any capital that may be invested in the new entity, including into the PGA Tour, LIV Golf and DP World Tour.”

Though the PGA Tour will appoint a majority of the board members and hold a majority voting interest in the combined entity, PIF head Yasir Al-Rumayyan will serve as the chairman and likely hold fall more sway than Monahan due to his ties to the money. And what a lot of money there is. About $3 billion at least, to start, per estimates.

That money was enough to make Monahan and his behind-the-scenes cronies abandon the moral high ground they had been publicly clinging to and negotiate a deal with Al-Rumayyan over the course of seven weeks. “I would ask any player that has left or any player that would ever consider leaving: Have you ever had to apologize for being a member of the PGA Tour?” Monahan said in 2022. Now he’s the one who sounds (vaguely) apologetic.

“I recognize everything that I’ve said in the past and my prior positions. I recognize that people are going to call me a hypocrite,” Monahan said yesterday. “Anytime I said anything, I said it with the information that I had at that moment and I said it based on someone that’s trying to compete for the PGA Tour and our players. I accept those criticisms, but circumstances do change. I think that in looking at the big picture and looking at it this way, that’s what got us to this point.”

Jay Monahan’s inability to resist the wealth of Saudi Arabia has made him a punching bag. It’s deserved.

Looking at the big picture, as Monahan suggested, is actually a bit scary.

In addition to making a $2 billion commitment to an investment fund set up by Jared Kushner after Donald Trump —who downplayed the Saudi government’s role in the 2018 killing of Jamal Khashoggi while he was president — left office, Saudi Arabia’s PIF also bought EPL team Newcastle United FC for $408 million in 2021, has a 10-year, $1 billion deal with the WWE that guarantees them at least two events each year, a 10-year deal with Formula 1 worth $650 million that guarantees them the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix and has paid at least $150 million to host high-profile boxing events with top fighters including Anthony Joshua and Andy Ruiz Jr.

Why is Saudi Arabia and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman doing this? Oil runs out. Sports are forever.

Now, with the soul of an American sports league that was founded more than a century ago already in the PIF’s deep pocket, what’s to stop the Saudis from setting their sights on an even bigger fish? Similar to the way Ronaldo and Benzema were convinced to play against lesser competition for more money, could a depleted LeBron James be coerced into taking his talents to Saudi Arabia the way he once took them to South Beach? Or could the Saudis make the owners of an MLB, NHL or even an NFL team an offer they can’t refuse? At this point, it certainly seems within the realm of possibility.

When nothing is sacred except money, anything is possible. Just ask Monahan — but don’t believe what he says.

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