Watson Wants Answers on the PGA Tour’s Deal with Saudi backers of LIV
LOS ANGELES (AP) — Eight-time major champion Tom Watson wants answers on 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 hardship.
That was one of several questions posed by Watson 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 “compounded by the hypocrisy in disregarding the moral issue.”
On the day after Wyndham Clark became the latest major champion by winning the U.S. Open, focus shifted back to an issue that has consumed golf for the last three years. It took a stunning turn June 6 when the PGA Tour announced it had joined with Saudi Arabia’s national wealth fund and the European tour to put commercial businesses under one roof.
Monahan has referred to it as a “framework agreement” and he had few answers for players in a meeting two weeks ago at the Canadian Open. A Player Advisory Council meeting is scheduled for Tuesday ahead of the Travelers Championship in Connecticut.
Monahan, who stepped away for a “medical situation” on Wednesday, is not expected to attend. Two of his top executives are in charge of the tour’s day-to-day operations.
The tour said in the 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 the CEO. Two PGA Tour board members, Ed Herlihy and Jimmy Dunne, would join them on the executive committee.
The deal contains assurances the tour would keep a controlling voting interest in the new commercial entity regardless of how much the PIF contributes, according to a person who has seen the agreement.
The person, who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the deal has not been made public, said the agreement allows for a financial investment from PIF and pooling the three parties’ current and future golf-related investments. That would 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 would still have full authority on how it runs its competition.
Still missing are key details such as the future of LIV Golf. Dustin Johnson and Bryson DeChambeau have said they are planning for a 2024 season.
Meanwhile, Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., suggested Sunday that congressional hearings could be held within weeks.
Blumenthal is chair of the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. He said on CBS's “Face the Nation” the subcommittee wants facts on what went into the deal and who was behind it and details on the structure and governance of the new company.
“There are very, very few details,” Blumenthal said. “But remember, what we have here is essentially a repressive, autocratic foreign government taking control over an iconic, cherished American institution for the clear purpose of cleansing its public image,” he said.
One key to the agreement was ending all litigation. The PGA Tour and Saudi-backed LIV Golf filed a motion on Friday to dismiss with prejudice the antitrust lawsuit LIV players filed in August, the countersuit the tour filed in September and even a PIF appeal to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to avoid having to give depositions in the lawsuits. They cannot be refiled.
Monahan has said the lawsuits — a trial date was not expected until at least the middle of 2024 with plenty of filings in between — had contributed to a “significant” hit to the tour.
Watson said in his letter: “Is the PIF the only viable rescue from the Tour’s financial problems? 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 such as 9/11 Families United on the tour's reversal.
“My loyalty to golf and this country live in the same place and have held equal and significant weight with me over my lifetime,” 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 isn’t alone among his questions. The Justice Department’s antitrust division has been reviewing the golf landscape since last summer, and now it is starting to look at the tour’s agreement 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 still is being finalized.
Monahan has said everything in the framework agreement would be subject to board approval.
Blumenthal told CBS he thought a hearing would be possible “within weeks.”
“The American people deserve a clear look at the facts here,” he said. “Again, not prejudging what the conclusions will be. But what the Saudis are doing here is not taking control of a single team or hiring one player. They are, in effect, taking charge of the entire sport, and it’s not just a Saudi individual. It is the regime.”