9 revealing findings from Senate investigation of PGA Tour-PIF deal
Representatives of the PGA Tour visited Washington D.C. Tuesday for a hearing on its planned partnership with the Saudi Arabian Public Investment Fund. Representatives of the PIF did not show. LIV commissioner Greg Norman, who was also invited, did not show. Jay Monahan, on temporary leave from his post as commissioner of the Tour, was not in attendance.
However, in the process of the hearing, 276 pages of documents were shared by the U.S. Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations that reveal the nature of the partnership, its genesis, and early negotiations. Included in the documents were proposals from one side or the other (or a third party) that included eye-popping deal details. One proposal would ouster Greg Norman’s executive role. Another proposal would draw up LIV Golf team ownership for Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy. A third proposal would provide prestigious golf memberships for the governor of the PIF, Yasir Al-Rumayyan. While most of the proposals didn’t make it into the framework agreement (and many may never have been seriously considered) the docs provide a window into the communication and negotiation process.
Below are nine things we learned from the investigation.
1. The PIF reached out first, in a significant way
It all began on December 8th, 2022. Subject line: LIV/PGA STRICTLY PRIVATE AND CONFIDENTIAL
“Dear Mr Dunne,” the email started. “I am writing to you in the strictest confidence.”
That came from Roger Devlin, a British businessman and chairman of Sunningdale Golf Club, around 10 p.m. on the east coast. He was invited by Yasir Al-Rumayyan to hopefully start some sort of negotiations between the warring parties, meeting either in the United States or in London.
While this all comes from one, long email, Devlin made clear that Al-Rumayyan was ready to consider, as part of a partnership, an “Equalization Fund” for players who stayed loyal to the PGA Tour to be made more whole. On the flip-side, LIV players would earn access to PGA Tour events once again, as well as world ranking points.
This was, according to the investigation, the first touchpoint between the two parties. Jimmy Dunne’s response: “I would like to get a cup of coffee first,” and get to know Devlin. They struggled to make that coffee happen but eventually, according to emails, DP World Tour CEO Keith Pelley was able to bridge the gap between parties and start the process of partnership.
2. Rory McIlroy met with PIF leader separately
Exclusively as part of the email referenced above, it appears Rory McIlroy met with Al-Rumayyan in Dubai, an opportunity brokered by Devlin and explained to Dunne. Among the topics discussed was a “Fall ‘IPL’ styled team event,” referencing the Indian Premier League in cricket. Not much detail was provided in the email about McIlroy’s thoughts, but one thing was agreed upon: Top pros are not interested in playing more than 26 events. So a schedule that includes 40-ish PGA Tour events, 14 LIV events and several dozen DP World Tour events was going to always lead to the dilemma of splitting up top talent.
3. The “Best of Both Worlds” presentation made some big requests
The first meetings between the PIF and the PGA Tour took place, according to documentation, on April 23 and 24 in London. During those meetings Amanda Staveley — CEO of PCP Capital Partners Group, who has helped broker a lot of business on behalf of the PIF, like the acquisition of Newcastle United Football club — shared a presentation to a small group of people. Among them was Al-Rumayyan and a few others from the PIF. Michael Klein, a banker who has also advised Saudi Arabia in his career, was in attendance. From the PGA Tour, there was Monahan, Ed Herlihy and Jimmy Dunne.
Part of the presentation, which was shared digitally in the days that followed, was a proposal for partnership between the two parties. The first bullet point of the presentation: an agreement to stay litigation, which has since become a reality. Another key point of a proposed partnership would be a “complementary” schedule that would keep LIV events from taking place during elevated PGA Tour events, and would also keep LIV from being relegated to the fall in what was called “silly season”.
There were obvious desires shared as “foundational principles/objectives” in this presentation, inclusive of LIV golfers re-earning world ranking points and Ryder/Presidents Cup playing status. But chief among the proposal was integration of two golfers in particular.
4. Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy were hot commodities
There’s no surprise in that above statement, but Woods and McIlroy, two of the staunchest defenders of the PGA Tour and detractors from LIV Golf, were imagined as core pieces in a partnership by LIV.
“LIV is proposing that Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods would own teams and play in at least to 10 LIV events,” the presentation reads under “Proposals For Consideration”. How much was it considered? According to sources familiar with the process, these particular points were quickly rejected. And judging from McIlroy’s press conference in early June, when he said, “I still hate LIV,” it certainly isn’t looking likely.
Nonetheless, another piece for consideration was a “large-scale LIV style team global event” that would involve LIV players, PGA Tour stars, even LPGA players. It would include 16 teams and a live TV draft. The qualifying of the event would take place in Saudi Arabia, the document says, with a final event taking place in Dubai.
5. A request for Augusta National membership was included
Perhaps the most eye-catching clause included in the Best of Both Worlds presentation shared with PGA Tour leadership was getting Yasir Al-Rumayyan into a green jacket. A separate bullet point stated that it should be considered to have Al-Rumayyan become a director of the International Golf Federation, a position held by the likes of Pelley, Monahan, LPGA Tour commissioner Mollie Marcoux-Samaan and the heads of the PGA of America (Seth Waugh) and USGA (Mike Whan), among others.
Sprinkled into the back end of that bullet point was Al-Rumayyan receiving membership at Augusta National as well as the R&A, based in St. Andrews, Scotland. No other similar requests were made and a green jacket seems like an unlikely PGA Tour bargaining chip, too.
6. The big announcement was a scramble
The first word of a partnership came on CNBC in an interview with TV host David Faber on Tuesday, June 6 around 10 a.m. ET, but that was not supposed to be the case. As of Friday before the announcement, the plan was for a long, integrated pair of days in which Jay Monahan would lay out the plan to relevant stakeholders.
According to documents that outline a recommended communications approach between the PGA Tour and PIF — which was sent to Keith Pelley — the news would be shared internally first with the five player directors of the Tour Policy Board on a phone call with Monahan. Later that afternoon, various Tour stakeholders like players, tournament officials, employees and media partners would receive the press release filled with plans.
Over the course of the weekend, plans changed in a major way. The announcement would come Tuesday morning, according to an email exchange of Tour communications exec Laura Neal. Players would find out shortly before a 10:30 a.m. announcement. Only later would the taped CNBC interview air. At some point that day, “supporting statements” would come from Roger Goodell, the commissioner of the NFL, Fred Ridley, the chairman of Augusta National, and Stefano Domenicalli, the CEO of F1.
Instead of those late-stage plans, the entire world found out via CNBC. A sweeping majority of PGA Tour players found out via Twitter. Cameron Young found out when he was told by the CEO of RBC. Goodell and Domenicalli did not issue statements.
7. PGA Tour officials wanted Greg Norman out
In late May, as negotiations for a deal continued toward the finish line and the structure of the framework agreement was being finalized, Ed Herlihy sent in a late request to Michael Klein, chief among the PIF representation. Greg Norman would have to bow out once LIV Golf would be managed by the PGA Tour.
Herlihy issued a “side letter” to Klein stating that “the services of Greg Norman and Performance 54,” the golf marketing company that has helped launch LIV, “will cease upon the management transition to the PGA Tour contemplated by the Framework Agreement and in any event by no later than one month after.”
Around that same time, the investigation reveals, messages between Jay Monahan and PGA Tour COO Ron Price indicated that “it would be better” if Norman would be relieved of his duties within one month of the framework agreement being signed rather than “within one month” of the PGA Tour taking management of LIV, which could be months and months down the line, if at all.
New management of LIV Golf was clearly a focal point for Monahan, as indicated by emails between Dunne and Herlihy. Nine days before that side letter was introduced, Herlihy sent Dunne an email saying “I raised the idea with Jay of you overseeing LIV going forward. He really liked it.”
Dunne responded: “You and me” before Herlihy said, “Definitely. Meant to say both of us.”
It remains unclear if the side letter was signed into agreement, but there was no reference to it in the agreement announced in early June.
8. The Framework Agreement took A LOT of editing
Over about two weeks, the Framework Agreement — which dropped the litigation between the parties and declared their intentions — went through eight revisions before being finalized. Every few days, each side would revise the shared document to adhere to their wants and needs, based on what was discussed in meetings.
At first, it was called a “Long-term Strategic Partnership Agreement” which certainly shares common verbiage to the Tour’s strategic alliance with the DP World Tour. The first draft, as prepared by the PGA Tour, declared that the Tour would immediately become the “manager” of all of PIF’s golf-related investments, “including LIV and the Asian Tour.” That wording was eventually pulled. Also from the PGA Tour’s first draft was a promise that LIV’s operations would not be terminated by the Tour prior to the conclusion of its 2023 season. This was also removed during the two weeks of revisions.
At this point, we know what all the drafts looked like, as well as many of the revisions between the parties. This was all instituted as part of the Framework Agreement, which will be moot once the two sides reach Definitive Agreements, obviously pending additional investigations and regulatory inquiries. For now, thanks to the investigation revealing documents, we have a peek into each side’s desires, which for the PIF/LIV side includes dreams of a “year-end premier global team World Golf Series Event(s), including conclusion in KSA (Kingdom of Saudi Arabia).” That it was included in multiple drafts says it was a serious enough consideration that may still be on the table.
Also among the PIF/LIV drafted desires include OWGR recognition for LIV events, including retroactive points, automatic qualification into major championships for its top 24 performing players, two new LIV teams for PGA Tour players to form, as well as qualifying opportunities for LIV players between the various tours. Whether or not these stipulations continue to be negotiated by both sides remains to be seen — though several of those points are outside the Tour’s control, anyway. They were not included in the final Framework Agreement.
9. The non-disparagement agreement arrived late
The last flurry of revisions took place in the final week of May, according to emails shared by the investigation. It was during the PIF’s third revision opportunity that a non-disparagement clause was added to the 9th paragraph of the agreement:
“Each party agrees and covenants that it will not at any time, directly or indirectly, make, publish or communicate to any person or entity or in any public forum any defamatory or disparaging remarks, comments, or statements concerning the other Party their affiliates and ultimate beneficial owners or their respective businesses, directors, employees, officers, shareholders, members or advisors.”
This paragraph comes without much context. Still, it’s worth noting in the wake of 13 months of press conferences and public statements made by players, agents, Tour officials and more as thorny geopolitical issues have become central to the golf world.