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PGA Championship 2024

PGA Championship 2024: PGA of America CEO on the 'messy' state of pro golf: 'It's doing damage to the game'

May 15, 2024
2024 PGA Championship

PGA of America CEO Seth Waugh said he hopes there is an urgency in negotiations between the PGA Tour and PIF.

Darren Carroll/PGA of America

LOUISVILLE — There isn’t a leader among golf’s most important organizing bodies who has been more bluntly critical of LIV Golf than PGA of America CEO Seth Waugh. Only a week before last year’s PGA Championship at Oak Hill, in which 16 LIV players would compete aand one of its members, Brooks Koepka, would win, Waugh questioned the validity of the Saudi Arabia-backed tour’s existence. “[The PIF] can fund it for as long as they want to,” Waugh told The Times of London. “But no matter how much money you have, at some point burning it doesn’t feel very good. I don’t see they are accomplishing much.”

One year later, there are again 16 golfers from LIV competing in the 106th PGA at Valhalla—seven of whom are in because the PGA of America felt worthy of extending them special exemptions. And in that very fact is the reason why Waugh, whose fundamental views on LIV haven’t changed, sees almost an existential need for the PGA Tour and Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund, which runs LIV, to urgently come to an agreement on how to work together to improve the health of professional golf. Currently, while lauding recreational golf being at an all-time high in popularity, Waugh called the pro part of the game “messy.”

“I hope there's a deal,” he said Wednesday in the PGA’s pre-tournament press conference at Valhalla. “I think both sides are not only committed to trying to find a deal but really need a deal. And in my history of deal making, when both sides kind of need something to happen, it generally does. I don't know the timing. I don't have any insider information that you all don't have. But I'm hopeful that there will be a deal over time.

“And what I would say,” he continued, “I hope there's urgency because I do think it's doing damage to the tour, to the game. As I said earlier, I hope it's short-term damage, as opposed to permanent damage, and so I hope there's some urgency in the timing around it because I just don't think it's a healthy situation right now.”

Waugh’s comments came on the same day World No. 2 Rory McIlroy painted a grim picture of the current state of any potential deal while addressing the resignation this week from the tour’s negotiating team of lead dealmaker Jimmy Dunne. "We'll see where it goes from here, we'll see what happens,” McIlroy said, “but I would say my confidence level on getting something done before last week was as low as it had been, and with this news of Jimmy resigning and knowing the relationship he has with the other side and how much warmth there is from the other side, it's concerning."

Waugh noted that the “unsustainable” business model that is LIV has put enormous financial pressure on the PGA Tour, which has answered with significant purse increases and the formation of PGA Tour Enterprises with new partner Strategic Sports Group. He added the PIF has put financially stress on the PGA of America, as well.

“I don’t think the game is big enough for two tours like that,” Waugh said. “And I think we’re diluting the game in the way that is not healthy. We’ve said that, really from the beginning.”

Waugh also addressed questions about how LIV Golf has been treated by the Official World Golf Ranking organization, on which he sits on the board. Seeking continued status for its members to qualify for major championships, LIV first applied for accreditation in July 2022 after its first season had begun. After going through its vetting process, the OWGR rejected LIV’s application in October 2023, and in March of this year, LIV CEO Greg Norman announced in a letter to his players that the league would no longer try to get OWGR ranking points.

"A resolution which protects the accuracy, credibility, and integrity of the OWGR rankings no longer exists,” Norman wrote. “We have made enormous efforts to fight for you and to ensure your accomplishments are recognized within the existing ranking system. Unfortunately, the OWGR has shown little willingness to productively work with us."

Waugh disputed those assertions on Wednesday, saying that LIV may have “misunderstood” the initial application process, while OWGR was “very responsive” throughout. But there were ultimately sticking points about LIV’s competition that could not be reconciled. And those did not include playing only 54 holes with no cut.

“We could solve that,” Waugh said. “… But there were fundamental things that we weren't sure we could solve for with math, which was relegation and promotion, and what that looked like because that was murky and they didn't want to share … so we never knew the percentages of what that would look like.

“And secondly, just the inherent conflict of team versus individual play and whether that could create a situation, and it actually became public last year when one of the players talked about you know trying to two-putt as opposed to trying to make a putt to win a tournament. He was trying to two-putt for his team.”

Waugh said neither side’s position changed, and he said they learned of LIV’s application withdrawal from reports about Norman’s letter to his players.

“I don't think OWGR's job is to seek out tours to do that, and if they wanted to reapply, we'd certainly entertain it," Waugh said. "We've behaved properly. …It's very cordial. It's not a war. I don't want to pretend that. They were responsive, too, but they didn't get an answer that they wanted.

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