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U.S. Open 2023: Mike Whan speaks on Saudi-PGA Tour deal and possible Saudi involvement with USGA

June 14, 2023
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Rob Carr

LOS ANGELES — Mike Whan knows as much as you do about the PGA Tour’s proposed partnership with Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund. Which is to say, not much at all.

As the game continues to unpack the news of last week’s shocking alliance between the warring states, a common refrain from players and others in the professional game is naivete toward the subject. Everyone has opinions, sure, but regarding cold-hard facts about what this deal entails, what it means and where the battle goes from here … well, there’s not much to say, because few have a true understanding of any or all of it. And that includes the USGA’s CEO.

Speaking to the media Wednesday at Los Angeles Country Club ahead of this week’s U.S. Open, Whan said he was in the dark about the two sides coming together.

“I think I had a similar response to probably a lot of people in the room. I was surprised,” Whan said. “I wasn't shocked that there was conversations, I was just surprised conversation had reached that point.”

Though it’s not the USGA’s fight, the governing body has been dragged into the skirmish. Following the advent of LIV Golf and antitrust accusations from the Saudi-backed circuit, the USGA has become entangled in a probe from the Department of Justice. Sources have told Golf Digest there had been general unity between the five families of golf regarding LIV Golf, but Whan said he didn’t expect to be privy to any negotiations and asserted he wouldn’t have had much to add.

Like most in the game Whan has questions about the partnership, yet given the lack of substance on the matter he isn’t sure what to make of it.

“I've had conversations with many from the PGA Tour, so I think I'm getting my head around it, but there's a lot to learn, and I'm sure they would agree that there's a lot to learn,” Whan said. “I'm going to reserve judgment in terms of let's see where this goes.”

Whan said, to his knowledge, he doesn’t believe the USGA has been contacted by the PIF about foreign investment in the USGA, and doesn’t think there would be much interest from either side in a partnership.

Whan acknowledged that the Saudi-tour partnerhsip threatens to overshadow the U.S. Open. However, Whan reminded the media that last year’s U.S. Open was conducted the week after LIV Golf’s launch, and that the tournament ultimately proved to stand out above the noise.

“LIV had been a lot of press releases and a lot of what ifs, but actually played [in London],” Whan said. “And following that there were player suspensions and we were kind of depressed thinking this great country club setting here in Boston that really deserved to be talked about wasn't going to get its due.

“But I'm fairly certain now having lived through this déjà-vu that the same thing will happen this week that happened last week, which is once the balls go in the air the athletes take the narrative back … I am pretty sure when we recap 2023 we're going to be talking about what happened on the golf course and not what happened off the golf course.”

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