Noting deal with Saudi Arabia’s PIF, PGA Tour policy board member resigns
Randall Stephenson has resigned his position on the PGA Tour’s policy board, noting in a letter that he had “serious concerns” about the proposed deal with the Saudi Arabia Public Investment Fund.
As first reported by the Washington Post’s Rick Maese, Stephenson sent the letter dated Saturday to the policy board, which is made up of five player directors and five independent directors. That group will decide whether to approve an agreement among the Tour, the DP World Tour and the PIF that would create a new, for-profit enterprise and end pending litigation among the sides.
Announced June 6, the deal was stunning. For the past year, the Tour and LIV Golf have fought, with the Tour taking a hard moral stance against the Saudi-funded operation, and in his resignation letter, Stephenson noted the murder of a journalist that a U.S. intelligence report said was approved by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia.
The framework of the deal, wrote Stephenson, “is not one that I can objectively evaluate or in good conscience support, particularly in light of the U.S. intelligence report concerning Jamal Khashoggi in 2018.”
In the letter, Stephenson said he had planned to resign on June 12, but postponed the move after he learned that Tour commissioner Jay Monahan was to go on a leave due to unspecified health concerns. On Friday, Monahan sent a four-paragraph note to the policy board that he would return to work on July 17.
“I joined this board 12 years ago to serve the best players in the world and to expand the virtues of sportsmanship instilled through the game of golf,” wrote Stephenson, the former chairman and CEO of AT&T. “I hope, as this board moves forward, it will comprehensively rethink its governance model and keep its options open to evaluate alternative sources of capital beyond the current framework agreement.”
Notably, the Tour-Saudi deal was reportedly negotiated by just four people — Monahan, policy board members Ed Hirlihy and Jimmy Dunne, and Yasir Al-Rumayyan, the PIF governor, and Stephenson wrote in his letter that he was concerned that the agreement “came to fruition without board oversight.” On Tuesday, Dunne and Ron Price, the Tour’s chief operating officer, will testify before a congressional subcommittee investigating the deal.
In the weeks since the deal, Tour officials have tried to persuade the policy board on its benefits, meeting with it on June 27 in Detroit. The player members of the board are Rory McIlroy, Patrick Cantlay, Webb Simpson, Charley Hoffman and Peter Malnati, and the other independent directors are Mark Flaherty and Mary Meeker.
Last month, at the U.S. Open, Cantlay notably had this exchange at a press conference.
“As a policy board member,” a reporter asked, “I’m wondering if you anticipate voting in favor of whatever final agreement comes out of PGA Tour and LIV, and sort of what your experience is like not just being a player who this affects, but having a governing role in how it all works.”
“Well, as far as my role, I think it’s my role to represent the members as best as possible and to do right by them,” Cantlay said. “As far as the deal goes, I don’t have enough information about the deal yet to have an unfavorable or favorable view about it.”
Editor’s note: To read the entire Washington Post story, please click here.