Does the PGA Tour still need a PIF deal? Jordan Spieth doesn't think so
Jordan Spieth speaks during a pre-tournament press conference at the 2024 AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am.
PEBBLE BEACH — The framework agreement between the PGA Tour and the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia that was revealed on June 6 isn’t dead, at least not according to Wednesday’s press release from the PGA Tour announcing its $3 billion investment deal with Strategic Sports Group. But the heartbeat seemed to be growing fainter.
With SSG making an initial investment of $1.5 billion into the launch of tour’s new commercial venture, PGA Tour Enterprises, it appears that the money PIF would have made available isn’t needed quite as urgently, though Wednesday’s announcement stated that negotiations continue with PIF on a potential future investment. PIF, of course, provides the financial underpinning for the rival LIV Golf League, whose launch necessitated SSG's infusion of capital into the PGA Tour.
Jordan Spieth, a member of the PGA Tour Policy Board that approved the agreement with SSG, flatly said on Wednesday at Pebble Beach Golf Links, “I don’t think that it’s needed,” referring to a deal with PIF.
“I think the positive [of a deal with PIF] would be a unification [of PGA Tour and LIV players], but I just think it's something that is almost not even worth talking about right this second,” said Spieth, who assumed a seat on the board vacated late last year by Rory McIlroy. “The idea is that we have a strategic partner that allows the PGA Tour to go forward the way that it's operating right now without anything else.”
Players at the $20 million AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, which begins Thursday, responded positively to the news of the SSG investment, which puts the tour on a more solid financial footing as it attempts to compete with the deep pockets at LIV’s disposal through the PIF. The question that will have to be settled sooner or later is the one regarding re-unification of the sport. And there is no easy answer after months of speculation that men's professional golf was on such a path.
“Overall, it seems like a positive thing,” Russell Henley said of the SSG partnership, "but right now we're still losing players."
On Tuesday, England’s Tyrrell Hatton defected to LIV Golf, joining Ryder Cup teammate Jon Rahm on his Legion XIII team that debuts on Friday in the LIV Golf League’s season opener in Mexico. And Lucas Herbert, lesser known but a player who has wins on the PGA Tour and DP World Tour, was added to the LIV contingent on Wednesday.
McIlroy, the No. 2 player in the world and a staunch proponent of the tour in its battle with LIV, expressed an about-face on the status of LIV players should the tour eventually incorporate an investment from the Public Investment Fund. He espoused the opinion that LIV players should be welcomed back to the PGA Tour without penalty.
“I don't know,” Justin Thomas said when asked about that possibility, not quite ready to agree with his South Florida neighbor. “I haven't gotten that far yet. There's still a lot to happen.”
Jordan Spieth gave the impression that a deal between the PGA Tour and LIV Golf financial backer LIV might not be necessary moving forward.
Spieth said he has heard arguments on both sides of the issue.
“I've done a lot of talking with a lot of players in the last couple months,” said the Texas native. “That's Rory's viewpoint. I could name some guys with the same viewpoint; I could name some guys with a totally opposite viewpoint. So it's certainly mixed on how players feel about that.”
Of course, the tour first would have to come to an agreement with PIF, one that would be acceptable to SSG and would clear the requisite legal and regulatory hurdles that might come from Congress and the Department of Justice. And there is no telling if tour members, who stand to profit from the SSG investment via an equity stake in the new for-profit entity, would even welcome PIF as a minority stakeholder.
“I think it just depends,” said Spieth, who downplayed the urgency of a PIF deal as being "No. 10 on the list of 10 things."
“From where I sit, which is hopefully representing our entire membership, it matters how they feel about the entire situation,” Spieth continued. “And then, you know, at this point if the PIF were interested in coming in on terms that our members like and/or the economic terms are at or not beyond SSGs and they feel it would be a good idea, I think that's where the discussions will start.
“I'm not sure of the level necessarily of the importance because it will be up to our members to figure that out.”
Apparently, they are in no particular hurry anymore.