PGA Tour players hire lawyers, ‘demand’ answers on PIF negotiations

Some 21 PGA Tour players hired lawyers and penned a letter to Tour leadership demanding answers on the state of PIF negotiations.

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Some 21 PGA Tour players hired lawyers and penned a letter to Tour leadership demanding answers on the state of PIF negotiations.

The post PGA Tour players hire lawyers, ‘demand’ answers on PIF negotiations appeared first on Golf.

Say what you will about PGA Tour membership — these days, it doesn’t lack for drama.

On Sunday, 21 members of the Tour’s rank-and-file signed a letter written by a top-flight litigation attorney and delivered to the PGA Tour policy board demanding answers on the state of the Tour’s negotiations with potential investment partners and a dialogue with the Tour’s upper chamber of decision-makers. The letter, written by Jacob W. Buchdahl, a partner at the high-powered firm Susman Godfrey, represents the most threatening step yet for the Tour’s playing class as it reconciles with changes to the Tour schedule that promise to enrich its top members.

The letter does not threaten any imminent legal action, but appears to show that at least a chunk of the Tour’s membership has consulted legal advice as the Tour policy board prepares for one of the most significant stretches in its existence. The 21 players listed in the letter are Tour lifers — including Lanto Griffin, James Hahn, Scott Piercy and former Masters champ Danny Willett — many of whom have been rankled by changes to the Tour way of life brought about by LIV. Chez Reavie, No. 111 in the world, is the highest-ranked player to sign the letter.

The heart of Buchdahl’s letter surrounds the current state of negotiations between the PGA Tour and a pair of high-profile investors, the Strategic Sports Group (or SSG) and Saudi Public Investment Fund (or PIF). On Sunday, the Tour policy board announced in a memo to players that it had agreed to “advance negotiations” with the SSG, a group of blue-blood sports investors that currently owns at least nine professional sports franchises. Later this week, Tour commissioner Jay Monahan is expected to meet with PIF chief Yasir Al-Rumayyan in an effort to hammer out the final stages of a separate round of negotiations before the pair’s Dec. 31 deadline.

At stake for both negotiations is a piece of equity in PGA Tour Enterprises, a for-profit subsidiary of the Tour that is expected to siphon off most of the Tour’s moneymaking properties — similar to the way other professional sports leagues operate their franchise models. The cost of equity is one of the issues at the center of the negotiations, though it is believed from the Tour’s initial “framework agreement” with the PIF that the Tour stands to make several billion dollars from the arrangement. A select group of players is also expected to receive pieces of equity under the agreement.

Members of the Tour’s rank-and-file, particularly those who fall outside of the top 50 in the FedEx Cup but retain Tour membership, have increasingly expressed their displeasure with these negotiations and their general lack of involvement in the Tour’s direction or decision-making. The Tour policy board has six player directors whose job is to represent the interests of the membership in discussions such as these. Those player directors — Tiger Woods, Patrick Cantlay, Jordan Spieth, Webb Simpson, Charley Hoffman and Peter Malnati — have been accused of acting to enrich the Tour’s top players rather than its entire membership.

In the letter, Buchdahl, on behalf of the players, writes “all but a handful of PGA Tour players have been kept entirely in the dark about the prospective transaction, how it will impact them, and what conflicts of interest may impact the decision-makers.” The group later demands “full disclosure” of the details of any negotiations the Tour has held, a meeting with the policy board and “assurances that all conflicts of interest will be disclosed and will not be permitted to color the decision-making process.”

Structural changes to the PGA Tour are seen as necessary by most outside observers to keep pace with the threat and dizzying spending brought by LIV. The Tour remains one of the only major professional sports body without guaranteed contract structure for its players, and its championing of “competitive meritocracy” helped to make members — like Piercy, whose career on-course earnings are more than $24 million — rich. (In recent years the Tour has also taken steps to guarantee a financial floor for its players, including the institution of a $500,000 earnings minimum.) The downside of that meritocracy, as LIV has shown, is that star players who generate vast sums of investment in the sport are often under-compensated relative to their market value.

In the last two years, LIV has raided the Tour ranks for a host of star players, most recently reigning Masters champ Jon Rahm, by upending the Tour’s pure meritocracy with promises of massive contracts and guaranteed payments. The Tour has responded to those changes by enacting a series of structural changes — most notably the creation of the “signature events” series — that have sought to more fairly compensate top players. The Tour has also engaged in equity negotiations in an effort to outlay the cost of these changes and further infuse the sport with cash.

These changes have already induced some of their intended effects. Golf’s top players are wealthier than ever — the Tour celebrated its two highest single-season on-course earners ever in 2023 — and changes to the “points” system that helps to determine tournament and postseason eligibility have made the top of the sport further stratified from the rank-and-file. But the Tour’s middle-class worries that these same changes could affect their earnings or create a closed system whereby the Tour’s “competitive meritocracy” is rendered obsolete. The group has been miffed that changes are often announced without their knowledge or consent, even if those changes have been bargained for by their fellow players.

“Give them all the money they want, but when you start giving them the points, I’ve got a problem with that,” Lanto Griffin, one of the letter’s signees, told Golfweek earlier this year, outlining a situation in which a fifth-place finisher in a regular event makes one-third the points as the same finisher at a signature event. “To have the deck stacked against us — we’re losing points, money, starts, it feels like, who’s making these decisions?”

Along with Griffin, James Hahn has positioned himself as a voice for the voiceless on the PGA Tour. Hahn, who has never ranked higher than 50th in the Official World Golf Ranking, has advocated repeatedly for transparency as it relates to changes to the Tour system, even at his own expense. In an interview late last year, he wondered what would happen to the PGA Tour without a middle class. The thought, he said, was grim.

“I understand the reasoning that the money is used to keep top players and without them, we have no Tour,” Hahn said. “My question to them is, when is it enough?”

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