Biggest remaining question after Tuesday’s PGA Tour-PIF hearing

Mark SchlabachESPN Senior WriterJul 12, 2023, 01:51 PM ET10 minutes of reading

US congressional subcommittee investigates PGA Tour-LIV Golf merger

Tisha Thompson reports the latest on the US Congressional subcommittee hearing investigating the PGA Tour-LIV Golf merger.

Like many golf fans around the world on Tuesday, Scottie Scheffler attended the Senate hearing on the PGA Tour’s planned alliance with the DP World Tour and Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund.

And he also came away without many answers about what the game’s future global ecosystem might look like.

“I just think yesterday we didn’t really learn much again,” Scheffler told reporters in Scotland on Wednesday. “As a player on tour, we still don’t have a lot of clarity on what’s going on and that’s a bit worrying. They keep saying it’s a player-driven organization and we don’t really have the information that we need for. I watched part of yesterday and learned nothing, so I really don’t know what to say.”

There was at least one eye-opening revelation during the three-hour hearing before the US Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations: PGA Tour Chief Operating Officer Ron Price revealed that the PIF has pledged to invest more than $1 billion in the new for-profit entity, known as NewCo for now, it will be controlled by the PGA Tour.

When subcommittee Chairman Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) asked if the PIF would make additional investments, Price said, “It’s in complete control of the PGA Tour because it’s a PGA Tour subsidiary. The board is controlled by the PGA Tour. , and they have absolute control over how much funding they accept now and in the future.”

Price and PGA Tour policy board director Jimmy Dunne, who also testified at the hearing, repeatedly told senators that the sides only have a framework agreement and that there is still much to hash out before a final agreement is reached.

Here are some of the biggest questions after Tuesday’s hearing:

Will LIV Golf League CEO Greg Norman still have a job if the deal goes through?

It was not a surprise to learn that PGA Tour executives pushed for Norman’s removal during early negotiations. A May 25 side letter to the framework agreement proposed by the PGA Tour, which was released by the subcommittee, revealed that the tour wants Norman and Performance54, a London-based marketing and consulting group that helps run the LIV Golf League, out of the equation when the trade is completed.

PGA Tour executives pushed to have LIV Golf League CEO Greg Norman removed during early negotiations.Chris Trotman/LIV Golf via AP

Discussion points prepared for PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan for his June 6 announcement of the deal to the policy board noted that “Norman will be assigned an advisory role determined by the PIF when the PGA Tour becomes manager of the LIV Tour.”

A LIV Golf official told ESPN on Tuesday that it was the league’s understanding that the side letter was not signed and that PIF officials had rejected the idea of ​​removing Norman and Performance54.

But Price told Blumenthal at the hearing that Norman’s role will be eliminated if the tour takes control of LIV Golf.

“Under the framework agreement, if we are able to move to a definitive agreement and it is approved, the LIV Golf assets, of which Greg Normans is currently commissioner, will move into a new PGA Tour subsidiary, controlled by the PGA Tour and those events will be managed by the PGA Tour,” Price said Tuesday.

“We would have a full infrastructure in place to manage events. It wouldn’t make sense to bring in those types of managers to manage what are now 14 series of events.”

Will the LIV Golf League survive if a deal is reached?

Norman has told his players and staff that the LIV Golf League is an independent entity and that planning is taking place for 2024 and beyond. LIV Golf stars Dustin Johnson and Bryson DeChambeau told ESPN at last month’s US Open that PIF governor Yasir Al-Rumayyan told them the league would continue to play in 2024.

In early drafts of the framework agreement released by the subcommittee, PIF attorneys included the following language: “The parties share a common goal of the coexistence of the PGA Tour, the DP World Tour and LIV and the development of a successful team format through LIV. Subject to execution of the Definitive Agreements, (a) the Partnership as manager would conduct a full and objective evaluation of LIV and its prospects and potential and would create a business plan for team golf and determine how best to integrate team golf through LIV into the PGA Tour and DP World Tour events going forward, and (b) the PIF, the PGA Tour and the DP World Tour will further cooperate in good faith on matters such as scheduling, marketing and media rights.”

Eight drafts were exchanged between May 16 and May 30, and the language about LIV Golf’s future changed dramatically in the executed version. Most notably, the references to “through LIFE” were omitted.

The executed agreement states: “NewCo will conduct a full and objective empirical data-driven evaluation of LIV and its prospects and potential and will conduct a good faith assessment of the merits of team golf in general and the PIF, PGA TOUR and DP World Tour will work together in an effort to to determine how best to integrate team golf into PGA TOUR and DP World Tour events going forward.”

The executed agreement further states that the NewCo board, with Monahan’s recommendation, will determine the entity’s ongoing plan and strategy for all operations. So, as Dunne told ESPN in an interview last month, LIV Golf’s future appears to be in Monahan’s hands.

Will a non-disparagement clause be included in a final agreement?

A broad non-disparagement clause, which was included in the final deal by the Saudis the night before it was signed, was an issue for Blumenthal and a handful of other senators during the hearing.

The clause reads: “Each party agrees and covenants that it will not at any time, directly or indirectly, make, publish or communicate to any person or entity or in any public forum any defamatory or disparaging remarks, comments or statements with respect to the other. Party, their affiliates and ultimate beneficial owners or their respective companies, directors, employees, officers, shareholders, members or advisors.”

Blumenthal repeatedly asked Dunne and Price whether the non-disparagement clause would prevent PGA Tour players from speaking out about the Saudi monarchy’s history of human rights abuses. “That’s about as broad a nondisparagement clause as I’ve ever seen,” Blumenthal said at the hearing. “Will you commit today, Mr. Price, that the PGA Tour will not penalize any member who criticizes the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, or human rights, anywhere regardless of this new relationship with the PIF? Can you commit to the final agreement of , that the PGA Tour won’t punish anyone for criticizing anyone in Saudi Arabia?”

PIF Governor Yasir Al-Rumayyan declined to appear before the committee due to a scheduling conflict.EPA/ANDY RAIN

Price tried to assure Blumenthal that the clause did not cover players. Dunne, a longtime Wall Street dealmaker, noted that non-disparagement clauses are common when deals are negotiated.

“Our position is that the players are free to speak their minds under that agreement and that’s the way we’ve interpreted it,” Price said. “We always take our players’ interests very seriously and we will try to protect their interests.”

When Blumenthal pressed Price on whether a non-disparagement clause would be included in a final agreement between the PGA Tour and the PIF, Price replied, “We would not recommend any final agreement to the board for approval that had such a clause in it.”

Are the Senate hearings over?

Blumenthal told ESPN after Tuesday’s hearing that he hopes Norman, Al-Rumayyan and possibly even Monahan will appear before the committee, but that if they don’t, “all options are still on the table,” including subpoenas and impeachment.

Al-Rumayyan and Norman declined to appear before the committee due to scheduling conflicts. Monahan took a leave of absence on June 13 for unspecified medical reasons; he is scheduled to return to work on Monday. U.S. Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) called on U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland and Assistant Attorney General Jonathan Kanter to investigate the deal, and Price testified that the PGA Tour is cooperating with the U.S. Department of Justice investigation. The Senate Finance Committee, which Wyden chairs, is unlikely to hold hearings on the matter, according to sources.

PGA Tour CEO Ron Price revealed that the PIF has pledged to invest more than $1 billion in the new for-profit entity, known as NewCo, that will be controlled by the PGA Tour.Drew Angerer/Getty Images

“We’ve learned a lot,” Blumenthal said at the hearing. “And we’ve also learned that we need to learn more. And so we’re going to continue this investigation, we’re going to ask that the other potential witnesses that we’ve invited actually come forward and share their perspectives and information.

“I recognize that you can’t say you’re going to walk away from this deal, but I hope you’ve negotiated hard. And we’re going to continue this investigation because I think it’s uncovering more of the facts and putting the focus on what’s really happening here. in the national interest and that’s part of our commitment.”

Will the deal go through?

There was no indication during Tuesday’s hearing that Congress will try to block the PGA Tour from doing business with the Saudis. Late. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) questioned why the federal government was sticking its nose into a private business case, and ranking subcommittee member Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) worried the hearing could disrupt negotiations.

“The parties are in the middle of what should be a private negotiation and there is no agreement to review,” Johnson said. “There is nothing wrong with the PGA Tour negotiating for its survival. Negotiations are often delicate – mostly private – and I fear that getting Congress involved at this stage could have negative consequences.”

Along with the DOJ’s Antitrust Division, which could try to block the deal, the proposed plan could also be scrutinized by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, an interagency committee of nine cabinet-level officials that reviews transactions that could result in scrutiny of a U.S. business of a foreign person or entity. Regulators in Europe could also take a closer look.

During the hearing, subcommittee chairman Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said the Senate will continue the investigation and “ask that the other potential witnesses that we have invited actually come forward and share their perspectives and information.”Jack Gruber/USA TODAY

The deal still needs to be approved by the PGA Tour’s policy board, which in addition to Dunne includes chairman Ed Herlihy, independent directors Mark Flaherty and Mary Meeker, as well as player directors Patrick Cantlay, Charley Hoffman, Peter Malnati, Rory McIlroy and Webb Simpson.

Another independent director, former AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson, resigned Saturday, telling the board in his resignation letter that he had “serious concerns” about the proposed alliance, which he could not “objectively evaluate or in good conscience support, particularly in light of The US intelligence report on Jamal Khashoggi.”

Khashoggi, a columnist for The Washington Post and a US resident, was murdered in 2018 by agents of the Saudi government, according to US and UN intelligence reports. Al-Rumayyan would become an independent director on the PGA Tour’s policy board if a deal with the PIF is completed.

ESPN’s Tisha Thompson contributed to this report.

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