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Alan Blinder’s plan fell through last Tuesday around 10am.
Blinder, who covers golf for the New York Times, had just settled into his home office. He received an outrageous piece of news from a source. It was LIV Golf, a rebel league funded by the PGA Tour and billions of dollars. It raised dollars from Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, agreed to a partnership, and ended a fierce and costly struggle for supremacy in men’s professional golf.
“I yelled at my wife in the hallway that the LIV and PGA Tour would partner. I probably wouldn’t be there for dinner,” Blinder said in an interview. “And I got down to business.” He barely left his desk for the next 13 hours.
Below, Blinder discusses how he pivoted from shock to news coverage, the implications of the deal beyond sports, and the questions he still has ahead of the US Open, which begins today at the Los Angeles Country Club. These are edited excerpts from the conversation.
How surprised were you?
It was one of those things that people clearly thought was a possibility at some point in the future, but all the coverage we’ve done has given the Tour and LIV a chance to see each other in court for the foreseeable future. He suggested that he was preparing to fight. There was a huge case in federal court in California involving breach of contract and antitrust law. And suddenly it was all about to go away.
Who did you call first?
To tell editors that their day is coming to an end. Less than 10 minutes after I told my editor, he published an article reporting the news, which quickly evolved into a live broadcast. Since the news broke, I’ve been trying to understand more about what happened and what it means. The announcement was full of legal and technical jargon, so I spent the rest of the day talking on the phone with golf and non-golf stakeholders and experts to understand what this Framework Agreement meant. tried to understand.
Why is this happening now?
The most important factor was the increasing financial burden on the PGA Tour. I’m not saying the Tour is going bankrupt tomorrow, but I think they were aware that the Tour was fighting a very expensive battle that couldn’t get any easier. Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund has huge amounts of money, but it hasn’t all been smooth sailing from that perspective. LIV faced some pretty serious setbacks in court.
Who will benefit most from this deal?
It depends on your point of view. The PGA Tour won a majority of seats on the board of directors, and commissioner Jay Monahan claims to be the CEO of the new company. PGA Tour supporters still control the golf game. and claim to be the majority stakeholder in this effort. But Saudi Arabia has a lot of influence. Saudi Wealth Fund President Yasir Al-Rumayyan will become chairman of the new body, with Saudi Arabia having broad rights to invest in the partnership. It remains to be seen how this will actually play out in the future.
Will the PGA Tour standards be relaxed to accommodate the LIV Golf version of the game, including music at events, relaxed dress codes, and no cuts for golfers?
PGA Tour still says they can control everything competition and play. I don’t expect the overarching rules of golf to change, partly because the Tour doesn’t control the rules. See how elements of LIV have been borrowed and integrated into the PGA Tour? The PGA Tour seeks to appeal to younger audiences and spread the appeal of the game.
was there Washington vows to delay or cancel deal —or at least it will be a very uncomfortable situation for golf executives. What are the odds that lawmakers will succeed in blocking the deal?
Many experts expect the Justice Department to go to court to block or change the deal. It’s also somewhat unusual, as the deal was announced last week and didn’t suddenly turn the Justice Department into professional golf. Their antitrust people had already spent months and months studying professional golf. So if they really want to scrutinize this deal, it gives them a bit of a head start.
Why should people who aren’t interested in golf care?
This is a story about golf, but it’s a story that could be expanded to other sports in the future. Is it possible we see Saudi Arabia and other wealthy countries trying to make a name for themselves in other sports?
This is not limited to sports, business or geopolitics. It’s a story with all those different threads and more. Monday’s newspaper ran a large article with four bylines, only two of which were by sportswriters.
What is your biggest question going forward?
Beyond tour memberships and where you play, how will golf take a breather after all this turmoil? The golf industry is a pretty small world. The last year has been really rocking because a lot of people know each other very well and have known each other for a long time. One of the big questions is when will all these wounds heal?