Jordan Spieth decries ‘false narrative’ in PIF-PGA Tour reporting

Jordan Spieth at Valhalla for the PGA Championship.

Jordan Spieth at Valhalla for the PGA Championship.

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How are things going in the PGA Tour’s negotiations with the Saudi Public Investment Fund?

That depends who you ask.

Rory McIlroy hasn’t been particularly impressed; he recently attempted to rejoin the Tour’s Policy Board because he was frustrated with the lack of momentum.

“I think I can be helpful. I don’t think there’s been much progress made in the last eight months, and I was hopeful that there would be,” he said several weeks ago.

And when Jimmy Dunne — the architect of the original PIF-PGA Tour-DP World Tour framework agreement — stepped down from the board on Monday, he made his frustrations clear, too.

“Since the players now outnumber the Independent Directors on the Board, and no meaningful progress has been made towards a transaction with the PIF, I feel like my vote and my role is utterly superfluous,” Dunne wrote in his resignation letter.

But PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan pushed directly back against that “no meaningful progress” narrative in a late-night text sent to players on Monday, insisting that “we continue to make meaningful progress behind the scenes in our negotiations toward a potential agreement with the PIF.”

The goal of negotiations, Monahan added, remains simple: “To deliver the best possible outcome for the PGA Tour, our players, partners, tournaments and fans.”

By this point many fans have wearied of the nuts and bolts of subcommittees and board appointments and equity payment structures. You may be yawning just a few paragraphs into this article. I get it. It’s been nearly a year since the framework agreement, after all, and nearly two years since the beginning of pro golf’s divide. Is something happening or is it not? There’s still no clear answer. But there is a clear gap in perception. Dunne says no meaningful progress has been made. Monahan says meaningful progress is being made. They can’t both be right. So who’s telling the truth?

Tiger Woods addressed the discussions on Tuesday morning. Sort of.

“It’s ongoing; it’s fluid; it changes day-to-day,” he said. “Has there been progress? Yes. But it’s an ongoing negotiation, so a lot of work ahead for all of us with this process, and so we’re making steps and it may not be giant steps, but we’re making steps.”

Woods referenced the PGA Tour as “for the players and by the players.” He said there’s a place for the player directors and for the independent directors, too. He said he couldn’t get into too much detail on the state of negotiations. But he acknowledged general fatigue on the subject.

“I think the fans are probably as tired as we are of the talk not being about the game of golf and about not being about the players,” he said. “It’s about what LIV is doing, what we’re doing, players coming back, players leaving; the fans just want to see us play together. How do we get there is to be determined.”

But we got slightly more from Jordan Spieth, who addressed the media an hour after Woods and was asked specifically about Dunne’s comments about the board shifting in the direction of player control.

“I would say that I think that there’s been a shift that direction, but I think that we’re finding the appropriate balance going forward,” Spieth said. He referenced the natural motion of a seesaw. He insisted that based on the opinions of experts and lawyers they’ve worked with, the governance structure is in a good spot.

The subject clearly struck a nerve with Spieth, who took over Rory McIlroy’s vacated board seat last fall and has been working extensively behind the scenes on crafting a stable future for the Tour. But in recent weeks multiple reports have pointed the finger at him, Patrick Cantlay and Woods for slowing negotiations, blocking a potential merger and clashing with McIlroy’s vision for a deal. Spieth insisted on Tuesday that that’s not the case.

“I think we’re going to be at a really, really good place where the players on the PGA Tour can feel really good about it, as well as not having players making business decisions,” he added. “Like, that’s not — if you’re in the room, it’s very obvious that players are not dictating the future of golf and the PGA Tour. Like, you need to have everyone’s perspective on both sides of it, and everyone that’s involved within [PGA Tour] Enterprises. You have a lot of strategic investors that know a heck of a lot more than any of us players.”

“So that’s a false narrative that the players are determining all these things. That’s not even what Jimmy [Dunne] was saying. Jimmy was saying more of the balance of things, and I think that balance is being restored.”

In a follow-up question a reporter asked whether a “stronger player-driven board” could serve as a potential distraction to his on-course play. Spieth bristled at the phrasing.

“It’s just balanced. It’s not player-driven,” he said. “You guys have got to stop saying that. Like, it’s not the case. It’s balanced in a way that, at least from what I’ve heard, the investors, Tour management, and independents feel it should be. I think we’re in a place where we’re being told that this is how it should be as well.

A balanced board, Spieth said, means “independent [directors] that are essentially making the decisions that we are not qualified to make.” As for the players? “[We’re] offering insights on how the membership would feel, and whether it’s eligibility matters or whatever is left on the [PGA Tour] Inc. board, you know, we both have an opportunity to offer insights to make the right decision. So it’s balanced.”

Spieth is particularly dismayed, he said, with the negative public perception of the PGA Tour’s current position.

“I think things are, unfortunately, put in a really bad light right now, and I think things are actually in a really, really good place, based on what I know — which is quite a lot in this situation,” he said. Both sides have been frustrated at times, he said, waiting for the other. But he feels confident that everyone on the PGA Tour side is rowing in the same direction.

“And I believe we’re going to end up in a really good place,” he said. “And I just continue to kind of chuckle, because I only feel positive momentum when we’re having these internal conversations, and then every time anything comes from the outside world it’s the opposite, and it just kind of makes me chuckle a bit because it’s a bit frustrating.

“So I hope our fans and the fans of golf are aware that, you know, people are trying to do the right thing and the same thing together, it just, it’s going to take a little bit of time to figure out exactly what that looks like.”

In all, Spieth’s was a forceful performance, if somewhat short on specifics. Welcome to this era of pro golf!

So how are negotiations going? That still depends who you ask. In the absence of proof, feel free to live in whatever golf world you want. And you may as well kick back and enjoy the PGA Championship. Just don’t spend too much time pondering what constitutes “meaningful progress.”

We’ll know it when we see it.

Dylan Dethier

Dylan Dethier Editor

Dylan Dethier is a senior writer for GOLF Magazine/ The Williamstown, Mass. native joined GOLF in 2017 after two years scuffling on the mini-tours. Dethier is a graduate of Williams College, where he majored in English, and he’s the author of 18 in America, which details the year he spent as an 18-year-old living from his car and playing a round of golf in every state.