Canada's Drew Nesbitt back where he belongs after taking golf hiatus

TORONTO — Drew Nesbitt was getting tired of swinging a hammer.

After some time away, he's back doing what he loves — swinging a golf club.

The 28-year-old local product qualified for the RBC Canadian Open last weekend and on Thursday fired a 1-over 73 at the country's national championship as he stepped back into the spotlight.

"Wasn't my best," Nesbitt said following his opening round. "Grinded pretty hard out there. 

"Took six months away from the game after a rough year."

That tough stretch culminated with his failure to earn a PGA Tour Card in September, which led to him taking up construction and home renovation.

"When you put the tool belt on, it's a little bit different than the golf bag," Nesbitt said of his brief carpentry career. "You realize pretty quickly where your interests lie and what's important to you.

"Building things with a hammer is cool and all, but it's not necessarily what I want to do."

The Horseshoe Valley, Ont., native played just once between the fall and March as he worked to get his mind right.

"Not being a good person internally," Nesbitt said when asked where he found himself before his self-imposed exile. "When you're battling out here, it's really difficult. It can take a toll if you don't believe that what you're doing is going to succeed.

"I just let it consume me."

Nesbitt decided to remove himself from that world to gain perspective.

"It was realizing truly what you're interested in," he said. "And I'm still interested in this. I know I can do it."

Nesbitt, who likely needs to shoot under par Friday to make the cut at Toronto's Oakdale Golf Country Club, is among a field of 21 homegrown players looking to become the first Canadian to win the country's national title since Pat Fletcher in 1954.

Corey Conners of Listowel, Ont., sat in a four-way tie for first at 5-under 67, followed by Mackenzie Hughes (69) of Dundas, Ont., Taylor Pendrith (69) of Richmond Hill, Ont., Roger Sloan (69) of Merritt, B.C., Adam Hadwin (71) of Abbotsford, B.C., Ben Silverman (71) of Thornhill, Ont., Mike Weir (72) of Bright's Grove, Ont., and Aaron Cockerill (72) of Stony Mountain, Man.

Adam Svensson of Surrey, B.C., Etienne Papineau of St-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Que., Johnny Travale of Stoney Creek, Ont., and Vancouver's Stuart Macdonald all shot 73.

Edmonton's Wil Bateman (74), Abbotsford's Nick Taylor (75), Michael Gligic (75) of Burlington, Ont., David Hearn (76) of Brantford, Ont., Taylor Durham (77) of North Vancouver, B.C., Myles Creighton (77) of Digby, N.S., Toronto's Sebastian Szirmak (81) and Toronto's Daniel Kim (82) rounded out the Canuck contingent.

Nesbitt, meanwhile, came back to the game following some reflection.

"This is what I am," he said. "This is what my identity has been. I know when I've got my good stuff. It's just about: How good is your bad stuff to play out here? 

"You look at the best players in the world ... their B, their C-plus games are still PGA Tour-quality. That's where it's got to get for me."

Nesbitt entrusted part of that process to well-known swing instructor Jeff Leishman. The pair went back and forth during the winter before Nesbitt headed south for in-person tutelage and then returned north.

"Never really had a real golf coach, per se," Nesbitt explained. "My dad and I have always kind of ham-and-egged it.

"(Leishman's) been good for me mentally, good for me in just organizing my game, addressing some flaws."

Nesbitt has played a total of five PGA events in his career — his only made cut was the 2019 Honda Classic — apart from plying his trade on lower-tier tours.

Golf's big names will be heading to the U.S. Open in Los Angeles next week.

Nesbitt's calendar is a little different with a spot booked at an event Monday and Tuesday for both professionals and amateurs in Guelph, Ont.

"If you get four or five weeks in a row out here, it would definitely change the way you feel," he said. "But every time I play one or two (PGA tournaments) a year — that's the most I've ever played — it's the first time. You don't get that rhythm.

"As much as I'm trying to let things happen, you're always in some way forcing it, which is exactly what I'm not supposed to do."

Despite those hurdles, and the whatever ones comes next, Nesbitt feels he's back where he belongs after a sabbatical that offered a glimpse at life away from the greens and fairways.

"When you do something else that is maybe not as enjoyable, you realize how enjoyable this is," he said.

"Even on its bad days."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 8, 2023.


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Power broker Jimmy Dunne with 9/11 history helped get PGA and Saudis to the table

PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan and Yasir Al-Rumayyan, the governor of Saudi Arabia's sovereign wealth fund, sat beside each other during a CNBC interview wearing comfortable smiles of longtime friends.

That was one of many surprises.

They announced a blockbuster commercial partnership that seemed so unfathomable only a few months ago because they were adversaries in the bitter antitrust lawsuit initiated by Saudi-funded LIV Golf — and because two months ago, they had never even met.

What brought them together in a roundabout way was Monahan appointing Jimmy Dunne — a power broker in golf and on Wall Street with a personal connection to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks — to the PGA Tour board of directors last fall.

It was Dunne and Ed Herlihy, chairman of the PGA Tour policy board, whom Monahan leaned on to set his first meeting with Al-Rumayyan a short time after the Masters.

They were the only PGA Tour principals involved in the deal that joins the commercial business of the PGA Tour, European tour and Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund in a for-profit entity that for now goes by “Newco” — new company.

Part of the deal is ending all litigation.

“I came to the table not being comfortable with criticism why we didn't meet with them,” Dunne said. "If you look at what happened (with LIV), we never would have done anything they did. We never would have hired Greg Norman. We never would have him flying to an event in a a parachute. We never would have done so many of these things.

“What does that tell me? That I have no idea what they're thinking,” Dunne said. “And when you have no idea what an adversary is thinking, I want to ask them, not their lawyers. I want to ask them directly.”

Herlihy, a New York attorney, is the chairman of the PGA Tour board, and for nearly 40 years a partner at Wachtell, Lipton, Rose & Katz. His focus is mergers and acquisitions of banks and financial institutions.

“The first conversation that I was not a part of was what was the most important conversation because of the position I’ve been in and what we’ve been trying to do with our tour,” Monahan said. “I wanted to rely heavily on those two fine gentlemen to have that first conversation.

“But when they came back and said it was a positive conversation and that I should have a follow-up meeting, I think that’s when things started to develop.”

That Dunne would be arranging the meeting is telling.

Only a year ago, when LIV Golf held its first 54-hole event outside London, Monahan was interviewed on CBS during the Canadian Open. He was asked about the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and the links to Saudi Arabia.

“I would ask any player who left (for LIV), or any player that would ever consider leaving, have you ever had to apologize for being a member of the PGA Tour?" Monahan said.

For Dunne, it's deeply personal.

Dunne is a good golfer, a member at Augusta National and Shinnecock Hills, the president of Seminole Golf Club. During a phone interview Wednesday, Jon Rahm and Lee Trevino were among those trying to reach him. Justin Thomas and Rickie Fowler have stayed at his house.

He began working at Bear Stearns before co-founding the investment banking firm of Sandler O'Neill & Partners (now Piper Sandler). The firm formerly was located on the 104th floor in the south tower of the World Trade Center.

Dunne was trying to qualify for the U.S. Mid-Amateur on Sept. 11, 2001. He lost 66 employees that day. He doesn't forget, nor does he choose to talk about it now. As he said to Sports Illustrated last year, “I would not be the fairest judge of Saudi involvement” in LIV because of the friends and colleagues who perished.

Dunne is all about finding solutions, and the PGA Tour was in need of answers.

Monahan said reshaping this year's schedule with 13 “designated events” averaging $20 million in prize money forced the tour to dip into its reserves, and there were questions how long this could be sustained.

“Between our reserves, the legal fees, our underpin and our commitment to the DP World Tour and their legal fees, it's been significant,” Monahan said.

Rory McIlroy, one of five player-directors for the PGA Tour board, wasn't aware of the deal until Dunne called him about 6:30 a.m. Tuesday — some four hours before it was to be announced — and walked him through the details.

“From what I gather, the tour felt they were in a real position of strength coming off of the back of the DP World Tour winning their legal case in London. It sort of weakened the other side’s position,” McIlroy said.

“And they went in there, and the way Jimmy described it: ‘Rory, sometimes you got 280 over water, you just got to go for it.’ And that’s what they did.”

Dunne said he has been in Monahan's ear about the tour at least talking to the Saudis — not Monahan at first, but Dunne or Herlihy, or perhaps someone from European tour (DP World Tour is the commercial name).

“After the Masters we decided — we had won a bunch of cases — let's find out what they're all about,” Dunne said.

In dealing with a group that's strategy was to outspend, the objective was to unite golf under one umbrella with Monahan in charge and end the litigation that was costing millions.

PIF's business includes LIV Golf, which is now under the umbrella of the new company — Monahan is the CEO, al-Rumayyan is the chairman, Dunne and Herlihy join them on the executive committee.

That's what led McIlroy to say on Wednesday, “Technically anyone that is involved with LIV now would answer to Jay. So the PGA Tour have control of everything.”

It's a lot to digest. Monahan has to work through credibility issues after spending a year fighting a rival that now is his partner, and then dropping the news without warning.

“Circumstances change, and they’ve been changing a lot over the last couple years,” Monahan said. And then it hit warp speed, starting with Dunne and Herlihy.


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Canada's Conners tied for clubhouse lead at RBC Canadian Open as controversy swirls

TORONTO — Metaphorical clouds of controversy and literal clouds of smoke continue to swirl around the RBC Canadian Open.

Canada's Corey Conners was in a four-way tie atop the leaderboard after a 5-under 67 in Thursday's first round. England's Aaron Rai and Americans Justin Lower and Chesson Hadley were grouped with Conners at the top of the leaderboard in the morning wave and no one caught them up.

Conners, from Listowel, Ont., was not able to speak with reporters after his round because he had to deal with an urgent personal matter. His caddy Danny Sahl said they were happy with Conners's bogey-free round.

"Really disciplined off the tee, we didn't try to do too much," said Sahl, who is from Sherwood Park, Alta. "But he had tons of fairways, missed maybe a couple in the first cut.

"Corey's just tee-to-green hitting greens, in regulation, made some good putts, just strong all around."

Lower said that to stay atop the leaderboard on Friday he'll have to stay aggressive at Oakdale Golf and Country Club.

"Just keep the gas pedal down and really just play determined." said Lower. "Don't play just going out there and going through the motions. 

"Play determined and go out there and be determined just to post a good score."

A Canadian has not won the Canadian Open since Pat Fletcher accomplished the feat at Vancouver's Point Grey Golf and Country Club in 1954. There are 21 Canadians in the field at this year's event, with Conners the top-ranked homegrown talent on the PGA Tour.

Mike Weir of Brights Grove, Ont., was the last Canadian to lead the first round of the national championship, sitting atop the leaderboard in 2008. Weir shot an even-par 72 to start his 30th Canadian Open appearance on Thursday.

He said Conners knows that leading on Sunday is what really matters.

"I think he's experienced enough to know that it's so early, that it doesn't really mean much yet," said Weir. "He just wants to, I'm sure, just keep doing what he's doing."

Three Canadians shot 3-under 69s to sit two shots back of Conners and the other leaders.

Mackenzie Hughes of Dundas, Ont., Taylor Pendrith of Richmond Hill, Ont., and Roger Sloan of Merritt, B.C., are tied for 13th. Hughes said it was great to see four Canadians in contention.

"You can't win it on Thursday, but you can lose it," he said. "So definitely nice to be in a good spot after Thursday but it's going to take four quite nice rounds and some steady golf."

Hughes also acknowledged it was great to get out and play after a tumultuous week on the PGA Tour.

The PGA Tour announced that a deal had been struck with Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund, LIV Golf's owner, to create a worldwide men's golf tour along with the European-based DP World Tour on Tuesday. The news came after a year of acrimony between the two sides, both in the headlines and in courtrooms.

Northern Ireland's Rory McIlroy, who hopes to win his third consecutive Canadian Open, has been the most outspoken defender of the PGA Tour over the past year, serving as the voice of mainstream men's professional golf as it fought LIV Golf in the headlines and in courtrooms.

He shot a 1-under 71 on Thursday to sit in a tie for 36th, a day after a lengthy news conference where he said he felt like "a sacrificial lamb" after the PGA Tour quickly changed gears and aligned itself with PIF.

"At the end of the day, this is business and my job is playing golf," said McIlroy. "The more that I can focus on that and focus on the birdies and the bogeys instead of the stuff that's happened in the board room I'll be much happier."

An air quality advisory due to ongoing forest fires across Ontario and Quebec was still in effect in the area. Although dark grey clouds hovered over Oakdale, several golfers said they were not impacted by the poor air quality.

There was some rain through the afternoon but play was never delayed.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 8, 2023.


Hughes, Conners among Canadians dreaming of winning RBC Canadian Open

TORONTO — Sometimes Mackenzie Hughes allows himself to imagine what it would be like to win the RBC Canadian Open. The cheers as he walked up the 18th fairway, the roar when he sank the final putt, the weight of the trophy as he lifted it.

No Canadian has won the men's national golf championship since Pat Fletcher accomplished the feat in 1954 at Vancouver's Point Grey Golf and Country Club. Hughes, from Dundas, Ont., is one of 19 Canadians in the field at this year's Canadian Open who hopes to end that nearly 70-year drought.

"That would be amazing. To be the guy, obviously, I'd be a bit of a Canadian hero to do that," said Hughes with a smile on Wednesday. "I just picture coming down those last few holes and the way the crowd is loud and the energy behind me would be incredible. 

"So I have let myself get to that point and think about those things. Like I said, it would be amazing."

Hughes is one of four Canadians tightly packed atop the PGA Tour's FedEx Cup rankings after he won the Sanderson Farms Championship on Oct. 2. Corey Conners of Listowel, Ont., is No. 27. Nick Taylor of Abbotsford, B.C., Adam Svensson of Surrey, B.C., and Hughes are Nos. 32-34, respectively.

"I know every one of the (Canadians) in the field this week feels the same way," said Hughes at Oakdale Golf and Country Club. "They want to be that guy. 

"So if it's not me I hope it's one of them. But I'll be trying to be that guy."

Conners, who is the highest ranked Canadian on the PGA Tour this season and on the official world golf rankings, agreed with Hughes.

"It would really be a dream come true," said Conners, who won the Valero Texas Open for the second time on April 2. "Growing up as a junior golfer in Listowel, I dreamed of winning the Canadian Open. 

"It's certainly not easy to do, but I'm excited to be teeing it up and feeling good about my game. It would certainly mean a lot to me personally."

Conners, Taylor, Svensson and Hughes are far from Canada's only hopes to finally bring the national title home.

Fellow PGA Tour members Adam Hadwin of Abbotsford, Taylor Pendrith of Richmond Hill, Ont., and Michael Gligic of Burlington, Ont., are also in the field.

Canadian golf icon and President’s Cup International Team captain Mike Weir of Bright’s Grove, Ont., will be competing in his 31st Canadian Open.

Johnny Travale of Stoney Creek, Ont., Vancouver's Stuart Macdonald, PGA Tour veteran David Hearn of Brantford, Ont., Roger Sloan of Merritt, B.C., and Edmonton's Wil Bateman are also playing.

Taylor Durham of North Vancouver, B.C., Toronto's Daniel Kim of and Toronto's Sebastian Szirmak earned their way in through regional qualifiers.

Three of the four best men's Canadian golfers outside of the PGA Tour are also in the field.

Myles Creighton of Digby, N.S., who leads the Latinoamerica Tour after winning the Inter Rapidisimo Golf Championship in Bogota, Colombia, on Sunday, will tee it up on Thursday. As will Ben Silverman of Thornhill, Ont., who sits third in the Korn Ferry Tour's points list, and Aaron Cockerill of Stony Mountain, Man., who is on the Europe-based DP World Tour. 

Calgary's Stephen Ames, who is atop the Champions Tour standings after three wins this season, is one of the few Canadians missing out.

"I can't even imagine would it would be like to win," said Cockerill, who is 31st on the DP World Tour and the highest-ranked Canadian in the world rankings outside the PGA Tour at No. 211. "It would be a lot of fun afterwards. 

"We had a few buddies come out, my family's here, so that would be too much fun probably."

Smoky conditions from wildfires in Quebec and Ontario could derail Canada's hopes of bringing the national title home. 

After Major League Baseball and the WNBA postponed games on Wednesday due to poor air quality in the New York City area, a spokesman for the PGA Tour said that an air quality index of 300 could potentially delay the tournament. 

Much like a weather delay due to lightning, officials will monitor air quality throughout the tournament. If the AQI moves above 300, the tournament's on-site meteorologist would check to see where the clouds of smoke are expected to be in an hour and, based on that prediction, would consider delaying play until the air quality improves.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 7, 2023.

Hypocrisy isn't new in sports, it's just more obvious in PGA Tour-LIV Golf merger

Major League Baseball was once so concerned about gambling it banned Hall of Famers Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays just for working as casino greeters. Now MLB itself and almost all of its teams have official casino sponsors.

The NCAA railed for decades that paying players would destroy college sports, all while raking in billions off of their unpaid labor. Now schools boast of booster collectives that help recruit top talent to their teams.

So when the PGA Tour overcame its indignation and agreed to merge with LIV Golf — despite the human rights abuses of its Saudi Arabian backers — the flip-flop followed a long-established tradition in sports of flexible attitudes that often hurtle into full-blown hypocrisy.

“Phil Mickelson initially said, ‘Oh, my God. It’s frightening some of the things have occurred.’ But for the right amount of money, he decided he’s going to join the LIV Tour. And this does seem to be much the same thing,” said Matthew Mitten, a sports law professor at Marquette University. “Sports are an outlet for people. The question is: How far will we go?”

As the top pro circuit in the world, the PGA Tour attracted the best golfers and all that came with them: bankable TV deals, luxury goods sponsorships and the attention of fans who want to see the most skilled athletes playing for the most prestigious prizes. That was all threatened when LIV Golf – backed by the Saudi Public Investment Fund -- began offering nine-figure sums to lure stars like Mickelson and Dustin Johnson to a new tour that featured team play and 54-hole events.

To fend off the challenge, PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan harped on the source of the money, telling his players last year, “Have you ever had to apologize for being a member of the PGA Tour?”

The answer, as of Tuesday, is yes.

“I recognize that people are going to call me a hypocrite,” Monahan told reporters after getting an earful from players who had just learned they were about to be partners with the regime they had been denouncing. “I accept those criticisms. But circumstances do change.”

What changed for Monahan, like so many other sports pooh-bahs before him, was the opportunity to wet the tour's beak in Saudi billions.

What didn’t change: It was never about anything else.

“One defense to going for the money is that sports shouldn’t be about politics. But the leagues can’t have it both ways,” said Jodi Balsam, who teaches sports law at Brooklyn and NYU law schools.

“It shows a certain amount of inconsistency, and perhaps even hypocrisy," said Balsam, who noted that baseball moved its 2021 All-Star Game out of Atlanta in response to a Georgia voting law but continues to do business in other, more troublesome places, including China. “None of their decision-making that supposedly is responsive to the ideological environment is actually principled. It’s all pandering.”

Not lost among the ironies: LIV was suing the PGA Tour, accusing it of using its monopoly to crush potential competitors. On Tuesday, LIV had an epiphany about the need for competition and combined with the PGA Tour in what Balsam called “a golf monolith” that will control players and every other aspect of tournament play, from sponsors to players to fans.

“There's nowhere else to play,” she said. “This will create a colossus that will be able to dictate the terms of how they do business with all their relationships upstream and downstream. A golf monarchy is going to have significant control over how we enjoy the game.”

And golf isn’t the only sport playing it both ways.

— The women’s professional tennis tour pulled out of China two years ago over concerns about Grand Slam doubles champion Peng Shuai, who dropped out of public view after saying in a social media post that a high-ranking government official raped her. The tour announced in April it would return this season with at least six events in China — backing off two of its key demands: a chance to meet with Peng, and a thorough, transparent investigation of her sexual assault accusations.

Other leagues have also stumbled as they tried to balance China’s 1 billion-strong market with its human rights violations, among them the suppression of religious rights and democratic movements. Nor have Chinese abuses scared off the Olympics, which returned to Beijing for a second time last year amid claims that the treatment of the Uyghur ethnic minority amounts to genocide.

— The IOC has likewise struggled to look serious in dealing with Russia – first for a years-long doping scheme, and then for its invasion of Ukraine. The decided upon measure: Let some athletes participate, but ban the flag and anthem.

--The most recent World Cup was held in Qatar, which has little soccer tradition and a record of human rights abuses it hoped to cleanse with what has come to be known as “sportswashing” — using major sporting events to distract the international community from its more unsavory behaviors. (What the World Cup did for Qatar and the 2022 Olympics did for China, LIV Golf was supposed to do for Saudi Arabia.)

— Contact sports face a different dilemma: With increasing data about the dangers of concussions, leagues have to balance the violence that can be a draw for fans with the risk to their players’ brains. “There is no higher priority than player safety,” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said — before the league added a 17th game to the schedule and ramped up the Thursday night schedule that forces players back onto the field on short rest.

“I am leery of all companies that take strong moral stands,” said Marc Isenberg, an athlete advocate and former Division III basketball player who has written about college sports and its ills and teaches a course at the University of Southern California on athletes’ newfound right to earn money off of their name, image and likeness. “And (I) try not to be shocked when they’re exposed as amoral profit-maximizers.”

Isenberg works with players to fend off unscrupulous agents and other predatory business arrangements. But the problem is sometimes the NCAA itself, which spent a century portraying its players as “student-athletes” to keep them from marketing their skills like any painter in the art school or flutist in the band.

Despite its protests, college sports have thrived since a (unanimous) U.S. Supreme Court ruling that struck down some of the more stifling NCAA restrictions. Another Supreme Court decision allowed all states to legalize sports betting; it turns out, with the riches of “gaming” sponsorships and a new way to attract viewers, U.S. pro leagues came around on this one-time taboo, with the NFL and NHL even putting teams in Las Vegas.

The Oakland-Los Angeles-Oakland-Las Vegas Raiders' move to the gambling capital of the United States — if not the world — typifies what is one of the most frustrating forms of sports hypocrisy to fans: Their favorite teams gush with love for their hometown, until a ballpark or arena begins to show some wear.

Other cities are trotted out as suitors until, ideally, the state or local government subsidizes a new stadium.

If not, someone else will.

Baseball’s Oakland Athletics are working both sides even now, less than a decade after Commissioner Rob Manfred said: “I am committed to Oakland as a major league site.”

“I think that if we were to leave Oakland, I think 10 years from now we would be more likely than not looking backwards saying we made a mistake,” he said in 2016.

But since then, A’s owner John Fisher has stripped the roster; the payroll of under $58 million is the lowest in baseball. With the team's future in flux, neither ownership nor the local governments have been willing to invest in the crumbling Oakland Coliseum, which has been beset by feral cat feces, moth infestations and backups of raw sewage.

Through Monday, the team had a record of 12-50, which puts them on a pace for a modern day record-shattering 131 losses — the most since the Cleveland Spiders were disbanded in 1899. Fans have responded in kind: Only 8,675 on average have come to see the team that put down roots in Oakland more than a half-century ago.

And many fans believe that is the point: The worse the ballpark looks and the lower attendance drops, the better Fisher's case for a new home. In April, he signed a deal — with Manfred’s blessing -- to move the team.

To Las Vegas.


Contributing to this story were AP Tennis Writer Howard Fendrich, AP Golf Writer Doug Ferguson, AP Baseball Writer Janie McCauley and AP National Writer Eddie Pells.

With Saudi-PGA deal, once-shunned crown prince makes dramatic move to extend kingdom’s influence

WASHINGTON (AP) — After years of isolation over his human rights abuses, Saudi Arabia's crown prince is elevating his standing in the United States in part by diving into American sports, business and culture. And no example has been as striking as his bold entry into professional golf — the favorite sport of presidents and millions of other Americans.

Tuesday’s surprise announcement of a commercial merger between Saudi Arabia’s $650 billion sovereign wealth fund, the PGA Tour and the European tour in the short run looks to end a messy legal battle between Saudi Arabia's LIV Golf and the PGA.

But for the Saudis, it’s much more than a major business deal. It’s the latest and perhaps most dramatic move by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to wield his kingdom’s oil wealth in reshaping his country's economy and advancing Saudi influence regionally and around the world, while muting critics. Prince Mohammed has assumed much of the duties and leadership of his aged father, King Salman.

The commercial merger followed the kingdom’s purchase of the Newcastle United soccer team and staging of Formula One races and multiple other sports events.

On Wednesday, Saudi Arabia's most prominent U.S. supporter celebrated.

Former president and current leading Republican presidential contender Donald Trump, whose golf courses and family have been a top beneficiary of Saudi investment, boasted that last year he had predicted a merger between Saudi upstart LIV golf and the PGA. Trump had warned pro golfers at the time they would lose millions if they stayed loyal to the “very disloyal PGA.”

A “big, beautiful, and glamorous deal,” Trump tweeted at the Saudi-U.S. golf announcement. Trump's golf courses were snubbed by the PGA Tour after his followers' violent Jan. 6, 2021, assault on the U.S. Capitol, while rival Saudi golf tour LIV patronized Trump courses, for undisclosed sums.

Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, who in 2018 had promised a “tsunami” of opposition against the crown prince over Saudi Arabia's killing of U.S.-based journalist Jamal Khashoggi, tweeted the PGA-LIV tour merger was “beyond exciting." He noted it could benefit the golf industry in his state of South Carolina.

Saudi exiles in the U.S. expressed disappointment. In the hours before the golf deal was announced, they had hosted a sparsely attended press call to try to bring attention back to the Saudi rights advocates, American citizens and family members still being held in Saudi prisons or banned from traveling.

“I think what the Saudi government has been noticing so far is that using money for sportswashing is working out for them,” said Abdullah al Oudh, whose father, a popular cleric, has been in prison in Saudi Arabia since publicly expressing hope that the crown prince would end a now-mended rift with another Gulf state, Qatar.

“They have used it once, twice, three times ... to just whitewash their crimes. And it's been working for them so far," al Oudh said.

It all has marked a stunning turnaround in the global standing of Prince Mohammed, who became almost globally despised after the 2018 killing of Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist who had written of the crown prince’s brutal ways.

The crown prince's aides and other Saudi officials killed Khashoggi after luring him to the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. The U.S. intelligence community concluded the crown prince had authorized the plot.

Then-presidential candidate Joe Biden pledged to make the crown prince a “pariah." It's a phrase that has been repeated in almost every Western article about the two since.

World leaders for a time shunned Prince Mohammed, leaving him standing awkwardly alone at summits as other leaders shook hands and smiled for photos. Global businesses briefly boycotted Saudi conferences.

Coming on top of Saudi Arabia's invasion of neighboring Yemen, its failed blockade of neighboring Qatar, its brief detention of Lebanon's leader, and intensified detention and torture of rivals, journalists and rights advocates, the Khashoggi killing stained Prince Mohammed's reputation, indelibly.

In the five years since, however, the crown prince has made his way out of isolation.

For starters, there has been no known repeat of high-profile killings like that of Khashoggi, whose apparent strangulation and subsequent dismemberment with a bone saw was recorded by Turkish surveillance.

The kingdom released the best-known of the Saudi women jailed under Prince Mohammed for asking for women's right to drive. That's even though many other lesser-known Saudis, including U.S. citizens or residents, remain in prison or under travel bans for peacefully advocating for more representative government or for commenting on Saudi government policy.

Meanwhile, oil production cuts by Saudi Arabia reminded Washington of Saudi Arabia's key strategic attraction. Biden came calling last July and did an awkward fist bump with the crown prince, as his administration sought to repair relations and get oil flowing more freely again.

Shrewd Saudi diplomacy has played a part as well. Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited the crown prince, and Iran reopened its embassy in Saudi Arabia, the same day as Saudi Arabia's stunning breakthrough in U.S. sports. It made the day a showcase of the ambitious crown prince's return to the global fold, even if no state dinners are likely for him at the Biden White House.

Tensions with the U.S. remain over Saudi Arabia's continued repression of Saudi dissent at home and abroad, the kingdom's throttling back on oil production, its relations with Russia, and its resumed ties with Iran, in a deal for which China claimed credit.

The golf deal announced Tuesday gives the Saudi sovereign wealth fund, and its chairman the crown prince, significant say in the direction of the sport in the U.S. Yasir Al-Rumayyan, the governor of the fund, told interviewers he planned to make the game a sport for the everyman and expand its following globally.

It was unclear how Saudi Arabia's escalated investment in U.S. sport would affect the kingdom's sovereign immunity, which is a longstanding practice of international law that shields foreign leaders from other countries' courts. The PGA Tour had insisted in U.S. courts that U.S. commercial exemptions to sovereign immunity meant that the Saudi national wealth fund and Saudi Arabia's leaders were vulnerable to U.S. legal action and public scrutiny of its business deals.

It's also unclear if the golf deal and Saudi Arabia's other investments in the U.S. have won over enough of its critics in Congress, including those objecting to Saudi Arabia's much-desired arms purchases from the U.S.

“So weird,” Sen. Chris Murphy, a Connecticut Democrat and lasting critic of the crown prince's rights abuses, tweeted after the golf announcements. “PGA officials were in my office just months ago talking about how the Saudis’ human rights record should disqualify them from having a stake in a major American sport. I guess maybe their concerns weren’t really about human rights?”

For Saudi Arabia, the move could be an economic boost as well. The crown prince, known as MBS, has focused investments from the sovereign wealth fund on sports and some emerging industries, not always successfully.

“This all has to go to the very singular focus and goal of MBS to diversify the country's economic platform” away from oil exports, said Jonathan Panikoff, director of the Scowcroft Middle East Security Initiative at the Atlantic Council’s Middle East Program. That includes with entertainment and tourism for foreign visitors, which the prince also has pushed.

“And then if a byproduct is that it also creates a better reputation and decreases reputational risk, I'm sure they're happy about it,” Panikoff said.

Rory McIlroy has 'mixed emotions' on PGA Tour deal with Saudi Public Investment Fund

TORONTO — Once again, Rory McIlroy found himself in the eye of the storm.

McIlroy has been the most outspoken defender of the PGA Tour over the past year, serving as the voice of mainstream men's professional golf as it fought LIV Golf in the headlines and in courtrooms. 

But on Tuesday the PGA Tour announced a deal had been struck with Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund, LIV Golf's owner, to create a worldwide men's golf tour along with the European-based DP World Tour.

The 34-year-old McIlroy spoke with media at the RBC Canadian Open on Wednesday, where he is seeking a third consecutive title. In his 20-minute news conference he only faced one question about repeating as Canada's national men's golf champion.

"It's hard for me to not sit up here and feel somewhat like a sacrificial lamb and feeling like I've put myself out there and this is what happens," said McIlroy at Oakdale Golf and Country Club in Toronto's northwest corner.

Founded in 2021, LIV Golf was meant to challenge men's golf's traditional power structure, offering huge guaranteed contracts to some of the biggest names in the sport. Events were team-based and supposed to have a more lively atmosphere than the staid PGA Tour.

Last June, several former world No. 1s or major champions announced that they were moving from the PGA Tour to LIV Golf. Dustin Johnson, Sergio Garcis, Martin Kaymer, Graeme McDowell, Louis Oosthuizen, Charl Schwartzel and Lee Westwood were some of those marquee golfers to jump ship, playing in the first-ever LIV event running in direct opposition to the 2022 Canadian Open.

McIlroy was sharply critical of LIV Golf ahead of last year's Canadian Open, and again found himself in the spotlight after the news that the PGA Tour would now be working with PIF.

"I feel bad for RBC and the Canadian Open," he said. "To think about what went on this time last year and then the bombshell that was dropped. 

"I feel bad because (RBC) being such a great partner and having this stuff dropped on you two years in a row is very unfair."

Mackenzie Hughes of Dundas, Ont., also disliked the timing. 

Most Canadians on the PGA Tour consider it a fifth major and Hughes was frustrated that the third-oldest national golf championship in the world was being disrupted after the COVID-19 pandemic cancelled the 2020 and 2021 Canadian Opens and then the inaugural LIV Golf event distracted fans and media from the only PGA Tour tournament north of the border.

"There's no doubt that the timing of it was less than ideal. Back-to-back years," said Hughes, who noted that PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan had told players that the timing couldn't be avoided. "It does distract you. I mean, I'm answering a question now about something that's not really pertaining to this week or this championship. 

"But once we get through today and we get going tomorrow, I think that the focus will be on the RBC Canadian Open and that's where it should be."

Yasir bin Othman Al-Rumayyan, the governor of Saudi Arabia's sovereign wealth fund, will join the PGA Tour board of directors and lead the new business venture as chairman, though the PGA Tour will have a majority stake.

As part of the deal merging the PGA Tour and European tour with Saudi Arabia's golf interests, the sides immediately dropped all lawsuits involving LIV Golf. McIlroy applauded that move, noting that the litigation was onerous for all involved.

But many questions still hang in the air.

It's not clear how golfers like Johnson and Brooks Koepka will be able to rejoin the PGA Tour. They earned bans after defecting for signing bonuses reported to be in the US$150 million range.

"There still has to be consequences to actions," said McIlroy. "The people that left the PGA Tour irreparably harmed this Tour, started litigation against it. 

"We can't just welcome them back in. That's not going to happen."

It's also not apparent if LIV tournaments — potentially rebranded as team events — will be added to the PGA Tour's calendar or the DP World Tour's schedule.

Aaron Cockerill of Stony Mountain, Man., is the only Canadian on the DP World Tour. Cockerill is playing in the Canadian Open this week as a sponsor's exemption. He said that he hasn't gotten much detail on what's next for the European-based circuit.

"No idea what it means for us," said Cockerill by the practice green. "We got a couple of emails from (the DP World Tour) but not a lot is really being said in there. 

"I have no idea what it's going to mean or what's going to happen, honestly. So we'll just see what happens."

Healing the rift that LIV Golf and the new deal have created is another issue. Both golfers and fans were sharply divided by the emergence of the upstart tour — Monahan said that a deal between the PGA Tour and PIF would never happen out of respect for the victims of 9/11 — and there's no clear path forward to bridging that gap.

"You've galvanized everyone against something and that thing that you galvanized everyone against you've now partnered with," said McIlroy. "So, yeah, of course I understand (fan upset). It is hypocritical. It sounds hypocritical.

"Whether you like it or not, the PIF and the Saudis want to spend money in the game of golf. They want to do this and they weren't going to stop. So how can we get that money into the game, but use it the right way?"

A meeting between players and Monahan on Tuesday about the new arrangement was reportedly heated. Corey Conners of Listowel, Ont., the top ranked Canadian on the PGA Tour, said that it was shocking news that left him caught off guard.

"To be honest, I haven't digested much of it. This being such a big week at the RBC Canadian Open, my focus is really on that," said Conners, who is No. 27 on the PGA Tour's FedEx Cup standings. "What I will say is I do have a lot of faith in the leadership of the PGA Tour. I know there's a lot of smart people working for us that will make the right decisions. 

"Right away some players may not necessarily agree with the decision, but I certainly have faith that it's going to be a positive direction for the PGA Tour and I have a lot of faith in our leadership."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 7, 2023.

Column: Golf's meritocracy means no guarantees for rich schedule

DUBLIN, Ohio (AP) — One week in Ohio was filled with reminders of how valuable meritocracy is to golf.

And that was before Tuesday's shock announcement of the PGA Tour and European tour going from enemies to business partners with Saudi Arabia.

Monday was U.S. Open qualifying across 10 sites in North America for at least 45 spots. Lucas Glover joked last week that he won the worst major because it was the only one he couldn’t play the rest of his life. And then the 2009 U.S. Open champion missed a 2-foot putt in a playoff for the final spot out of Columbus.

Cruel game. Fair game. Scores are scores.

The other examples came from Keegan Bradley and Rickie Fowler, who at various times were near the top of the leaderboard at the Memorial.

That hasn’t been the case in recent years.

Golf had been a grind for Bradley, who won the PGA Championship as a rookie in 2011 and played on two Ryder Cup teams thereafter. But there were too many years the season ended without him being among the elite at East Lake for the Tour Championship.

And then last August, with the threat of LIV Golf looming, Tiger Woods flew to Delaware for a private meeting of top players.

Bradley wasn’t invited.

“I felt I should have been included,” Bradley said. “My ego felt that. But I used that to my advantage. I went home and said to my wife, ‘This is going to be one of the most important years to have a good year.’ I always try to feel like I put the work in. But I knew this was going to be a very important year.”

That much was true when the PGA Tour announced plans for 2024. Only the top 70 in the FedEx Cup would reach the postseason, and then only the top 50 advance to the BMW Championship. Those are the 50 — numbers matter here, not names — who are set for the designated events of small fields and big purses.

Everyone else — that was Bradley’s category the past few years — would have to catch lightning at the right time to qualify for the $20 million events, or hope their name was big enough to get one of four sponsor exemptions.

Bradley went on what he described as a “crazy diet.” He worked harder than ever.

He tied for fifth in Mississippi. And then he won the Zozo Championship. Since then, Bradley was a runner-up at Torrey Pines and heads to the U.S. Open at No. 10 in the FedEx Cup, virtually set for next year.

Talk about timing.

“One of my buddies who works in a real job, he said it would be like getting all your orders in the first quarter of the year,” Bradley said. “That’s exactly how it felt. I’m in a good spot. Let’s keep going.”

Fowler knows the feeling, with one exception.

One of the most popular players in golf, Fowler had been in a three-year slump. He didn’t qualify for the BMW Championship last year. The only reason he got in the first postseason event was room created by all the defections to LIV Golf.

But he’s also buddies with Woods and hopped on the plane with him from South Florida.

There was a part of Fowler who listened — and contributed — in that meeting, knowing he might not be able to take a bite from the apple.

“I was on the outside looking in,” Fowler said. “But I was never in those meetings trying to look out for myself. We had this stuff going on, but at the same time, I can’t focus on that. I have to play golf and move forward and everything will fall into place.

“There were two scenarios,” he said. “I needed to get my (stuff) together, and the other was being part of the process and looking big picture and taking myself out of it.”

Fowler, reunited with swing coach Butch Harmon, was runner-up to Bradley in Japan. He has six top 10s. He is back inside the top 50 in the word and No. 22 in the FedEx Cup with two majors on the horizon.

Timing is everything.

There is a flip side, of course. Billy Horschel was in that meeting and now is in a deep slump that has seen is world ranking tumble from No. 18 at the start of the year to No. 38. He was on the Presidents Cup team last year. He is now outside the top 100 in the FedEx Cup.

Adam Scott for the first time decided to run for the Players Advisory Council, moving toward being on the board as a player director. He is No. 80 in the FedEx Cup and needs to get it in gear to assure being part of the big show next year.

There are four sponsor exemptions for most of the $20 million events. There are other ways in. But it has to be earned. Just like at the Canadian Open this week, and U.S. Open qualifying on Monday.

The PGA Tour schedule has never been more appealing, as long as players are part of it.

“There’s always pressure — to keep your card, to be in the top 50, the Ryder Cup. Everybody is working for something,” Bradley said. “There’s not a lot of guys freewheeling. Now more than ever, you need to be in the top 50 in the FedEx Cup. That’s the important number now.”


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PGA Tour and Europe join forces with Saudi's LIV Golf. Here's what you need to know

The announcement was so shocking that not even PGA Tour players knew what was coming. The tour was fighting the threat of Saudi-backed LIV Golf for more than a year. On Tuesday, they decided to start working together.

The PGA Tour, European tour and Saudi Arabia's sovereign wealth fund say they will combine their commercial businesses into a new company with hopes of unifying golf.

That means all lawsuits are being dropped immediately. The other details create as many questions as answers. That starts with whether top stars like Phil Mickelson and Brooks Koepka — suspended for taking massive Saudi money to leave the PGA Tour for LIV — will have a way back. They would rejoin players who stayed loyal to the tour.

The PGA Tour was in federal court trying to require Yasir Al-Rumayyan, the governor of the Public Investment Fund, to give testimony in an antitrust case. And now, Al-Rumayyan is on the PGA Tour board of directors. He also will be chairman of the new business venture involving the three tours.

Some players felt they were betrayed. Top players have not commented because they know so little about what this means.

Missing from all the announcements was Greg Norman, the commissioner of LIV Golf.


LIV Golf is a rival league funded by the Saudi Arabia sovereign wealth fund that has tried to reinvent the structure of professional golf with 48-man fields, no mid-tournament cuts and up to $25 million in prize money. There also is a team component. The league is run by Greg Norman, a former PGA Tour star who tried nearly 30 years ago to create a world tour. LIV Golf lured away 13 former major champions, including Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson, who then were suspended by the PGA Tour.


The kingdom has been investing in sports and entertainment in recent years as part of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's initiative called “Vision 2030” to diversify and reduce its dependence on oil. Golf was a natural fit.

It has led to accusations of “ sportswashing," an attempt to use sports investments to gloss over human rights abuses, such as the 2018 killing of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi, which the CIA says occurred on the orders of bin Salman.


LIV Golf was trying to get all the top players in the world ranking. A majority of them turned down bonuses estimated at $100 million or more to stay loyal to the PGA Tour.

Rory McIlroy accused LIV defectors of “taking the easy way out” and Tiger Woods said they “turned their backs” on the very tour that made them famous. It also caused a great divide in golf, because LIV players were not allowed to play on the PGA Tour. Now they are angry over the notion LIV players might return without consequences.

The PGA Tour looks nothing like it did when LIV Golf started. PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan says he couldn't match Saudi money, but it wasn't because of a lack of effort. This year the PGA Tour had 13 “elevated events” with $20 million purses. For 2024, it has returned its schedule to start in January and end in August. There will be about 15 tournaments with $20 million purses — nearly twice as much as they were — for the top 50 in the season points race on the PGA Tour.


Monahan refused to meet with the Saudi Golf group for two years. But a few months ago, PGA Tour board member Jimmy Dunne arranged a meeting. Monahan, European tour CEO Keith Pelley and Al-Rumayyan began working out an agreement. Monahan realized LIV Golf had a deep well of funds and wasn't going anywhere. He says golf was too divided and had too much tension and it was best for everyone to come together.


The PGA Tour policy board will add Al-Rumayyan, and then it will either add another player or remove one of the spots that belong to the corporate world. The new commercial company — it still doesn't have a name — will have Al-Rumayyan as the chairman and Monahan as the CEO. The PGA Tour will have a majority stake in the new company. However, PIF at first will be the exclusive investor alongside the PGA Tour, LIV Golf and the DP World Tour. Going forward, PIF will have the exclusive right to further invest.

The PGA Tour will keep tax-exempt status as a 501-c-6 organization that is charity driven. As far as fans are concerned, it will still be the same logo and the same tour. Ditto for the European tour, whose commercial name is DP World Tour.


LIV Golf will finish its second season this year as scheduled. After that is anyone’s guess. Monahan says officials will conduct a thorough evaluation of how to integrate team golf into the PGA Tour. LIV Golf was trying to turn its 12 teams into franchises. No one had sponsored a team.

It is unlikely that if LIV Golf still exists, players can play both sides. That's what led to this in the first place. Curiously missing from all the announcements was Norman's name. Al-Rumayyan said on CNBC that he told Norman about the merging tours only a few minutes before the announcement.


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PGA-LIV merger shocks golf world ahead of Canadian Open

On the eve of the RBC Canadian Open, news of a merger between the PGA Tour, European Tour and LIV Golf shocked the golf world — including one of Canada’s best players.

“Nothing like finding out through Twitter that we’re merging with a tour that we said we’d never do that with,” Mackenzie Hughes, a PGA golfer of Dundas, Ont., wrote on Twitter.

It’s the second straight year the Saudi Arabian-funded LIV Golf will be at the centre of discussion at Canada’s lone PGA Tour event. 

Last year, the breakaway tour held its first event during the same weekend as the Canadian Open and poached some of the PGA’s best golfers with enormous signing bonuses, including Dustin Johnson, then the face of the Canadian tournament.

At the time, PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan slammed LIV Golf, which came under heavy criticism as the latest example of "sportswashing" due to Saudi Arabia’s long-standing history of human rights abuses.

Now the tours are merging. The agreement combines the Public Investment Fund's golf-related commercial businesses and rights — including LIV Golf — with those of the PGA and European tours. The new, for-profit entity has not been named. The PGA, however, will retain its not-for-profit, tax-exempt status.

Hughes wasn't the only golfer caught off guard by the decision.

“I feel betrayed, and will not ... be able to trust anyone within the corporate structure of the PGA Tour for a very long time,” Wesley Bryan tweeted.

The Canadian Open starts Thursday at Toronto's Oakdale Golf and Country Club. Golf Canada did not immediately respond for comment.

Adam Ali, a professor at Western University whose current research focuses on the role of sport for international development, says news of the merger isn’t overly surprising. 

The Saudi regime benefits by further legitimizing itself in the global sports landscape — as it has with soccer superstar Cristiano Ronaldo’s transfer to the Saudi Professional League — and the PGA Tour gets a massive influx of money, he says.

Ali said much of the criticism directed at the PGA will centre on the Saudi regime's human rights violations and its discrimination of women and the LGBTQ community, but the United States has issues of its own.

“We also can't ignore the ways in which the rights of women, whether it be abortion rights, trans folk, queer people, gender non-conforming individuals are under attack in a fairly profound way as well in the United States,” he said, citing the Human Rights Campaign’s declaration of a national state of emergency for LGBTQ people in the United States on Tuesday.

“It seems like citing this kind of criticism is wielded only when Saudi interests don't align with the interests of a Western sport organization, but when they do the critiques aren't as apparent.”

Western University lecturer Colin McDougall, an expert on sports management marketing who has written about LIV, said having a rival tour netted some positive results for PGA players from a business perspective. He used the PGA’s decision to help players with expenses — something the tour didn’t do before LIV arrived — as an example.

Now with the loss of a market competitor, McDougall isn’t sure it’ll ultimately benefit the players.

“For the Canadian market, I would say try to imagine Rogers, Bell and Telus merging together into one for-profit communications offering,” he said. “Reverting back to what I would characterize now as a global monopoly … I think people will see the amount of money that the players are making and think that it's significant and high, but the proportional amount of money that is going to the players versus the amount that's being accrued by the operator, I think will go down.

“I don't see this new sort of unified structure as being one that is delivering a commensurate amount of compensation to the people who are creating its value.”

The field for this year’s Canadian Open — which doesn’t include any LIV players — is already set. The effect this merger will have on the event going forward is not yet clear.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 6, 2023.

PGA Tour commissioner has 'heated' meeting with players after LIV Golf merger

PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan spent more than an hour explaining to players Tuesday afternoon why he changed his mind about taking Saudi funds in a surprise collaboration, saying it ultimately was for their benefit.

And to think it was nearly a year ago to the day that Saudi-funded LIV Golf teed off in its inaugural event as a rival and a threat, flush with defectors from golf's top circuit.

Morals were questioned. Lawsuits were filed. Golfers doubled down on their affiliations.

A merger, it seemed, wasn't in the cards. But on Tuesday, professionals from both tours were caught off guard by news that their worlds would collide — that the PGA Tour, European tour and LIV Golf were merging.

“As time went on, circumstances changed,” Monahan said in a conference call after the meeting. “I don’t think it was right or sustainable to have this tension in our sport.

“I recognize everything I’ve said in the past. I recognize people will call me a hypocrite. Any time I’ve said anything, I’ve said it with the information I had, and I said it with someone trying to compete with our tour and our players.”

Before Monahan could send a memo to players, a news outlet broke the embargoed announcement that the tours were merging commercial interests. Some players learned about it on social media.

And that's where they responded.

"Nothing like finding out through Twitter that we’re merging with a tour that we said we’d never do that with," Mackenzie Hughes tweeted.

“And everyone thought yesterday was the longest day in golf,” tweeted Collin Morikawa, who also said he found out about the merger on Twitter.

Justin Thomas was in the middle of a practice session when he said his phone lit up with notifications. Tyrell Hatton simply tweeted an NFL blindside hit. Sepp Straka felt that was an accurate depiction.

Not getting in on the social media reaction was Rory McIlroy, who spent the past year vehemently defending the PGA Tour against LIV before going quiet on the topic in recent weeks. McIlroy is the defending champion at the Canadian Open.

Monahan described Tuesday's meeting as “intense, certainly heated.”

“I’m not surprised,” he said. “This is an awful lot to ask them to digest. This is a significant change for us. As I’m trying to explain as we go forward, this ultimately was a decision in the best interests of all at the PGA Tour.”

Phil Mickelson, among the loudest LIV defectors, called Tuesday “an awesome day.”

It wasn't immediately clear how the unification would work going forward.

Players who switched to LIV inked lucrative signing bonuses — in Mickelson's case, a reported $200 million — yet now might have a way to rejoin players who opted not to take money from a league that some have called a Saudi Arabia “sportswashing” initiative.

Michael Kim jokingly tweeted that he might live stream the meeting. But he added: “Very curious how many people knew this deal was happening. About 5-7 people? Player run organization right?”

Monahan said he was operating under a pledge of confidentiality and the circle of trust had to shrink.

He relied mainly on two board members, New York attorney Ed Herlihy (the PGA Tour board chairman) and financier Jimmy Dunne, who lost colleagues and friends from Sandler O’Neill when terrorists flew a jetliner into the south tower of the World Trade Center.

Still to come are details on how this venture will work and what it means to the tour — players that want to return, what consequences they face for defecting, and whether LIV Golf will even exist next year. Monahan said an evaluation would determine how to integrate team golf.

“I don’t want to make any statements or make any predictions,” he said. “But what is in place is a commitment to make a good-faith effort to look at team golf and the role it can play.”

PGA Tour member Byeong Hun An joked that Hideki Matsuyama “could have bought spirit airlines” if he had signed with LIV (Matsuyama was seen boarding a Spirit Airlines flight after the Memorial in Ohio). He also said his guess is “liv teams were struggling to get sponsors and pga tour couldn’t turn down the money."

“Win-win for both tours but it’s a big lose for (players) who defended the tour for last two years,” he tweeted.

Dylan Wu, a 26-year-old second-year player on the PGA Tour, called the merger “hypocrisy.”

“Tell me why Jay Monahan basically got a promotion to CEO of all golf in the world by going back on everything he said the past 2 years,” Wu tweeted, adding: “I guess money always wins.”


AP Sports Writer Ryan Kryska in New York contributed to this report.


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Jack Nicklaus is going back to work on the 16th hole at Muirfield Village

DUBLIN, Ohio (AP) — The course Jack Nicklaus built is still under construction.

Muirfield Village performed about as expected under a rare and overdue week of dry, hot weather. The winning score of 281 was the highest for the Memorial over 72 holes since Hale Irwin won at 281 in 1985.

What stood out was the 16th, the toughest of the par 3 that left players grumbling. Jason Day was overheard saying after a tee shot into the bunker, “Stupid hole.” Nicklaus was in the television booth, laughed, and when someone suggested they turn down the volume, Nicklaus, “No, I think he might be right.”

Nicklaus said he would go back to work on the 220-yard hole with bunkers to the right and a pond to the left.

“We’ll adjust 16 next year,” he said. “I’ll do some things that will make it a more forgiving hole. When you’ve got only 25% of the guys hitting the green, which is what it was on Saturday, that’s not enough.”

Part of the problem was a wind direction blowing from left to right, sending most shots across the firm greens into the bunker. Scottie Scheffler hit 8-iron to 2 feet on Sunday. He called that the only shot that was offline all day (he wasn’t aiming there).

Nicklaus said he sat down at lunch with Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy over the weekend asking for their feedback.

“I don’t want guys walking around here saying, ‘What a great 17-hole golf course,’” Nicklaus said. “I’m trying to make this golf tournament the best I can make it. And if that means making an adjustment, we’ll make an adjustment.”


Adam Schenk played 11 out of 13 weeks to start the year because he and his wife had their first baby on the way. After the birth of their son, he played five straight weeks through the Memorial. And then he was facing 36-hole U.S. Open qualifying.

Schenk effectively had his own U.S. Open qualifier on Sunday at Muirfield Village.

He withdrew from U.S. Open qualifying before the Memorial. If he missed the cut, he could always add the Canadian Open in a bid to get into the top 60 in the world ranking.

“If I was making the cut, playing nice, I could play this weekend and let the cards fell where they may,” he said. “If I had Canada and the U.S. Open off, that’s fine.”

The scorecards showed a 68-71 weekend that led to a tie for seventh. He moved to No. 53 and should be safe to stay in the top 60 for the U.S. Open.


The USGA and R&A presented its thinking behind a proposed model local rule that effectively would roll back the golf ball. By all accounts, the PGA Tour players at a meeting at the Memorial were not convinced it was necessary.

Keegan Bradley did not go to the meeting, though he didn’t hold back. Some of that mistrust comes with the governing bodies deciding to ban the anchored stroke used for long putters. Bradley used one to win the PGA Championship in 2011, and it took him time to make the adjustment.

“I have a really strange relationship with the USGA from the belly putter,” Bradley said. “I just feel like the USGA admits to making mistakes and then they punish the players for it. I don’t feel like it’s our fault that they think that the ball went too far or that they should have banned the belly putter. They retroactively, decades later, try to adjust and then they just throw it on us.

“This is how we make our living,” he said. “I don’t think that’s necessarily fair that we pay for their mistakes.”

Adam Scott, who used a long putter when he won the Masters in 2013, serves as chairman of the Player Advisory Council. He was in the meeting and said he wasn’t swayed one way or the other after hearing from the governing bodies, and then manufacturers Titleist, Bridgestone and Callaway.

“I’m still sitting in the spot of waiting to see better evidence of why we should make such a drastic change at this point,” Scott said.

The PAC is to meet next week at the Canadian Open to discuss it more. The proposal is in the feedback process.


No one will have traveled farther in such a short time to get to the U.S. Open than Alex Noren.

The 40-year-old Swede tied for 52nd at the Memorial, and then left Ohio on Sunday night for Stockholm to play in the Volvo Car Scandinavian Mixed, the tournament where European tour and Ladies European Tour members compete from separate tees for one prize and one trophy.

He is to leave Stockholm on Monday morning and arrive in Los Angeles about 4 p.m.

And then he plays the major known as the toughest test in golf.

Ideal? Probably not. But this is more about feeling a responsibility to promote golf in his home country.

“Two years ago I didn’t play,” Noren said. “I’m aware that it’s not so easy to host a tournament in Sweden. The format is unique. I just think it’s cool to have a tournament like that in Sweden. I have two kids, one of them a girl. These are good opportunities, especially if it helps in getting more girls to play golf.”

Noren won’t arrive totally unprepared. He made a point to play two practice rounds at Los Angeles Country Club earlier this year.


John Deere has extended its title sponsorship agreement for the PGA Tour event it has sponsored since 1998. ... Georgia senior Jenny Bae, who lost in a playoff to Rose Zhang in the Augusta National Women's Amateur, has won the Inkster Award as the top college golfer in her final year of eligibility. The award is named after Hall of Fame member Juli Inkster, who waited until finishing college (San Jose State) to turn pro. Workday, a sponsor of the award, provides $50,000 to the Juli Inkster Foundation to help support Bae’s transition to professional golf. ... The Australian Open is going to Sydney this year with no shortage of golfers. The tournament will be at The Australian and The Lakes in Sydney featuring the men’s Open and the women’s Open held concurrently, separate competitions with equal prize money. This year also will include the Australian All Abilities Championship. ... Texas Children’s, the largest pediatric and women’s health system in the nation headquartered in Houston, is the new title sponsor of the Houston Open on the PGA Tour.


Patrick Rodgers has made it through U.S. Open qualifying each of the last three years, the longest such active streak.


“For an amateur to succeed as a pro, you've got to be able to beat everybody you played against as an amateur." — Jack Nicklaus.


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