Ousting Norman, giving Woods and McIlroy LIV teams were discussed with PGA Tour, documents show

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

Ben Nuckols
Tuesday 11 July 2023 15:13 BST
LIV Golf
LIV Golf

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.

“The documents obtained by the subcommittee thus far illustrate the need for further inquiry into PIF’s United States investments and Saudi Arabian influence efforts in the United States,” subcommittee staff wrote in a summary of their findings. “While PIF’s recent growth includes significant investment in the United States, the exact scope of those investments and whether they play a role in any larger Saudi Arabian influence campaign remains largely unknown.”

Critics of the Saudi investment in golf have pointed to the kingdom's poor human rights record and the killing of journalist Jamal Khasshogi, 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 did not testify 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.


AP golf: https://apnews.com/hub/golf and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in