Eleven months ago, Will Zalatoris won the first PGA Tour event of his career in Memphis.
“Yeah, not much has gone on in the last year in the golf world, right?’ he quipped Monday, during his first trip back to TPC Southwind since that wild, three-playoff hole win.
Zalatoris’ tongue-in-cheek icebreaker was in reference to last month’s announcement that the PGA Tour and Saudi-backed rival LIV Golf had agreed to combine under one umbrella. The news represented the latest twist in an often-dramatic saga that began playing out publicly in October 2021.
But, while the once-warring factions have apparently come to terms on “a framework agreement” – ending months of litigation – the deal is not quite ready to be finalized. Details of said framework have not been released, leaving many (including many of the golfers on both sides) in the dark about how things will look and feel if and when it is put in place.
“There’s just so much unknown, (and) that’s the frustrating part,” said Zalatoris. “Right now, the only thing this framework agreement does is it gets rid of litigation. You can talk to any lawyer or any businessman, and they’ll give you their two cents.
“But the reality is, no one has a crystal ball on this.”
The agreement has also landed under the microscope of a Senate subcommittee, which spent hours last week grilling a pair of PGA Tour executives. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., the subcommittee’s chairman, was among the most vocal. He said the hearing was not about golf. Instead, it was about “how a brutal, repressive regime can buy influence – indeed even take over – a cherished American institution simply to cleanse its public image.
“It’s called sportswashing.”
Zalatoris acknowledged how difficult the merger has been for some who remained fiercely loyal to the PGA Tour over the past year-plus. But the 26-year-old chooses to view it from a big-picture perspective.
“It is the best thing for us long-term, as hard as it is to admit for some people,” he said. “We were fighting a battle of litigation that we couldn’t fight any longer. At some point in time, the well is going to run dry. And with (LIV Golf), the well will never run dry.”
Days after Zalatoris won in Memphis, he suffered a back injury that lingered into the spring. Ultimately, he decided to have surgery to alleviate pain caused by a pair of herniated discs, and he has been out for more than three months.
He said Monday that he has begun ramping up the rehab process and is targeting an October return to action. The expectation is the PGA Tour and LIV Golf rosters – the latter of which includes stars such as Brooks Koepka, Bryson DeChambeau, Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson – will unify not long afterward. Which is a major factor in the acceptance of the merger for Zalatoris.
“As much as I disagree with some of the guys and the decisions they made (to defect to LIV Golf), I also think, once we get everybody back under the same roof again and we’re all competing like we were, it’ll be better than anything that we’ve ever had in the past,” he said.
Reach sports writer Jason Munz at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @munzly.