The PGA Tour, LIV Golf, and Principled Leadership

Yesterday morning, the game of golf changed forever.  

For decades, the PGA Tour has been the world’s premier professional golf league. In 2021, Greg Norman announced the formation of a competitor – LIV Golf Enterprises (Hamel, 2023). The organization is backed by the Public Investment Fund, which operates on behalf of the government of Saudi Arabia.  

LIV Golf immediately began recruiting the biggest names in the sport to join their new venture – which would include unique new elements like guaranteed signing bonuses, team-based events, no tournament cuts. Top players included: 

Player Signing Bonus
Phil Mickelson $200M
Dustin Johnson $125M
Brooks Koepka $100M
Bryson DeChambeau $100M

*All signing bonus listed are reported (Bisset, 2023), and not fully confirmed by LIV Golf. 

Almost immediately, criticisms of LIV Golf emerged. Many pointed to the golf entity being an attempt at “sportswashing”, using sports to improve an image or reputation, by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia due to their poor human rights record, alleged murder of a Washington Post Journalist, and reported connections to terrorist organizations (Turak, 2023).  

The PGA Tour pushed back strongly against golfers leaving for the Saudi-backed LIV Tour. In June 2022, PGA Commissioner Jay Monahan suspended those who defected to LIV Golf – saying they were no longer welcome in the PGA. He also went on national television and denounced the new league. Taking the moral high ground, he invoked the families of 9/11 who also spoke out against LIV and rhetorically asking players leaving for LIV “have you ever had to apologize for being a member of the PGA Tour?” (Powers, 2022).  

Monahan preached loyalty to the PGA, with many prominent players (Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm) turning down hundreds of millions of dollars from LIV to stay with the PGA Tour (Associated Press, 2022) and speaking out against the golf entity as well (Snell, 2022). Last month, Monahan and the PGA even blocked one of their tournaments from adding Raytheon Technologies as a title sponsor because one of the company’s clients for advanced missile systems is the Saudi government (Wetzel, 2023). 

 After a contentious two years, the PGA Tour announced a plan to merge with LIV Golf and the DP World Tour (Hamel, 2023). This merger effort was facilitated and announced by Commissioner Jay Monahan – completely backtracking on all of his previous comments and actions. 

At Max M. Fisher College of Business, we aim to develop principled leaders who will confront the many challenges facing our communities. Principled leaders are those who behave according to their own values and the degree to which they persuade the collective to behave according to shared values (Judge, 2021). There are six core behaviors that principled leaders exhibit: 

  1. A leader must know their own values.
  2. A leader should try to discover the guiding values of others.
  3. Leaders should be transparent about their core values.
  4. When making decisions, a leader should uncover the values at stake, and make decisions based on value priorities.
  5. Leaders should accept—in themselves and others—imperfections in implementing their core values.
  6. Leaders should not confound operating from different principles with being unprincipled.  

Trust is critical to the leader-follower relationship. Principled leaders work to build trust with those in their organization by acting consistently in accordance to their espoused values.  This consistency helps followers understand their leader better. It helps them understand what they can expect from the leader and what values are at stake when it comes to critical decisions and actions.   

Commissioner Jay Monahan exemplifies a leader who violated their principles – one that opted for millions (possibly billions) of dollars over their proclaimed values and beliefs. Not only did his decision shock the public, but it blindsided his own players. PGA Tour players did not even know a deal had happened. They found out like the rest of us... on Twitter (Wetzel, 2023).  

While the fallout of his actions is still unfolding, the damage of distrust has already been done. Players, like any employee who experiences a blatant breach in trust or uncovers a misalignment of values, might look to leave their organization or seek new leadership. It’s an important lesson to help remind our students about the necessity of principled leadership in our lives and careers. Building trust with others means that they need to know what to expect of you and your actions. That starts with being transparent with your values and making decisions consistent with those values.  


Associated Press. (2022, August 2). Greg Norman says Tiger Woods turned down a $700-800M Saudi offer to play LIV Golf. NPR.  

Bisset, F. (2023, February 10). What do LIV golfers get paid. Golf Monthly.   

Hamel, R. (2023, June 6). A complete timeline of LIV Golf, leading up to PGA Tour merger. GolfWeek.  

Judge, T. (2021, September 22). On principled leadership [White paper]. Fisher Leadership Initiative.  

Powers, C. (2022, June 12). 'It's been an unfortunate week': Jay Monahan defends PGA Tour actions against LIV golfers during CBS interview. Golf Digest.  

Snell, P. (2022, August 29). Rory McIlroy condemns LIV Golf for ‘ripping the game apart’ after extraordinary Tour Championship victory. CNN.  

Turak, N. (2023, June 7). PGA Tour-LIV Golf merger is a major win for the Saudis — and Americans are slamming it. CNBC.  

Wetzel, D. (2023, June 6). PGA Tour goes full hypocrite in its merger with LIV Golf. Yahoo Sports. 

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Here at Lead Read Today, we endeavor to take an objective (rational, scientific) approach to analyzing leaders and leadership. All opinion pieces will be reviewed for appropriateness, and the opinions shared are solely of the author and not representative of The Ohio State University or any of its affiliates.