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Monday, May 20, 2024

Senator Calls for PGA Tour to ‘Avoid the Sellout’ of LIV Golf Deal

  • Hearing reveals possibility of Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods owning LIV Golf teams and "play in at least 10 LIV events."
  • Negotiations included possible Augusta membership for Saudi PIF chief Yasir Al-Rumayan.
The Senate conducted a LIV Golf-PGA Tour deal hearing.
Photo by A.J. Perez.

WASHINGTON — Greg Norman’s future as a golf exec is murky, and the head of the Saudi Public Investment fund that committed billions to fund LIV Golf sought an Augusta National membership as new details emerged from negotiations that led to an agreement aimed to mend the PGA Tour-LIV Golf split a month ago.

Those items — along with the possibility of Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods owning LIV Golf teams and playing in at least 10 LIV events — became public during a hearing in front of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations that explored the implications of the deal on Tuesday. 

“LIV put us on fire,” testified Jimmy Dunn, a PGA Tour Policy Board member who was among a small group that negotiated the agreement. “LIV put us in an incredibly difficult position. LIV was a constant every day. Who’s gonna go? It was very disruptive.”

And costly.

LIV Golf and the PGA Tour each spent tens of millions on litigation costs over nearly a year before the deal’s framework was announced on June 6. The tentative agreement called for LIV, PGA Tour, and PIF — LIV’s financial backer with about $700 billion in assets — to end legal actions against one another. 

“I would describe it as a situation where the PGA Tour stays in the same position, and our players and our charities win,” PGA Tour COO Ron Price said on the agreement. “I don’t know that anyone is losing.”

The end of the courtroom drama remains the only tangible outcome of the agreement, which sources told Front Office Sports is far from final. 

While negotiations continue, the hearing led by committee chair Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn) focused on the more than $1 billion committed by PIF to back the new golf entity, PGA Tour Enterprises and Saudi Arabia’s involvement in the venture going forward during the hearing that spanned three hours. 

“We learned a lot, but we also have a lot more to learn, and we’re gonna continue the investigation because as many questions are raised by this so-called draft agreement, there are still,” Blumenthal told FOS after the hearing. “I think there’s a lot at stake here.”

Blumenthal said there could be another hearing once the final agreement has been reached, which is already being investigated by the Justice Department and will likely face regulatory scrutiny in the U.S. and Europe since the DP World Tour is also a cog in the agreement. 

Multiple versions of the framework were included among the more than 200 pages of documents obtained by the committee that were released during the hearing. 

The versions included “expectation that the services provided by Greg Norman … will cease upon the transition to [the] PGA Tour.” That portion was lined in one of the framework versions, and a source close to LIV told FOS that Norman’s ouster was not part of the agreement. 

Norman and PIF Governor Yasir Al-Rumayyan were invited to testify, although each had scheduling conflicts and could not attend. 

That left Dunn and Price as the only witnesses, Blumenthal said in “his closing remarks that his hope is that the PGA Tour “will resist those buckets full of money” from Saudi Arabia. 

“I think a lot of players, a lot of sponsors, a lot of charities, and frankly, the 9/11 families are hoping that the PGA Tour will stand up and frankly avoid the sellout that this deal [is],” Blumenthal continued.

“We’re gonna be selling out to countries that can throw around hundreds of billions of dollars. We’re gonna lose. Not just financially but in terms of our democracy, treatment, institutions like golf. Sports are central to our society, to our culture, to our economy, to our way of life, to our self-image, and our image abroad.”

Meanwhile, Ron Johnson, the Republican Wisconsin Senator who serves as the committee’s ranking member, lamented that the hearing was called before a final agreement was reached. 

“That’s the point I kept making is there’s no deal,” Johnson said after the hearing. “I think a lot of people jumped to conclusions that they had to announce this because they had a public court filing where the charges were dismissed. I would say, a big win for everybody other than the lawyers.”

Not much new light was shed on what sanctions — if any — golfers like Phil Mickelson — who reportedly received $200 million to join LIV — and others like Dustin Johnson and Brooks Koepka would face before being allowed back on the PGA Tour.

As of now, all the golfers who left for LIV remain suspended. 

And then there’s how to make it right for the top golfers who remained loyal to the PGA Tour and resisted the nine-figure deals offered by LIV. One of the slideshows obtained by the committee spelled out the possibility of Woods and McIlroy each owning a LIV Golf team where they’d play in “at least” 10 LIV events.

Eight members of 9/11 Justice — a group once supported by the PGA Tour that protested and ran ads against LIV Golf — were in the audience for the hearing, standing room only for about the first half before the chamber thinned out. 

“I think some of the remarks are obvious, and they were powerful,” 9/11 Justice President and Co-Founder Brett Eagleson told FOS after the hearing. “I was really glad to see Sen. [Ron] Johnson’s commitment to transparency around 9/11 and the Saudi’s role in 9/11. That was our mission here today, to focus attention on Saudi’s role on 9/11. I think the mission was accomplished today.’

Blumenthal told FOS that the PGA Tour could find other investors outside Saudi Arabia. 

“There are investors who are willing to provide capital,” Blumenthal said. “We’re not talking here about hundreds of billions of dollars. It’s a billion dollars, which in the world of corporate America today is not insurmountable.”

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