After being blindsided by the PGA Tour’s agreement with Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, a group of prominent golfers have successfully pressured the beleaguered circuit’s commissioner into making several concessions, including Woods to the tour’s board.
Tour commissioner Jay Monahan received letters from dozens of top players Monday demanding drastic changes, which were unveiled Tuesday.
The drastic demands outlined in the letter sent out on Monday were an attempt to regain control of a circuit that received its contemporary beginnings as a result of a player revolt in the late 1960s. Many players, including Tiger Woods, Patrick Cantlay, Rickie Fowler, Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm, and Scottie Scheffler, have spoken out against the contract, saying that it violates the circuit’s commitment to the players and the players’ right to manage the tour.
With the inclusion of Woods to the board—one of many changes to which Monahan acknowledged in writing—the players would outweigh the independent board members, who come from the business and legal communities, six to five. A number of participants on the board behaved independently during discussions with the Saudis, and the players want to amend the rules to prevent this from happening again.
The players requested that their counsel, Colin Neville of the merchant bank Raine, study the tour’s records and the terms of the pact with the players before a final agreement could be reached with the Saudi wealth fund.
Monahan’s continued backing wasn’t certain at the start of the week. Over 40 players, including Woods, as well as five current board members and sixteen members of an influential advisory group, signed the letter to Monahan.
Almost immediately, Monahan accepted the players’ suggestions. He issued a statement in which he promised to “take the necessary steps to restore any lost trust or confidence” caused by the unexpected news.
The outcry from the players over the contract with the wealth fund started shortly after it was unveiled in June. As a positive development for the fragmented sport, the Tour applauded the arrangement, which aims to merge the commercial operations of the Tour and the DP World Tour (previously the European Tour) with the Saudi-backed LIV Golf league.
Instead than telling the other board members, Monahan and two independent members, James J. Dunne III and Edward D. Herlihy, conducted negotiations with the wealth fund on behalf of the tour. A select group of players, including McIlroy and other board members, were informed of the pact before to its public unveiling. When word got out, most of the other players on the tour heard about it, too.
A source close to the talks said that players have been having private conversations in recent weeks about the reforms they would want to see implemented in the circuit they have stayed loyal to. The letter sent to Monahan on Monday represented those discussions, and he responded positively.
House and Senate lawmakers are investigating the trip’s tax-exempt status, and tour organisers testified before a congressional panel last month. The Department of Justice is looking into whether or whether the trip broke antitrust law, and their investigation has already derailed a portion of the agreement.
After Randall Stephenson’s resignation as AT&T chairman over concerns about the board’s lack of oversight of a major decision, the tour announced last week that Neville, the banker, would advise the players on a potential deal and that the players would have a say in choosing a new independent board member to replace Stephenson. The tour also indicated that LIV players who want to return to the tour would likely face fines, and said it was working on a “financially significant” scheme to compensate players who did not accept LIV’s money.
On Monday, the tour organisers made some further requests, to which they quickly agreed.
Having Woods on the board is not a guarantee of agreement among the players. What the world’s wealthiest and most famous players want out of a final deal can be different from what the considerably more numerous pros on the periphery of the circuit want.
Although he has publicly opposed LIV and its play style, it is unclear how Woods would feel about a prospective arrangement with the investment fund. Woods won his 15th major victory in 2019, but has competed in just a few of tournaments since then due to serious ailments. Neither he nor his representative, Mark Steinberg, have commented publicly on the arrangement in principle.
However, no active player has as much private authority as Woods has, and no active player commands as much public influence as Woods does. Many professional players on the PGA Tour believe that Tiger Woods is nearly solely responsible for the circuit’s current financial success and widespread appeal.
The players are certain that the addition of Woods to the board, which already includes the president of the Professional Golfers’ Association of America, would help calm the nerves of the more dissident members of the group.