Jun 12, 2023

LIV Golf timeline: PGA Tour merge caps whirlwind history for golf tour

Editor's note: For the latest on the LIV Golf and PGA Tour merger, follow USA TODAY Sports' live updates here.

Some shocking news came down Tuesday morning as the PGA Tour, DP World Tour and LIV Golf League agreed on a partnership deal to "unify men's professional golf."

"After two years of disruption and distraction, this is a historic day for the game we all know and love," said PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan. "This transformational partnership recognizes the immeasurable strength of the PGA Tour's history, legacy and pro-competitive model and combines with it the DP World Tour and LIV – including the team golf concept – to create an organization that will benefit golf's players, commercial and charitable partners and fans."

Let's take a look at the history of LIV Golf, and how everything happened that led to this moment through extensive Golfweek reporting.

Multiple sources confirmed a private meeting with golf media members took place to outline plans for a new Saudi Arabia-backed golf series with Greg Norman as the expected commissioner.

ESPN's Bob Harig and others previously reported that Norman, 66, announced his association with LIV Golf Enterprises, backed by the Public Investment Fund, which operates on behalf of the government of Saudi Arabia. Norman was set to become chief operating officer of the enterprise, as well as commissioner of the new league.

Norman sent a letter to players stating the league was not on its last breath and announced the league has serious teeth.

Starting in June, the LIV Golf Invitational Series will feature eight events and consist of individual and team play with prize money reaching $255 million. The first event will be played June 9-11 at Centurion Golf Club in London; the first seven events will have $20 million purses with an additional $5 million split among the top three teams each week.

The PGA Tour denied its members permission to play in LIV's London event. The denials were sent to players who had sought permission.

It had been expected that the PGA Tour would grant waivers for the LIV event because of a precedent allowing players limited releases for overseas events. (All members are required to seek a conflicting event release to compete in non-Tour events.)

However, it is thought the decision is based on a belief that the event is effectively part of a rival series. LIV's second event is due to be played July 1-3 in Portland, Oregon — with plans for more to come.

"We have notified those who have applied that their request has been declined in accordance with the PGA Tour Tournament Regulations. As such, Tour members are not authorized to participate in the Saudi Golf League's London event under our Regulations," said the letter signed by PGA Tour executive vice president Tyler Dennis. "As a membership organization, we believe this decision is in the best interest of the PGA Tour and its players."

"Sadly, the PGA Tour seems intent on denying professional golfers their right to play golf, unless it's exclusively in a PGA Tour tournament," LIV CEO Greg Norman said via statement. "This is particularly disappointing in light of the Tour's non-profit status, where its mission is purportedly 'to promote the common interests of professional tournament golfers.'

"Instead, the Tour is intent on perpetuating its illegal monopoly of what should be a free and open market. The Tour's action is anti-golfer, anti-fan, and anti-competitive. But no matter what obstacles the PGA Tour puts in our way, we will not be stopped. We will continue to give players options that promote the great game of golf globally."

Among those in the field for the debut event at London's Centurion Golf Club is Dustin Johnson, a former No. 1 player in the world who has a pair of majors under his belt.

Others listed in the field include Sergio Garcia, Louis Oosthuizen, Ian Poulter and Talor Gooch. Kevin Na and Lee Westwood, long rumored to be on the roster, were also announced as part of the group.

Phil Mickelson was not in the field. but there is still a chance he's added before the event begins. Also, a number of players will be added after an International Series event this week being played in London.

Phil Mickelson's name wasn't on the initial list of players for LIV's opener in London, but hours after announcing plans to stream the inaugural event, it was also announced that Phil Mickelson would be ending his self-imposed hiatus and teeing it up alongside Dustin Johnson, Kevin Na and the rest of the field.

Mickelson released a statement on Twitter where he started by apologizing to people he offended with his comments and praised his "humbling" time away.

"I realize I still have a long way to go but I’m embracing the work ahead. I’m ready to come back to play the game I love but after 32 years, this new path is a fresh start, one that is exciting for me at this stage of my career and is clearly transformative, not just for myself, but ideally for the game and my peers," Mickelson wrote. "I also love the progressive format and I think it will be exciting for fans. Just as importantly, it will provide balance, allowing me to focus on a healthier approach to life and on and off the course. I am incredibly grateful for what this game and the PGA Tour has given me. I would like to think that I have given back as well but now I’m excited about this new opportunity. I’m thrilled to begin with LIV Golf and I appreciate everyone involved."

In a memo sent to members of the PGA Tour, commissioner Jay Monahan was true to his word toward players who opt to play in LIV.

You are no longer welcome on the PGA Tour.

"We have followed the Tournament Regulations from start to finish in responding to those players who have decided to turn their backs on the PGA Tour by willfully violating a regulation," Monahan wrote in the memo. "Simultaneous to you receiving this memo, the players are being notified that they are suspended or otherwise no longer eligible to participate in PGA Tour tournament play, including the Presidents Cup.

"This also applies to all tours sanctioned by the PGA Tour: the Korn Ferry Tour, PGA Tour Champions, PGA Tour Canada and PGA Tour Latinoamérica."

The memo was sent shortly after the first tee shots were hit in London in the first LIV event.

Among those suspended were Phil Mickelson, Ian Poulter, Lee Westwood and Matt Jones. Also suspended were players who have resigned their membership, including Sergio Garcia, Dustin Johnson, Martin Kaymer, Graeme McDowell, Kevin Na, Louis Oosthuizen and Charl Schwartzel.

Charl Schwartzel started the final day of LIV's inaugural event at London's Centurion Club with a comfortable lead. He finished it with nerves that were a bit more frayed, but with almost $5 million to help deal with any anxiety.

The South African made a double bogey on No. 12 and limped home with bogeys on Nos. 14 and 18, but still managed a one-stroke victory in LIV's debut event.

After an outburst where he accused media members of putting a black cloud over the U.S. Open by talking so much about LIV, Brooks Koepka spurned the PGA Tour and is expected to make his debut on the new circuit at its second event at Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club in Portland, Oregon.

Koepka joins the likes of Dustin Johnson, Bryson DeChambeau, Patrick Reed, Phil Mickelson, and Abraham Ancer as more big names continue to jump ship for a massive payday.

Talk of lawsuits involving the LIV Golf Invitational Series and the PGA Tour has been just that. Until now.

As first reported in the Wall Street Journal, 11 LIV golfers are suing to challenge their PGA Tour suspensions. Phil Mickelson and Bryson DeChambeau are among the 11 suing the Tour.

Three other LIV golfers – Talor Gooch, Matt Jones and Hudson Swafford – are a part of the lawsuit because they are seeking a temporary restraining order so that they can play in the PGA Tour's FedEx Cup Playoffs.

The other golfers involved are Abraham Ancer, Jason Kokrak, Carlos Ortiz, Pat Perez, Ian Poulter and Peter Uihlein.

LIV announced six golfers would be taking their talents to the new series: Cameron Smith, Joaquin Niemann, Marc Leishman, Harold Varner III, Cameron Tringale and Anirban Lahiri.

The new additions gave LIV six of the top 30 players on the Official World Golf Ranking as it prepared to host its fourth event at the International near Boston.

When asked about his reported interest in LIV Golf after his Open Championship victory, Cameron Smith said, "I don't know, mate. My team around me worries about all that stuff. I’m here to win golf tournaments."

Reports then broke the week of the FedEx St. Jude Championship at TPC Southwind that he was taking his talents to LIV, but Smith didn't confirm or deny the news.

Phil Mickelson addressed the ongoing battle between the PGA Tour and LIV Golf, saying "the best solution is for us to come together."

During Jay Monahan's recent interview with ESPN, the PGA Tour commissioner addressed everything from the Presidents Cup to Tiger Woods' leadership amid the Tour's struggles against LIV. Most importantly, he flat-out said LIV Golf and the PGA Tour cannot work together or coexist.

"I think it's impractical when you look at the fact that certain players have sued the PGA Tour, their employer has sued the PGA Tour," Monahan said. "It's not in the cards. It hasn't been in the cards and it's not in the cards. I think we’ve been pretty consistent on that front."

Royal & Ancient chief executive Martin Slumbers initially said they had no plans to ban LIV players saying: "Let me be very clear. That's not on our agenda."

That message remained the same.

"We’ll go public in January/February with what we are going to do with regard to LIV golfers. But if you want a guide, go back to what I said in July. We’re not banning anyone. We are not going to betray 150 years of history and have the Open not be open," Slumbers said.

Dustin Johnson's 4Aces GC came out on top of the LIV Golf Team Championship.

Louis Oosthuizen's Stinger GC were out of the picture for the majority of the day, leaving the battle for the top three to the 4Aces, Cameron Smith's Punch GC and Brooks Koepka's Smash GC. The latter fell off later in the round, leaving a two-way race to the finish.

The 4Aces led by one stroke with one hole to play before Punch's Marc Leishman tied the 4Aces at 6 under with a late birdie, just his second of the day. Patrick Reed then delivered a birdie on his final hole to reclaim the lead at 7 under and eventually earn the win after his teammate Johnson made par on the last.

Atul Khosla, LIV Golf's chief operating officer, stepped down from his post, according to The New York Times, leaving the Saudi-backed circuit without one of its most experienced sports executives.

Despite the ever-looming presence of Greg Norman as the league's face and voice, Khosla was believed to be the man to lead the breakaway organization toward legitimacy in the sports world.

Before he served as LIV's COO, Khosla was the chief corporate development and brand officer for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

"I look forward to being a part of the LIV Golf Investments team to help bring this vision to life and transform the game into an international sport," Khosla said in a release after his hiring.

Invitations for the 2023 Masters will be hitting the mail shortly for Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson and Patrick Reed.

The past champions who have departed for LIV Golf, will be welcomed to the field at the first major, Augusta National chairman Fred Ridley confirmed.

"We will invite those eligible under our current criteria to compete in the 2023 Masters Tournament," Ridley wrote. "Regrettably, recent actions have divided men's professional golf by diminishing the virtues of the game and the meaningful legacies of those who built it. Although we are disappointed in these developments, our focus is to honor the tradition of bringing together a preeminent field of golfers this coming April."

The CW Network and LIV agreed on a multiyear broadcast deal that will allow the CW to air all 14 events throughout next season as well as offer a streaming option through its app.

"This is a momentous day for LIV Golf as this partnership is about more than just media rights. The CW will provide accessibility for our fans and maximum exposure for our athletes and partners as their reach includes more than 120 million households across the United States," Greg Norman said in a release. "We’re very proud to note how consequential it is that a league that has only existed for one year has secured a full broadcast deal in its debut full league season."

With a second season of LIV Golf just days from the starting line, a federal judge has dealt a blow to the group that financially supports the upstart league, one that could radically change the fledgling circuit's anti-trust lawsuit against the PGA Tour.

Although LIV Golf attorneys have been attempting to shed light on the PGA Tour's organizational structure and financial dealings, the head of Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund tried to avoid the same fate, claiming "sovereign immunity" during a November filing.

But a federal judge ruled that the PIF and its governor Yasir Al-Rumayyan must provide the same information, a move that's expected to slow the aggressiveness of any suit, and might even halt it completely. It's uncertain if Saudi officials will want to divulge such information.

The United States Department of Justice is ramping up its investigation into how former President Donald Trump has handled classified documents since his time in office ended. But what does that have to do with golf?

According to a New York Times report, amid the larger investigation the DOJ has subpoenaed the Trump Organization for records regarding LIV Golf and President Trump's ties to the upstart circuit financially backed by Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund.

In LIV Golf's inaugural season last year, Trump National Bedminster and Trump National Doral both hosted events. The pair of properties will do so again in 2023, as will his resort in Potomac Falls, Virginia, outside of Washington, D.C.

Phil Mickelson is one of a handful of players who have been interviewed with regard to the United States Department of Justice's antitrust investigation of the PGA Tour.

According to a New York Times report, Mickelson and fellow LIV Golf League players Bryson DeChambeau and Sergio Garcia have all been interviewed.

Last July news broke that the Department of Justice was investigating whether the Tour engaged in anticompetitive behavior against LIV Golf. The upstart circuit has long been criticized as another way for the Saudi government to sportswash its human rights record via its Public Investment Fund.

LIV Golf picked up a rare win in its antitrust lawsuit against the PGA Tour.

Judge Beth Labson Freeman previously ruled in the U.S. Northern District of California court that Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund – the Kingdom's sovereign wealth fund – as well as its governor Yasir Al-Rumayyan were both subject to discovery and depositions in the United States, a major blow to LIV's legal team.

LIV's lawyers then appealed the decision to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in order to further delay the discovery process. Judge Freeman granted the PIF and Al-Rumayyan's motion for a stay of discovery pending the appeal, a decision that could take 1-2 years.

The world of professional golf as we know it has now officially changed.

The PGA Tour announced groundbreaking news that it formed a new commercial entity with the goal of unifying golf with the help of Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund.

From the PGA Tour's release: "The parties have signed an agreement that combines PIF's golf-related commercial businesses and rights (including LIV Golf) with the commercial businesses and rights of the PGA Tour and DP World Tour into a new, collectively owned, for-profit entity to ensure that all stakeholders benefit from a model that delivers maximum excitement and competition among the game's best players."

PIF will make an investment into the unnamed new entity "to facilitate its growth and success" and will initially be the exclusive investor alongside the PGA Tour, LIV Golf and the DP World Tour. PIF will also have the exclusive right to further invest in the new entity, including a right of first refusal on any new capital that may be invested in the entity.

The PGA Tour will appoint a majority of the Board and hold a majority voting interest in the new entity. The Board of Directors of the new entity will include PIF governor Yasir Al-Rumayyan as chairman and PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan as chief executive officer.