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Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods with LIV teams? Proposals between PGA Tour and Saudi's PIF revealed

Documents released ahead of hearings on Capitol Hill regarding the proposed agreement between the PGA Tour and Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund (PIF), who fund LIV Golf, revealed a proposal of Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy featuring in LIV events

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Speaking on the Golf Channel, NBC's Capitol Hill correspondent Ryan Nobles explains what happened in the US Senate's hearing into the PGA Tour's merger with the Saudi Public Investment Fund

The negotiators of a business deal between the PGA Tour and Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund (PIF) discussed ousting LIV Golf chief executive Greg Norman and giving Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy their own 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, with talks culminating in a framework agreement announced last month between the two organisations.

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 Senator Richard Blumenthal, released the documents detailing the negotiations ahead of a hearing on Tuesday where PGA Tour COO Ron Price and board member Jimmy Dunne testified.

PGA Tour board member Jimmy Dunne, right, testifies alongside PGA Tour chief operating officer Ron Price during a Senate Subcommittee on Investigations hearing on the proposed PGA Tour-LIV Golf partnership, Tuesday, July 11, 2023, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
Image: PGA Tour board member Jimmy Dunne, right, testified alongside PGA Tour chief operating officer Ron Price during a Senate Subcommittee on Investigations hearing

In his opening remarks, Blumenthal said he wanted to uncover the reasons behind the involvement of a "brutal, repressive regime" in a beloved American sports institution whose leaders, before their deal with the Saudis, had made moral arguments against LIV players taking Saudi money.

"We're here about questions that go to the core of what the future of this sport and other sports will be in the United States, what happened that led the PGA Tour to change its position," Blumenthal said.

"Was it only the hope of ending litigation or was it also the unspecified amount of Saudi investment that would come of it? Just how much money did PIF offer the PGA Tour and what other sources of money were sought as an alternative?"

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Critics of the Saudi investment in golf have pointed to the kingdom's poor human rights record, while PIF has bought its way into other sports including football, boxing and F1.

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 United 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.

Image: Jimmy Dunne featured heavily in Tuesday's session with the US Senate

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.

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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.

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The agreement called for the parties to drop all lawsuits and to combine the commercial interests of the PGA Tour, LIV and the DP World Tour into a new, for-profit company while maintaining the PGA Tour's non-profit 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.

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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.

Norman remains in the CEO role, although he has been largely side-lined as the public face of LIV since the deal was announced. He was invited to testify at Tuesday's hearing along with Al-Rumayyan, although both declined.

Monahan also was not testifying because he is recovering from an unspecified medical situation that kept him out of work, with the chief executive said to return to work on Monday.

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