7 things we learned from leaked PGA Tour-Saudi PIF agreement

jay monahan

Jay Monahan speaks with the media during the 2023 Players Championship.

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Twenty days after the shocking announcement of a “framework agreement” between the PGA Tour and the Saudi Arabian Public Investment Fund, confidential copies of the deal became public Monday night. The document, which was first reported on by The Athletic and No Laying Up and also obtained by GOLF.com, was sent to Congress Monday evening, ahead of the July 11 Senate hearing on the proposed partnership. 

According to the five-page accord, which was signed May 30, the proposed company — temporarily named NewCo — “will be the entity for professional golf,” but for the time being the PGA Tour, DP World Tour and LIV Golf will coexist. The PGA Tour will maintain its powerful position atop the men’s professional golf world, its costly litigation now nullified, while forging an uncertain future that could see Tour members and LIV golfers regularly competing in the same tournaments.

Importantly, this is all part of an initial agreement, only parts of which are legally binding. “Definitive Agreements” are cited throughout the deal that these once-warring sides hope to ratify. The document has been shared with Congress because the entire proposal is under investigation by both the U.S. Senate and Department of Justice. A hearing is scheduled for July 11, which the PGA Tour has said it plans to attend. LIV Golf declined to comment when asked if it would be in attendance, and the PIF did not respond to an inquiry about its intentions.

LIV Golf and the PGA Tour were embroiled in multiple lawsuits throughout 2022 and early ’23, one of them focused on alleged anticompetitive practices of the PGA Tour. For a major market shareholder to suddenly merge its business interests with its primary competitor(s) is a move we’ve seen in other pro sports, but that still garners close attention from U.S. lawmakers. This proposed partnership, because it involves the DP World Tour, is also likely to face investigation from European regulators.

Key details: 

1. One through-line of the document, as previously reported by GOLF.com, are clauses that ensure power for the PGA Tour. The PIF is making an investment and bringing its golf assets to the table — one of which is LIV — but the PGA Tour will maintain voting control of the NewCo board. Additional investment from the PIF — and/or actions under its right of refusal on new capital raised — will not increase its presence beyond a non-controlling voting interest.

2. LIV Golf’s future, as well as that of team golf, is unclear. It’s not dead, but it’s certainly not guaranteed to survive, either. When PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan repeatedly mentioned an “empirical evaluation” would take place on the prospects of LIV Golf, he was simply quoting the agreement:

“NewCo will be provided access to all information requested to facilitate this evaluation and assessment … so that the NewCo Board, with recommendation of its [CEO] Jay Monahan, will determine the ongoing plan and strategy regarding all NewCo operations…”

In other words, Monahan will hold many cards. Jimmy Dunne and Ed Herlihy — both proposed members of the NewCo executive committee — would also possess much influence. Will they want LIV Golf to exist as it currently does? Monahan said himself that is unlikely. Could the league be repackaged as the PGA Tour’s own version of team golf? That’s plausible. The agreement states that the parties “will make a good faith assessment of the benefits of team golf…and determine how best to integrate team golf into PGA Tour and DP World Tour events going forward.” 

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3. Players who left for LIV Golf would be allowed to return, but with specific qualifiers. For starters, no players will be allowed back before the 2023 season plays out. (Also, for the time being, no players will be recruited to play for LIV teams.) More important, the PIF, PGA Tour and DP World Tour will be setting “fair criteria and terms of readmission consistent with each Tour’s disciplinary policies.” That likely means that different players who left at different times and in different ways — i.e. departed mostly silently or went so far as to recruit other players — will be dealt different terms for reinstatement. Phil Mickelson, for example, was one of the first players officially suspended by the PGA Tour, in March 2022, when he worked to recruit players to join LIV, according to court documents. 

4. The words “good faith” are used throughout the agreement, but perhaps most important in regards to the Official World Golf Ranking: “The parties will cooperate in good faith and use best efforts to secure OWGR recognition for LIV events and players under OWGR’s criteria for considering LIV’s application.” LIV events have not received world ranking points since its inception, which has caused the world ranking for each of its commitments to fall as a result, and caused great consternation among the upstart league’s strongest supporters. The only player whose ranking has risen since joining LIV was Brooks Koepka, who has played well in major championships in 2023. The agreement seems to state that LIV events could earn ranking points in the future, but no details have been finalized beyond that.

5. Pending approval and the various investigations, the PIF would become a corporate partner of the PGA Tour and DP World Tour, wherein the three sides would “identify a high profile event for which the PIF or its designee(s) will make a financial investment to serve as title sponsor.” 

The PIF is already a title sponsor of the Saudi International, which is now in its fifth year. The event was initially sanctioned by the DP World Tour but in recent years was rebranded “PIF Saudi International powered by Softbank Investment Advisors” and on the Asian Tour schedule. The agreement seems to make it not just possible but likely that we could see a PIF-sponsored event on the PGA Tour schedule.

6. The PGA Tour Policy Board will have a PIF-appointed member. We already knew this was coming — PIF governor Yasir Al-Rumayyan is set to join the board, as part of the initial announcement — but the wording in the agreement portends that perhaps another PIF executive could take Al-Rumayyan’s place. The deal nonetheless creates an 11th seat on the board, which currently includes five PGA Tour players and five independent directors. The board has never once blocked a decision that was unanimously approved by its player directors, but it is unclear if Al-Rumayyan’s inclusion would trigger adding a sixth player director for balance. 

7. There’s still much to be decided. A stipulation of the document states that the contents of it will remain until (a) the Definitive Agreements are signed, (b) an extension is agreed to, or (c) Jan. 1, 2024 arrives. If neither A nor B takes place, the agreement between the PGA Tour and PIF will be terminated.

Sean Zak

Golf.com Editor

Zak is a writer at GOLF Magazine and just finished a book about the summer he spent in St. Andrews.