WASHINGTON (AP) — The negotiators of a business deal between the PGA Tour and the Saudi funders of LIV Golf discussed ousting LIV chief executive Greg Norman and giving Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy their own LIV teams, according to documents obtained by Congress.
Those were among the many proposals to unify golf’s rival factions that representatives of the PGA Tour and the Saudi government discussed during their hasty negotiations this spring. The talks culminated in a framework agreement announced last month between the tour and Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund.
The deal to bring Saudi investment into the PGA Tour shocked the golf world and invited scrutiny from Congress as well as the Justice Department, which is looking into potential antitrust violations. The Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, chaired by Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., released the documents detailing the negotiations ahead of a hearing on Tuesday where one of the architects of the deal and a PGA Tour executive were set to testify.
The subcommittee is seeking to determine how the investment in golf by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund aligns with the kingdom’s geopolitical interests. In his opening remarks, Blumenthal said he wanted to uncover the reasons behind the involvement of a “brutal, repressive regime” in a beloved American sports institution whose leaders, before their deal with the Saudis, had made moral arguments against LIV players taking Saudi money.
“We’re here about questions that go to the core of what the future of this sport and other sports will be in the United States, what happened that led the PGA Tour to change its position,” Blumenthal said. “Was it only the hope of ending litigation or was it also the unspecified amount of Saudi investment that would come of it? Just how much money did PIF offer the PGA Tour and what other sources of money were sought as an alternative?”
Critics of the Saudi investment in golf have pointed to the kingdom’s poor human rights record and the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, which U.S. intelligence concluded was likely approved by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, an allegation the crown prince denies. The PIF has bought its way into other sports including soccer — it owns Newcastle United of the English Premier League — and Formula One racing.
The documents released Tuesday also detail the roles of people on the Saudi side of the negotiations, notably Amanda Staveley, a British investment banker who helped broker the Newcastle deal and now sits on the team’s board, and Roger Devlin, a British businessman. Devlin was the first to approach PGA Tour board member Jimmy Dunne about the prospect of a deal between the tour and LIV, the documents show.
A memo from Staveley’s firm titled “The Best of Both Worlds” includes the proposal that Woods and McIlroy take ownership of LIV teams and that each of them play in 10 LIV events per year. There is no indication in the documents that either Woods or McIlroy, both of whom remained loyal to the PGA Tour in its dispute with LIV, were ever informed of the idea.
Woods has played only twice this year and is recovering from ankle surgery to address complications from a car crash in Los Angeles in early 2021 that he has said will severely limit his playing schedule going forward.
Among the other proposals included in the memo are a mixed-gender, LIV-style team event with qualifying in Saudi Arabia and concluding in Dubai; awarding world ranking points to LIV events, including retroactively; and PIF sponsorship of two elevated PGA Tour events, including one in Saudi Arabia.
None of those proposals was included in the framework agreement that Yasir Al-Rumayyan, governor of the PIF, and PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan signed on June 6. The agreement called for the parties to drop all lawsuits and to combine the commercial interests of the PGA Tour, LIV and the European tour into a new, for-profit company while maintaining the PGA Tour’s nonprofit status.
The proposal to replace Norman as LIV’s CEO was included in a side agreement that was negotiated ahead of the announcement, but the committee could not determine whether the side agreement was executed. Emails obtained by the committee showed that Dunne and fellow PGA Tour board member Ed Herlihy discussed with Monahan the prospect of Dunne and Herlihy replacing Norman.
“Jimmy, I raised the idea with Jay of you overseeing LIV going forward. He really liked it,” Herlihy wrote on May 15.
“You and me,” Dunne replied.
Norman remains in the CEO role, although he has been largely sidelined as the public face of LIV since the deal was announced. He was invited to testify at Tuesday’s hearing along with Al-Rumayyan; both declined. Monahan also was not testifying because he is recovering from an unspecified medical situation that kept him out of work for a month; he has said he plans to return next week.