The PGA Tour remains comfortable it can see off any US justice department investigation into the controversial alliance with Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund as pressure from US senators over the deal intensifies.
In a statement, the PGA Tour said: “We are confident that once all stakeholders learn more about how the PGA Tour will lead this new venture, they will understand how it benefits our players, fans, and sport while protecting the American institution of golf.” In essence, the governing body believes there is general ignorance about what it is seeking to achieve.
The PGA Tour and PIF, until recently sworn enemies in elite golf’s battle for hearts and minds, plan to align in a new umbrella entity to control professional golf. The DP World Tour is also included in the deal. Costly and time-consuming litigation between the PGA Tour and the Saudi-backed LIV Golf has been halted after the parties made peace.
The justice department informed the PGA Tour on Thursday the agreement could face review due to antitrust concerns. On the same day, Senator Ron Wyden added his voice to those on Capitol Hill who object to the PGA tour and PIF proposal. Wyden questioned whether “America’s national interests” are best served by the deal. Washington does have previous for blocking commercial deals that are regarded as politically unpalatable.
Wyden added: “The PGA Tour’s involvement with PIF raises significant questions about whether organisations that tie themselves to an authoritarian regime that has continually undermined the rule of law should continue to enjoy tax-exempt status in the United States.” The PGA Tour has long existed as a 501(c)(6) company, the status of a non-profit members’ organisation.
“The C6 still stays in place,” said the PGA Tour’s commissioner Jay Monahan last week. “And out of the C6 we will continue to operate our tours, will put our player retirement plans and assets there. So that stays in place. I think it’s very important.” The PGA Tour announced on Tuesday that Monahan is recovering from a “medical situation” with day-to-day control of the business passed over to others. Golfers, including those competing in the US Open, are still waiting to discover what the current situation means for them. Ignorance is apparent even among the best players in the game.
Sources familiar with the inner workings of the PGA Tour stress it was already complying with the Department of Justice over questions relating to anti-competitive behaviour in professional golf. Any focus on the PIF deal would be an extension of, rather than separate to, those discussions. Still, the likelihood of – at the very least – a delay is hardly helpful to the PGA Tour’s will to leave golf’s civil war behind.
The governing body will privately seek to insist what has transpired is not a merger and certainly not a takeover by the PIF, despite the fact this group plans to pour billions of dollars into the new company. Monahan, health depending, is due to serve as the chief executive of the NewCo business while maintaining his PGA Tour position. A new board will be dominated by PGA Tour executives.
The weirdest of times in golf were further endorsed late on Thursday at the US Open. Phil Mickelson, a LIV golfer and staunch critic of the PGA Tour’s leadership, had to back off a putt at the ninth after being heckled for around 30 seconds by a sombrero-wearing spectator perched high in a grandstand. Security removed the individual in question.
Mickelson is yet to offer his thoughts on what the PIF and PGA Tour deal means either for him or his sport.
“I don’t want to detract right now from this tournament and where I’m at,” the six-time major winner said. “I’m playing well. I want to get myself in contention. I’ll talk about it maybe after.” The US Open remains the one major championship the 53-year-old has not won.