PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan speaks during a press conference prior to the TOUR Championship at East Lake Golf Club on August 24, 2022 in Atlanta, Georgia.
Cliff Hawkins | Getty Images
PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan said Wednesday that the organization is talking to several potential investors as a deadline to clinch a deal with Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund rapidly approaches.
He also indicated that the tour is still open to another investor coming onboard alongside the PIF.
“We’re having conversations with multiple parties,” Monahan during The New York Times’ DealBook summit. The Dec. 31 deadline outlined in the original framework agreement is still a “firm target,” he said, adding that he will meet with PIF Governor Yasir bin Othman Al-Rumayyan to “advance conversations.” The fund is controlled by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
Monahan gave some insight into how the framework agreement to combine the PGA Tour with PIF-owned LIV Golf came together earlier this year.
“As we approached June 5, it was very clear the PGA Tour was facing an existential threat from the $7 billion sovereign wealth fund, and it was determined to control the future of our sport,” Monahan said.
LIV and the PGA Tour were engaged in an antitrust legal battle dating back to last year. The Public Investment Fund had been luring PGA Tour golfers, including star Phil Mickelson, to LIV with deals worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
“We decided to address that by striking a deal that allowed the PGA Tour to remain and retain control” and put an end to the “extensive and divisive litigation,” Monahan said. The deal had the PGA Tour retaining control in the face of an existential threat, he added. “This was a very hard decision, but I am confident this was the right one for our players and our fans.”
Monahan also discussed his own personal struggles as he received backlash, including from lawmakers, pundits and stars such as Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy, for the agreement with the Saudis.
The commissioner took medical leave days after the deal was announced. He said he went for a long walk the morning of June 11, prayed and came home to tell his wife that he was in a bad place and needed help.
The conflict affected “me, my mental and my physical health,” he said Wednesday. “You’re not eating right. You can’t do anything other than think about work because you care so deeply about the game, the PGA Tour, our players and our history. It took its toll on me.”
Key U.S. lawmakers questioned Saud Arabia’s ties to the deal, suggesting that the proposed merger was an attempt by the Saudi government to distract from its human rights record and gain undue influence through sports investments.
The agreement also opened the door to interest from a slew of potential investors, including Boston Red Sox owner Fenway Sports Group and TKO majority owner Endeavor Group Holdings. The PGA Tour turned down the Endeavor offer last month, but the Fenway bid appears to still be up in the air following confirmation of talks between the firm and PGA earlier this month. It’s unclear whether Fenway’s involvement would coincide with or usurp the Saudis’ bid.
In a bid to gain players’ blessings, the tour said in memo to players earlier this month that it will offer players equity ownership in the new company following the merger.
When the merger is finalized, “the PGA Tour is going to be in a position where the athletes are owners in their sport,” Monahan said. The PIF and “likely another co-investor with significant experience in business and sports will help the PGA Tour take share from other sports and be even more competitive.”
“What’s most important to our players is that they go from the model of being independent contractors to being owners,” Monahan added.