Local PGA Tour golfer caught off guard by the announcement of a merger with LIV Golf

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – An unlikely merger – today the PGA Tour and the DP World Tour announced a partnership with LIV Golf – a rival league run by the Saudi Arabian government.

LIV caused controversy for recruiting some of the best golfers in the world away from the PGA Tour. Many protested LIV because of Saudi Arabia’s sordid history with human rights.

The two had been in a contentious fight, exchanging lawsuits, and jabs at each other. Now, in a surprise move, they’ve changed course and partnered up.

RELATED: PGA, LIV golfers react to merger of rival leagues

LIV Golf came into the game 2-years-ago as the enemy of the PGA Tour. A new league backed by the Saudi Arabian government, LIV won over pro golfers with huge, guaranteed contracts, but PGA officials said anyone who played with LIV would not be welcome on the tour.

Now, the rival leagues have joined together, an international story with local implications. The PGA Tour is headquartered in Ponte Vedra Beach and had been in a lawsuit with LIV.

“I never thought this would happen,” PGA Tour golfer, Len Mattiace said. “So, I would say 99% of the players had no idea either.” Mattiace is a professional golfer from Jacksonville, who heard the news while playing a PGA Tour Champions event in Wisconsin.

There are players like Mattiace who stuck with the PGA Tour and did not get the multimillion dollar upfront signing bonuses. And now they’re like, ‘oh I could have gotten that money and then come right back.’

“There are a lot of answers that have to be said,” Mattiace said. “I mean, you know, for example, a guy like (Phil) Mickelson, Brooks Koepka, Dustin Johnson, they signed for big money on the LIV tour, big guaranteed money. $50 million, $100 million, $200 million, maybe even more, and they weren’t allowed to play in PGA tour events because of that. So, on both sides, I mean, I don’t know it’s totally changing the landscape.”

Sports fans are reacting too. One twitter user wrote, “Players like Rory, Rahm, Scheffler, were completely left out to dry. They were patted on the back by PGA for not taking tens of millions in blood money, only for the PGA to turn around and likely take hundreds of millions.”

Another wrote, “I’m old enough to remember when the PGA Tour tried to claim the moral high road on LIV and the Saudis.”

And reporter Jonathan Franks wrote, “Every journalist in America should be livid over this PGA Tour and LIV merger. LIV is an attempt at sportswashing #JamalKashoggis’ murder and dismemberment.”

Kashoggi was a Saudi journalist working for The Washington Post when he was killed in Turkey, the U.S. government alleged a Saudi prince ordered his murder. Saudi Arabia is also accused in the suppression of women.

“Those are obvious questions that PGA Tour has to answer. Because they said very strong words against Saudi Arabia, LIV Tour, public investment tour, and they’re going to have to answer to that,” Mattiace said.

Mattiace believes beyond the controversy, ultimately fans will see a better experience.

“I think you’re going to see more tournaments. But again, the fan experience, I think, will be better. Certainly the atmosphere won’t be as volatile. A more Kumbaya, I guess, experience. And there’s going to be more money funneled into everything about golf. And that’s good for everybody in the game.”

There’s sharp criticism from the 9/11 Families United, the group’s chair said in part:

“The PGA and Monahan appear to have become just more paid Saudi shills, taking billions of dollars to cleanse the Saudi reputation so that Americans and the world will forget how the Kingdom spent their billions of dollars before 9/11 to fund terrorism, spread their vitriolic hatred of Americans, and finance al Qaeda and the murder of our loved ones. Make no mistake – we will never forget,”

About the Author:

Lifetime Jacksonville resident anchors the 8 and 9 a.m. weekday newscasts and is part of the News4Jax I-Team.