Could it be that this Tuesday’s announcement of a 3-way merger between the PGA Tour, DP World Tour, and LIV Golf is the biggest golf story in history, as some bloggers have already labeled it? Maybe not. Walter Hagen walking into the clubhouse at Royal St. George and gaining the support of the Prince of Wales still arguably stands as the most important moment in professional golf’s past, since it allowed Sir Walter (and Arnold Palmer) to wage war against the low-class stereotype of pro golfers, and to develop the concept of TV golf played by paid athletes.
To report that LIV just made the biggest news in golf history may be giving too much credit to a “rebel” tour that may not last 3 years in the ever-changing conditions.
Nonetheless, to say that the PGA Tour’s world has been quickly turned upside down would be an understatement. Tour commissioner Jay Monahan is facing public shame for preaching a “moral and ethical” stand against LIV Golf and its Saudi investors, then making this Tuesday’s deal behind his players’ backs, to the extent that almost every PGA Tour pro found out about the merger through social media or on Golf Channel. PGA Tour loyalists such as Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy are livid that they turned down so much money to make what they thought was a principled stand alongside Monahan, only to find out that the commissioner had been secretly negotiating with the tour’s new rival all along. Fans who weren’t fond of the changes to begin with are now in a state of shock about the merger’s consequences.
The suddenly popular trope of “Saudi Arabia now owns golf” firmly rejected by WagerBop. If the Saudis wanted to own the game of golf, they would have to somehow buy out the USGA, the Professional Golfers of America (the real “PGA” as opposed to the PGA Tour), Augusta National and the Masters Tournament committee, and most of all, Britain’s Royal & Ancient Club, still the umbrella sanctioning body of all golf events not under responsibility of the USGA.
With irony, the golf bloggers who are complaining the loudest about a Middle East takeover of the game itself are accidentally letting Monahan and the PGA Tour define the terms of the controversy. For all the commissioner’s efforts, the tour still doesn’t host a single tournament that’s vaunted enough to be called a major, and neither does LIV Golf or the DP World Tour. The sport of competitive golf is built on a quartet of Grand Slam titles, a set of prestigious international events, and finally the weekly professional tours, of which the PGA Tour and LIV Golf happen to currently be the richest. The pact Tuesday mostly impacts the latter “3rd-tier” litany of tournaments.
Some will say that the PGA-LIV merger is unprecedented, and that means that whoever you are listening to is either fibbing or not thinking straight. In fact, around 50 years ago one of America’s biggest sports leagues merged with a rebel enterprise, run by ruthless “Big Oil” barons of its own. First, the established league made fun of the rival league as a bad idea altogether, much like the PGA Tour has over the past year. The popular old-timey league then began losing to the insurrection’s best players, the most famous of whom posed haughtily for “Playgirl” and confessed to craving a life of riches. Those dastardly tycoons succeeded in forcing the older league to play ball, even welcoming a club that’s been winning the biggest sports title in the United States in the 2020s. Are any fans still boycotting said league over what happened back then? Maybe, but most of us are okay with Joe Namath of the AFL, and have no problem cheering for the Kansas City Chiefs.
While PGA Tour superstars stew in anger at their organization’s top brass, LIV Golf’s participants are dancing with their cleats off, sending out celebratory and funny tweets. But it’s worth mentioning that players like recent PGA champion Brooks Koepka, who may have thought they found a “cheat code” for the Grand Slam with LIV’s thin calendar and rich purses to keep them warmed up, are now going to have to navigate whatever complex tournament schedule is birthed from the surprise collaboration of the 3 tours. LIV Golf could continue as intended with Greg Norman helming a handful of annual tournaments, or merely phase-out in favor of “hybrid” branded events, pending the PGA Tour’s decision on allowing Trump golf venues back on TV.
It would be funny to see LIV’s top players teeing off in late-season tournaments that they were supposedly banned from earlier in the season. Likewise, if a selection of PGA Tour loyalists are welcomed onto 2023’s LIV Golf teams. But, golfers like Koepka who used the Norman-Trump events to “hide” competitively, while PGA stars knocked themselves out in a week-to-week grind, will now be compelled to add more golf to their schedules once more. Otherwise, they might lose out to the tour’s reloaded field and fall further down as others rise in the World Golf Rankings.
Sportsbook odds could actually be brought back to a place of logic by the turbulent news cycle. More so than any effect of grudges held by fans against players, bettors just didn’t seem to know what to do with players from the new tour … until they started winning everything in sight. Koepka and Cameron Smith of the breakaway league currently hold 2 of the sport’s 4 major championship titles, while Phil Mickelson nearly prevailed at the Masters Tournament again in 2023. Even before this week’s bombshell news broke, FanDuel’s futures odds on Smith, Mickelson, and especially Koepka have been steadily improving, with Koepka nearing 9-to-1 odds to win the 2023 U.S. Open.
Soon, gamblers will no longer have to worry about fan disdain for rebel golfers inflating the betting action, driving up prices on McIlroy, Collin Morikawa, and Justin Thomas. Regretfully, the news for “system” gamblers who look for shortcuts to winning golf odds isn’t so peachy. Mickelson may be correct that players who departed the PGA Tour in 2022 had advantages in freshness and in the mental game whenever taking on either tour’s top strikers in Grand Slam events. Yet the merger of professional golf tours means short-lists of non-PGA players’ odds are no longer useful.
If there was an edge in making betting picks on players who reduce their competitive schedules, it will now be relegated to picks on whichever superstars’ resumes allow them to pick their spots, performing only when necessary, while low-ranked golfers fight for significance.
The odds on McIlroy remain overvalued at (+1100) odds to win the U.S. Open. McIlroy is an even brighter pick to win the Open Championship in July at just (+800) odds. Rory has roared, yakked, yapped, and chirped his way into a protracted slump, focusing on the ongoing controversy as much as winning tournaments. He has not lifted a major trophy in 10 calendar years. However in some ways, McIlroy’s optimistic U.S. Open and British Open gambling odds show how golf’s betting markets will become the stable port in a storm-washed sea of speculation. Our users have been making a last stand on Rory’s betting markets, almost trying to will the Irishman to finally win another major. Despite this week’s noise, nothing has changed significantly in that regard.
Scottie Scheffler, an iron shark who has been unencumbered by the upheaval so far, is FanDuel’s leading 2023 U.S. Open pick to win at just (+750) futures odds.
Kurt has authored close to 1000 stories covering football, soccer, basketball, baseball, ice hockey, prize-fighting and the Olympic Games. Kurt posted a 61% win rate on 200+ college and NFL gridiron picks last season. He muses about High School football on social media as The Gridiron Geek.