Tom Watson questions PGA Tour’s Saudi Arabian partnership in letter

Associated PressJune 19, 2023, 12:12 PM ET5 minutes of reading

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LOS ANGELES – Eight-time major champion Tom Watson wants answers about the PGA Tour’s new business partnership with Saudi backers of LIV Golf, asking in a letter Monday to commissioner Jay Monahan if the deal was the only way to solve the tour’s financial difficulties.

That was one of several questions Watson asked in the letter, which was obtained by The Associated Press and was sent to Monahan, the PGA Tour board and “my fellow players.”

He said the questions were “heightened by the hypocrisy of ignoring the moral issue.”

On the following day Wyndham Clark became the most recent major champion by winning the US Open, the focus shifted back to a problem that has consumed golf for the past few years. It took one fantastic turn June 6, when the PGA Tour announced it had teamed up with Saudi Arabia’s National Wealth Fund and the European Tour to bring the commercial businesses under one roof.

Monahan has referred to it as a “framework agreement” and had few answers for the players a meeting two weeks ago at the Canadian Open. A player advisory board is scheduled for Tuesday prior to the Travelers Championship in Connecticut.

Monahan, who stepped away for a “medical situation” Wednesday, is not expected to attend. Two of his top managers are responsible for the tour’s day-to-day operations.

The trip said i June 6 announcement that Yasir Al-Rumayyan, the governor of the Public Investment Fund, would be chairman of the new company, and Monahan would be chief executive. Two PGA Tour board members, Ed Herlihy and Jimmy Dunnewould join them on the Executive Committee.

The agreement includes assurances that the tour will retain a controlling voting stake in the new commercial entity regardless of how much PIF contributes, according to a person who has seen the agreement.

The person, who spoke to The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity because the deal has not been made public, said the deal allows for a financial investment from PIF and pooling the three parties’ current and future golf-related investments. It will include LIV Golf.

The agreement said the new company’s board would have majority representation appointed by the PGA Tour, the person said. The PGA Tour will still have full authority over how it runs its competition.

Key details such as the future of LIV Golf are still missing. Dustin Johnson and Bryson DeChambeau have said they are planning a 2024 season.

Meanwhile, Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., suggested Sunday that congressional hearings could be held within weeks.

Blumenthal chairs the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. He said on CBS’ “Face the Nation” that the subcommittee wants facts about what went into the deal and who was behind it and details about the structure and management of the new company.

“There are very, very few details,” Blumenthal said. “But remember, what we have here is essentially an oppressive, autocratic foreign government taking control of an iconic, treasured American institution for the express purpose of cleansing its public image,” he said.

A key to the deal was ending all litigation. PGA Tour and Saudi-backed LIV Golf submitted a proposal Friday to dismiss with prejudice the antitrust suit LIV players filed in August, the countersuit filed by the tour in September and even a PIF appeal to the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals to avoid having to testify in the lawsuits. They cannot be re-archived.

Monahan has said the lawsuits — a trial date was not expected until at least mid-2024 with plenty of cases in between — had contributed to a “significant” hit for the trip.

Watson said in his letter: “Is the PIF the only viable rescue from the Tour’s financial woes? Was/is there a plan B? And again, what exactly is the exchange?”

He mentioned hypocrisy twice, especially as it relates to criticism from groups like 9/11 Families United at the turn of the tour.

“My loyalty to golf and this country resides in the same place and has carried equal weight with me throughout my life,” Watson said. “Please educate me and others in a way that allows loyalty to both and in a way that makes it easy to look 9/11 families in the eye and ourselves in the mirror.”

Watson is not alone in having questions. The Department of Justice’s antitrust division has been reviewing the golf landscape since last summer and is now starts looking on the tour’s deal with the Saudis and whether it violates federal antitrust laws. The inquiry is in its early stages, as the agreement is barely 2 weeks old and is still being finalised.

Monahan has said that everything in the framework agreement will be subject to the board’s approval.

Blumenthal told CBS he believed a hearing would be possible “within a few weeks.”

“The American people deserve a clear look at the facts here,” he said. “Again, without predicting what the conclusions will be. But what the Saudis are doing here is not taking control of a single team or hiring a player. They are effectively taking charge of the entire sport, and it’s not just one Saudi individual. It’s the regime.”

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