PGA Tour Wanted Greg Norman Ousted as Part of Saudi Deal

The PGA Tour sought the ouster of Greg Norman, the two-time British Open champion who became the commissioner of the insurgent LIV Golf league, as a condition of its alliance with Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, according to records that a Senate subcommittee released on Tuesday.

The tour and the wealth fund did not ultimately agree to the proposal — crafted as a so-called side letter to a larger framework agreement — and, for now, Norman remains atop LIV. But the deliberations reflect an enmity forged over decades of hostilities between the tour and Norman, one of the most talented players in professional golf history who often chafed at the sport’s economic structure.

And they underscore the tensions that could linger if the deal closes.

The glimpse into the negotiations between the tour and the wealth fund came as the Senate’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations began its first hearing into the arrangement, which calls for the business ventures of the tour, the wealth fund and the DP World Tour to be brought into a new, for-profit company.

The plan is facing significant scrutiny in Washington, where some lawmakers have castigated the tour, once willing to condemn Saudi Arabia’s record of human rights abuses, for abruptly growing cozy with an arm of a coercive government. Beyond any congressional misgivings about the wealth fund’s ties to the Saudi government, Justice Department officials are also interested in whether the deal violates federal antitrust laws and whether they should try to block it.

Senator Richard Blumenthal, Democrat of Connecticut, said in his opening statement on Tuesday that his subcommittee’s hearing was about “much more than the game of golf.”

“It is about how a brutal, repressive regime can buy influence — indeed even take over — a cherished American institution to cleanse its public image,” Blumenthal, the subcommittee’s chairman, added, citing the kingdom’s record of killing journalists, abusing dissidents and having “supported other terrorist activities, including the 9/11 attack on our nation.”

“It is also about hypocrisy, how vast sums of money can induce individuals and institutions to betray their own values and supporters, or perhaps reveal a lack of values from the beginning,” he continued. “It’s about other sports and institutions that could fall prey, if their leaders let it be all about the money.”

The proceeding, held in a crowded Capitol Hill room that previously hosted Supreme Court confirmation hearings and meetings of the 9/11 Commission, included two senior PGA Tour leaders: the chief operating officer, Ron Price, and a board member who was intimately involved in the negotiations that led to the tentative deal that was announced on June 6.

In an opening statement, Price argued that the tour, faced with the threat of competing with one of the world’s mightiest sovereign wealth funds, had little choice but to seek some measure of coexistence after months of acrimony in court and in jockeying for the allegiances of the world’s best players.

“It was very clear to us — and to all who love the PGA Tour and the game of golf as a whole — that the dispute was undermining growth of our sport and was threatening the very survival of the PGA Tour, and it was unsustainable,” Price said. “While we had significant wins in litigation, our players, our fans, our partners, our employees and the charities we support would lose.”

Tour leaders have acknowledged that with negotiations for a final agreement still unfolding, board approval is no certainty. Over the weekend, one member of the board, the former AT&T chief executive Randall Stephenson, resigned. In a letter about his exit, Stephenson said “the construct currently being negotiated by management is not one that I can objectively evaluate or in good conscience support.”

Tour executives have been eager to show how the agreement leaves them positioned to run professional golf’s day-to-day operations. The tour’s commissioner, Jay Monahan, has been tabbed as the chief executive of the new company, expected to be called PGA Tour Enterprises, and the tour is expected to fill a majority of the company’s board seats.

They have been far less keen to discuss how Yasir al-Rumayyan, the wealth fund’s governor, will serve as the chairman of PGA Tour Enterprises and how the framework agreement envisions sweeping investment rights for a Riyadh-based fund whose power and value have swelled in recent years.

Neither al-Rumayyan nor Norman agreed to testify at Tuesday’s hearing, citing scheduling conflicts. But documents released by the subcommittee suggest that both will be factors in an inquiry that could last months.

The effort to remove Norman was underway by May 24, when the PGA Tour board’s chairman, Edward D. Herlihy, sent a proposed side letter to Michael Klein, a banker working with the wealth fund. The proposal called for Norman, as well as a British outfit central to developing LIV, to “cease” working on LIV within a month of “the management transition to the PGA Tour.”

Although Norman’s long-term fate has been uncertain — he was not a part of the negotiations that led to the preliminary deal, stoking questions about his relevance — it was not until Tuesday that it became clear that his future had been a subject of the talks.

LIV did not comment on Tuesday, but three people with knowledge of the negotiations, who requested anonymity to discuss private talks, said the wealth fund had rejected the tour’s proposal.

The documents that the Senate released also detail the deliberations over when and how to announce the deal; Klein was among the figures who said the tour and the wealth fund should not wait for a final agreement to disclose their newfound peace.

And the records show how a British businessman with ties to the wealth fund and its advisers reached out to James J. Dunne III, now a tour board member and one of Tuesday’s witnesses, in December. In an email, the businessman, Roger Devlin, suggested that there could be a pathway to an armistice between the tour and the wealth fund.

Dunne, at least at first, declined to engage in a substantive way.

Devlin re-emerged in April, warning Dunne that there was “a window of opportunity to unify the game over the next couple of months” before, he thought, “the Saudis will doubledown on their investment and golf will be split asunder in perpetuity.”

Although committee investigators told senators in a briefing memorandum that they did not know for certain how Devlin’s April message influenced Dunne, the tour board member contacted al-Rumayyan within days.

Dunne, al-Rumayyan and a handful of others met in Britain soon after, starting negotiations that included a number of ideas that did not make it into the five-page text of the framework agreement. Those concepts, outlined in a presentation titled “The Best of Both Worlds,” included Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy, who had pledged fealty to the tour, owning LIV teams and a “large-scale superstar” team golf event that would feature the world’s top men’s and women’s players.

Although the initial deal between the tour and the wealth fund did not include some of those proposals, the final agreement is still being hammered out, a process that could take months.

At least as of April, according to documents the Senate released, there was even talk of a deal including memberships for al-Rumayyan at Augusta National Golf Club and the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews — two of the most prestigious golf clubs in the world, but ones that are not controlled by the PGA Tour.


Read original article here

Denial of responsibility! Secular Times is an automatic aggregator of the all world’s media. In each content, the hyperlink to the primary source is specified. All trademarks belong to their rightful owners, all materials to their authors. If you are the owner of the content and do not want us to publish your materials, please contact us by email – The content will be deleted within 24 hours.

Leave a Comment