Jordan Spieth has dispelled the notion he is part of an alliance with Tiger Woods and Patrick Cantlay on the PGA Tour board as the deadline nears for the Tour to finalise its framework agreement with the Saudi backers of LIV Golf, who have lured away Masters champion Jon Rahm.
Sports Illustrated reported that the Public Investment Fund (PIF) of Saudi Arabia indicated it was willing to not only pump $2bn into the proposed commercial deal as part of the 6 June agreement, but an additional $1bn equalisation pool for PGA Tour players who turned down LIV’s lucrative offers. It also claimed Cantlay had seized control and was driving the negotiations with Woods and Spieth as part of an alliance to protect the interests of top players. Spieth recently was appointed to finish the board term of Rory McIlroy, who resigned last month and often sparred with Cantlay.
“There’s no fact to it,” said Spieth. “It’s been very collective since I’ve jumped on. It’s not even a thing. We’re looking for the best outcome for the players as a whole, and it’s six persons [as player directors].”
The tour has until 31 December to finalise its agreement with the PIF. The initial agreement plan, announced on 6 June, said the deadline could be extended if both sides agree, although the PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan said last week that the end of 2023 was a “firm target”.
Woods’s agent declined to comment. Cantlay chose not to speak publicly except to say he is guided by a responsibility to represent the entire membership. Cantlay, who won the FedEx Cup in 2021 and was voted PGA Tour player of the year, can often come across as aloof. He stood out at the Ryder Cup for not wearing a hat amid reports it was a protest for not getting paid, which he denied.
Spieth said Cantlay might be an easy target because of his personality. “But he’s very smart and he’s very measured in everything he says,” Spieth explained. “He doesn’t waste words, and a lot of times that comes across as demanding. In no way, shape or form does he control anything. He wants objectivity when it seems that isn’t the case. He, like the rest of us, are all in agreement. We may disagree on how, when and why. But our collective duties are to represent the players – deal, no deal, multiple partners.”
The multiple partners involve private equity groups that have become part of negotiations. The tour has been narrowing them down, along with negotiating with the PIF, and Acorn Growth and Fenway Sports Group are believed to be the leading contenders.
Negotiations became more complicated when Rahm, a PGA Tour loyalist since LIV began, announced he had signed with the rival league. Not only was it a big loss for the PGA Tour, it was a reminder that the PIF has the money to grab even more players. “I don’t think for him it was the money,” Spieth said. “I believe he saw two places that neither one was in a great situation right now, and he said, ‘May as well have the money.’”
Monahan originally planned to meet with Yasir al-Rumayyan, the governor of the PIF, this week. That has been pushed back to next week, and it was not clear if they still would meet after the Rahm signing. “It’s a really nice play by them,” Spieth said of the Saudis. “I think we hold the best hand, but they know what our hand is. It’s a nice leveraging tool with everything going on.”
Among those leading the Acorn Growth bid to invest in the PGA Tour is Randall Stephenson, the retired AT&T chairman who resigned from the Tour board in protest of the Saudi deal. Spieth has been an AT&T ambassador for the last decade. McIlroy, meanwhile, was connected to the Fenway Sports Group through his TGL league, which has been postponed until 2025. Woods was appointed to the board four months ago, making it six player directors and five independent directors. The other player directors are Webb Simpson, Charley Hoffman and Peter Malnati.
Spieth said he thought the report that Cantlay had seized control of negotiations was “a lot funnier than I think Pat did”, adding: “I believe he’s done more for the PGA Tour in the last six months on the board than anyone since Tiger. That’s how great he’s been for the membership. It’s like he’s the biggest issue and it couldn’t be further from the truth.”