The first thing you should know is that you don’t have to care about any of this. You might be better off not caring or learning about it. That’s probably not what I should lead with for a piece like this, where I’m supposed to draw you in at the top. But you don’t have to care. After spending several hours watching and tracking the Senate hearings on the PGA Tour-PIF agreement, I opened Instagram to a video of Jordan Spieth putting through the gap in the wall at North Berwick. It was the first of several palate-cleansing “just two friends having fun” videos that came out of the famous Scottish links on Tuesday afternoon. That can be your relationship to the game — enchantment with fun courses and the times you can have on them with your playing partners. Golf does not have to be about grandstanding politicians colliding with the bumbling, bottomless greed of executives, league bureaucrats, and players currently on display in the professional game.
But if you do care, here’s an attempt to digest the bounty of both bullshit and substance from another day that brought golf out to the front of both the sports and larger news world.
What happened at the hearing:
- Representatives for the PGA Tour, COO Ron Price and Independent Director Jimmy Dunne, did no real harm. Congress made it clear they’re watching this deal with some concern. But the hearing’s impact on the deal was always going to be minimal, unless misstatements were made that invited further scrutiny from the DOJ antitrust inquiry, or that angered the Tour’s own players (or perhaps even its new Saudi partner.) There were some “is this real life?” moments, but the two avoided any real harmful swerves into danger.
- That said, there were some revelatory moments. Dunne admitted that the Tour was “small” in that the power and appeal lay with a handful of stars and that LIV could “gut us” over the next few years if the two sides kept going down this path and more players were susceptible to poaching. Dunne also added into the record that “LIV put us on fire,” while Price noted the real “vulnerability of the PGA Tour” after exhausting everything they believed they could do to defend itself. It runs counter to all the messages of strength we’d heard over the past year, and it’s worth keeping this framing in mind as the Tour keeps pushing this messaging of “control” while the deal still hangs in the balance.
- Dunne admitted the way it was announced was “really bad,” throwing his own side’s communications and messaging under the bus. That’s been a common refrain in recent weeks, pushing back on the original framing of a “merger.” He was adamant the PGA Tour would “retain control” and that this is an agreement to agree down the line: litigation is done, but everything else in the agreement is “aspirational.” He also added the hope is that “in a more constructive way, Yasir gets a more productive role in the game of golf.”
- Price, who was also adamant that the PGA Tour will be in control of this Saudi-sponsored subsidiary, stated that the Saudi investment in this new arrangement would be “north of $1 billion.” This should not come as a surprise. He was pressed for more specifics, but that’s as far as he would go. We’ve heard $2.5 billion to start. Eamon Lynch said on Golf Channel one private equity person is telling players they could come up with $5 billion overnight as an alternative to the funding. There’s a lot more money coming here.
- The senators took great interest in the non-disparagement clause added to the agreement, with concerns it might be a way of censoring the players, particularly on human rights matters. There was also some Senate concern about players having to wear Saudi insignia and represent Saudi interests on their apparel against their wishes. We also learned that the non-disparagement clause was included as one of the last revisions to the agreement.
- Blumenthal brought some receipts via poster boards of quotes, including one from Dunne last year, “It takes a lot to say no to a bucket full of money.”
- Dunne spoke passionately about his 9/11 experience, and attempted a defense of the deal by saying these people were not involved in that and it’s best to try to bring the world together.
- Ron Johnson seemed bothered by the hearing interfering with commerce and how the Senate inquiry would just make it harder for the parties to conduct their business and get this deal done. Blumenthal and others were more concerned about a foreign power taking control in an American cultural institution, and one with a poor human rights record. Josh Hawley was worked-up about PGA Tour China and seemed surprised to learn it had not been in operation since 2019. Senator Tom Carper talked about Sam Snead and his own poor golf game in painstaking detail. Rand Paul made a few points about Saudi influence, then got WILD about college sports and NIL. Senator Roger Marshall shouted out Kansan Gary Woodland, and also discussed the recent discovery of cocaine in the White House. There was a lot of grandstanding and purposeless crazy bullshit.
The document release
As revelatory, and certainly as dramatic, as the in-person hearing was the release of nearly 300 pages in documents surrounding the deal that the parties submitted before the hearing. There was some real insight to be gleaned from this trove. There was also a lot of red meat for Golf Twitter on “proposals” that never made it to the final agreement. Some of it bordered on fantasy, but that didn’t make it any less fun to cover or comment on. A few loosely defined categories:
The process and announcement
The documents contain correspondence on the two sides coming together, from emails and Teams invites to emojis and struggles with getting WhatsApp calls to work. The docs suggest that the PIF side reached out first back in December, with a British businessman as an intermediary.
The timeline of correspondence nears its end with an extreme urgency to roll out the agreed upon framework deal, with PIF advisor Michael S. Klein writing in an email that “the announcement is too big to wait for the definitive.” They were worried about leaks and outsiders filling in the gaps, with Klein suggesting a “softball segment” on CNBC to make the reveal. An initial plan to communicate the agreement to board members was scuttled, and the rushed announcement was done on CNBC. There were further nuggets about how Jay would promptly call Rory and Tiger (and other notable sponsors like Rolex and RBC). Also that Roger Goodell and others would issue a statement of support, which never happened.
In testimony, Dunne called the rollout “misleading and very inaccurate.” Yikes! It seems the weeks since have been a mad scramble to try and make up for that, while also trying to push forward on the deal that still needs to get done.
The Norman and LIV question
Blumenthal referenced a more secretive “side agreement” that would terminate Greg Norman upon the execution of the agreement. Emails with this language, and a draft of such an agreement are contained in the documents. The Washington Post reported that PIF officials eventually rejected this proposal to remove Norman. Price added in testimony that it would “not make sense” to keep Norman in his current role if the agreement were reached, but that presumes some terms of the agreement and a lot of PGA Tour control.
As No Laying Up chronicled on Twitter, there was significant back and forth in the drafts of the agreement as to the future of LIV Golf, who would make that determination, and if PIF would have any veto rights. After a series of edits and changes, all of it was removed and that’s still unclear. These are obviously some big questions to be agreed upon by the 2023 deadline to finalize an agreement, and it leaves both sides playing a PR game on how it’s really going to end up.
Proposals and fantasies
This is maybe where the golf nerds had the most fun. There were some fascinating proposed ideas and terms, none of which made it to the final framework (but may re-emerge in a final agreement.) Some, but certainly not all, of the ideas and proposals:
- A “Best of Both Worlds” presentation included a bullet on Yasir Al-Rumayyan becoming a director of the International Golf Federation and getting membership to the R&A and Augusta National
- Rory and Tiger would own LIV teams and play in at least 10 LIV events
- A global World Series team event, ending in Saudi Arabia
- A World Team draft that included LIV, PGA Tour, and LPGA players and revenue flowing to LIV
- Two elevated PGA Tour events sponsored by either the PIF or Aramco brands
- A LIV schedule that did not overlap with majors or elevated events, but is not relegated to being a “silly season” afterthought
- A Schedule B in one of the draft agreements references “retroactive” OWGR recognition for LIV events in 2022 and 2023, and 24 players gaining automatic admission into the majors for 2024, along with Ryder Cup points and more
Between the many ideas and proposals that never made it into the thin framework agreement, and the above questions on the future of LIV and Norman, there seems to be a lot to left to sort out in the coming months of negotiation.
This piece originally appeared in The Fried Egg newsletter. Subscribe for free and receive golf news and insight every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.