When a story as big as the PGA Tour merging with the PIF blindsides everyone in the golf world, there will always be plenty of analysis and dissection. That dissection started over the weekend, with multiple outlets in on the action. ESPN had another interview with Jimmy Dunne, who outlined how players who stayed loyal could get equity stakes in the new entity, and that a panel will figure out the possible re-integration of LIV defectors.
The Wall Street Journal reported that Jay Monahan conveyed to Tour employees that it was getting too financially painful to keep fighting its counterpart, especially on the legal front, and that its cash reserves were taking a real hit. From the WSJ report: “the Tour had already spent nearly $50 million in its legal battle with LIV and tapped into $100 million of its reserves to boost purses and bonus pools…” The Tour responded to the report by saying that the Journal’s framing (which, again, was derived from Monahan’s own message to Tour employees) was an oversimplification.
Adding to the reporting was the New York Times with a piece offering many details from key meetings and golf rounds, held over the past couple of months and attended by the intimately small group that put this deal together. Within that article was this tidbit: “More precariously, the tour’s efforts to retain the loyalty of players, which included raising prize purses by tens of millions of dollars, were severely straining its finances.”
The messaging from the PGA Tour on this has been a mess from the start, including the decision to use 9/11 families to advance their public arguments, which looks horrible now. Their media strategy continues to confuse. There’s little understanding yet of why this deal was made, and none of the public explanations line up neatly. It’s more like the Tour is playing whack-a-mole on the pushback against the various angles of criticism.
Obviously information evolves as the situation on the ground changes, but messaging from the PGA Tour has now contradicted itself to an absurd degree over the course of its reaction to the Saudi threat. There are many conclusions that can be drawn, which makes the truth very difficult to parse. But here are a few possibilities after this latest round of reporting on the deal:
The PGA Tour was initially caught unprepared and flat-footed when dealing with the oncoming Saudi challenge. It did not have the ideas, models, or even the gumption to contemplate what it might need to do to adapt against a massive threat. The Tour didn’t take it seriously until it was too late, with players forced to come up with defenses on the fly last summer. That culminated with the Delaware meeting, which somehow didn’t fully contemplate the financial burdens their chosen strategy would cause? They’ve been reactive all along, leading directly to the point they were forced to do a deal because of “severe strain” on finances.
They’re pushing hard on the dire financial situation narrative, to the point of overemphasis, because self-preservation is an easy out. It’s not lying, but it’s a remarkably sudden shift to go from the past year of “we’re fine, also stronger than ever” to pointing to dwindling cash reserves in order to justify a deal that’s received a mountain of backlash. And making the story about these financial strains makes for a more palatable narrative than “we were fine, but we saw a chance for billions more and we wanted it.”
They are punting on their own agency of having faced a real choice by suggesting they had to do it because they were getting financially stretched, seemingly in an attempt to avoid some of the burden of their decision to jump in the Saudis’ pool. But even taking that at face value, it doesn’t get the Tour off the hook for all of their missteps that put them in a position to almost need to merge, at a time when LIV was floundering. It’s hard to reconcile what we’ve heard from Ponta Vedra for the last year with some of the stated reasons the Tour is pushing now that the deal is done. There’s no coherent message. In other words: business as usual.
This piece originally appeared in The Fried Egg newsletter. Subscribe for free and receive golf news and insight every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.