Money, Murder and Mudslinging; A Rundown of Pro Golf’s Dirty Civil War There’s a messy civil war in professional golf raging and it’s never made the sport more interesting.The war has been brewing for nearly 30 years, starting back in November 1994, when the world’s 2nd best player, Greg Norman, proposed the first challenger to the U.S.-based PGA Tour. The 10-event World Golf Tour never materialized due, mainly, to no defections for the reigning PGA Tour, but the stage was set.It was also right around this time the Federal Trade Commission was wrapping up a five-year investigation into the anti-competitive ways of the PGA Tour. No sanctions or penalties were issued but Norman took notice and would have to wait another two decades for his chance to strike.The PGA Tour shook off Norman’s first coup d’etat and for the next 20 years the Tour grew TV revenue began to sell more gear as technology advanced and the popularity of the sport began to grow as more men, women and youngsters around the planet began to play. Then, the tsunami that was Tiger Woods, who’s inconceivable popularity buoyed purses to $276 million in 2011, a 67% jump from 10 years earlier. Money, and the PGA’s distribution of that cash to the players, has always been at the heart of golf’s civil war. While the rising tide of the Tiger Woods phenomenon kept everyone’s mouth shut because their accounts were flush thanks to the nearly sudden and never-before-seen surge in popularity, bringing women, children and people of color into the hyper exclusive, stogy, well-heeled and nearly all-white sport.In 1998 David Duval was golf’s #1 money earner winning $2.59 million that year. That would’ve ranked him between #131: BJ Armstrong ($2.60 million) and #132: Jerry Stackhouse ($2.58 million) in 1998 NBA salaries.Then, out of nowhere in 2014, an unheard-of UK-based upstart called the World Golf Tour was created and, while the new league wouldn’t hold an event until 2018, the mighty PGA Tour (though it didn’t know it yet) was on notice: it wouldn’t be the only one cashing in on the growing appeal of golf and those who play it at the highest level around the world.Two years later, in 2020, the rebranded World Golf Series (this is a theme, with every new infusion of cash a new name for the tour would emerge) stepped on the scene thanks to a story by Reuters, introducing a newer, more TV-friendly and fun type of golf. The new format – which also got another new name, the Pro Golf League, had a smaller field for tournaments, with those players divided up into 12, four-man “franchises,” in a nod to the wildly popular global Formula 1 racing series. The players would play 54-holes, there would be no “cuts” to make and everyone teed off at once (on different holes in a “shotgun start”) to add real-time intrigue to PGL’s finishes – something that lacked in the usually boring PGA Tour finishes. This also marked the first official involvement of Saudi Arabian cash. Ohh, and the purses announced for the nascent league were about twice as much as comparable purses on the PGA Tour and, for their troubles, if PGA players defected to the new league there was guaranteed money.Upon seeing the Reuters article, PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan, who became commissioner in 2017, officially informed PGA Tour pros that they were not allowed to play on both the PGA and Pro Golf League circuits. To his credit, Rory McIlroy, then the #2 golfer in the world, was the first to raise questions about Saudi Arabian investors rubbing elbows with PGA Pros in Pro/Ams then setting money a-flow, in only the way Saudi’s can, to lure in big names with guaranteed money. “I didn’t really like where the money was coming from and I wanted to be the first one to speak out against it,” McIlroy said then.Then, the pandemic brought nearly everything to a grinding halt … but unexpectedly, the naturally social-distant nature of golf allowed both weekend hacks and Tour pros to continue to play around the globe, mostly.The first shots in Golf’s Civil War were fired on May 4th, 2021, when a bombshell story in The Telegraph reported that about a dozen relatively obscure or formerly famous current PGA Tour players were offered between $30 million and $50 million to join the PGL, which would shortly be re-branded, again, to Super League Golf. The story also highlighted this was guaranteed money; something unheard of in the meritocracy of golf. To put those dollar amounts in perspective; 2020’s top-money earner, Justin Thomas, won $7.34 million due to playing amazing golf and earning 10, top-10 finishes that year.Greg Norman reemerged and was named the new CEO of the perpetually rebranded tour, now named LIV Golf, and drew his battle lines along a list of polarizing and quarrelsome players like Bryson DeChambeau and Phil Mickelson but also added popular has-beens Dustin Johnson and Rickey Fowler. The report also said Mickelson was offered $100 million to head-up the defection machine to get PGA-ers to switch sides. Little to none of this was confirmed by those mentioned in the story when it broke, but the firestorm began.Hours after the Reuters story broke, Jay Monahan, the PGA Tour Commish, attempted to dissuade defectors by address long-standing player complaints about financial inequity by detailing new, LIV-inspired, PGA Tour purses of $427 million in 2022, a nice bump from the $367 million in 2021 and nearly double that from 2011’s Tiger-inspired $276 million.Then at the beginning of 2022, Phil Mickelson went on a media massacre telling Golf Digest that he has always had major issues with the distribution of wealth on the PGA Tour and added: “it is the Tour’s obnoxious greed that has really opened the door for opportunities elsewhere.” Then, the “scary motherf—–s” comment was coincidentally made public shortly after and transformed Mickelson from an unpopular player to golf’s pariah, cost him his two longest-running sponsors, and caused him to “spend some time away” from the sport.At this time, some PGA Tour pros, at the request of Commissioner Monahan, followed McIlroy’s lead by trashing the defectors and began professing their endless loyalty to the PGA Tour as the new LIV Golf officially announced a slate of eight 2022 events. Though no players were announced for those events, the staggering $225 million in purses (that’s about $30 million per event) was announced. “We have done our best to create a schedule that allows players to play elsewhere while still participating in our events,” Norman said in the announcement.The first huge defection came in May 2022 when previously forever-loyalist Dustin Johnson, joined the LIV tour — $125 million will do that. Norman later piles on and calls the PGA Tour an “illegal monopoly” just as he announces he’s secured another $2 billion in funding from the Saudis. Mickelson’s deal is also officially announced in May and was worth $200 million.The new LIV hosts its first event in London and before most of the players had finished their first hole, the PGA’s Monahan fired off a letter to all PGA Tour members declaring that all of the 17 PGA Tour players playing in London are immediately either suspended or ineligible to play in future PGA Tour events, including the upcoming Presidents Cup.Charl Schwartzel, who hadn’t won on any tour in more than six years, wins LIV’s first event and cashes a $4.75 million winner’s check, which would’ve, after just one win, placed him ahead of the PGA Tour’s #21 money earner who had to play in 32 PGA Tour events over the entire year to make that money.Notable PGA Tour golfers Patrick Reed, Bryson DeChambeau, Pat Perez, Brooks Koepka, Carlos Ortiz and Matthew Wolff all join LIV ahead of the tour’s second event just outside of Portland, Ore. where another virtual unknown, Branden Grace, the 128th-ranked player in the world, nets $4 million.It wasn’t until the summer of 2022 that Tiger Woods made his first comments about the Saudi-backed league saying that the “players who have chosen to go to LIV Golf and play there … they’ve turned their back on what has allowed them to get to this position.” The new tour also announces its 14-event 2023 calendar along with tweaks to its format prohibiting the 12-teams from rotating or switching players, which was commonplace in 2022.It was in mid-August when LIV’s connection with Donald Trump was revealed and, coincidentally, marks the point where litigation was added to the arsenal of the new Civil War.The initial 11 LIV golfers filed a restraining order against the PGA Tour seeking relief in order to participate in the FedEx Championship Series later that fall. A California judge denied the request on the same day that then #2 golfer on the planet, Cam Smith, who had just weeks earlier shrugged off questions about him defecting to LIV, announces he’s taking his $100 million and heading to LIV.While the lawsuit was thrown out it did take the public into the trenches and marked a notable crescendo in pro golf’s Civil War and brought into the light myriad issues previously unknown. providing the first specific mudslinging contendingThe tossed complaint alleged that the PGA Tour engaged in a pattern of coordinated attempts to restrict LIV players from competing in other events, such as the majors like The Masters, British Open, etc. The suit added that the PGA “threatened companies and individuals in the golf and sports production industry that they will be blackballed from working with the Tour if they work with LIV Golf.” Vendors including providers of tents, technology and apparel either exited negotiations or did not enter them because of the fear of losing the PGA Tour’s business,” the lawsuit stated. The suit also indicated that both NBC and CBS had kept LIV at a distance because of existing relationships with the PGA Tour.“As part of its carefully orchestrated plan to defeat competition, the Tour has threatened lifetime bans on players who play in even a single LIV Golf event,” the lawsuit said. “It has backed up these threats by imposing unprecedented suspensions on players (including the Plaintiffs) that threaten irreparable harm to the players and their ability to pursue their profession. It has threatened sponsors, vendors, and agents to coerce players to abandon opportunities to play in LIV Golf events. And it has orchestrated a per se unlawful group boycott with the European Tour to deny LIV Golf access to their members.”The lawsuit also revealed that Mickelson, a six-time major champion, was originally suspended for two months by the PGA Tour for; “attempting to recruit players to [LIV Golf].” A PGA Tour appeals committee upheld Mickelson’s suspension after he appealed it and his request for reinstatement, after he served the two-month suspension, was denied and increased to a full year after he had played in the first LIV Golf event in London. Just for the record, Mickelson finished tied for 41st out of 48 at that first event.The lawsuit also noted that DeChambeau, who had been suspended by the PGA Tour through March 31, 2023, was “sent notice that it was sanctioning him for talking to other Tour members about the positive experiences he had with LIV Golf.”“The Tour’s conduct serves no purpose other than to cause harm to players and foreclose the entry of the first meaningful competitive threat the Tour has faced in decades,” the lawsuit says. “Banning Plaintiffs and other top professional golfers from its own events degrades the Tour’s strength of field and diminishes the quality of the product that it offers to golf fans by depriving them from seeing many top golfers participate in Tour events. The only conceivable benefit to the Tour from degrading its own product in this manner is the destruction of competition. Indeed, the Tour has conceded its nakedly anticompetitive purpose in attacking and injuring the players.”The lawsuit also hints that the war is just beginning explaining that the remarkably huge, upfront payouts were necessary to protect the players and their livelihoods from the PGA Tour’s inevitable reprisals.The rest of LIV’s 2023 circuit, according to various published reports, will deepen its connection to Donald Trump by hosting LIV events at Trump National Golf Club Bedminster in New Jersey, Trump National Golf Club Washington D.C. in Virginia and Trump National Doral in Miami. Reports also have LIV planning to play events in Arizona, Florida, Oklahoma and West Virginia, ESPN reported.So, here golf is – engaged in a war that pits the greedy, stuffy and obtuse PGA Tour against the hotshot, loud and lucrative LIV Golf newcomer … which is funded by money from a regime absolutely responsible for murdering, then dismembering, then bold-face lying about a New York Times journalist critical of widespread and wanton human rights abuses by the Saudis.