Tom Watson's open letter to PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan
The eight-time major champion shares his reservations about a pending deal with Saudi Arabia's PIF.
Tom Watson, the eight-time major champion, has shared this open letter to PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan and the PGA Tour Policy Board.
June 19, 2023
An open letter to Jay Monahan, the PGA Tour's Board, and to my fellow players:
First, I wish Jay Monahan a complete and speedy recovery. I respect the leadership he has shown in the past for our Tour. It can’t be an easy job. With the recent high hurdles in dealing with LIV poaching Tour players and the legal battles presented as a result, I have a sense of the complexity of the issues which he presently faces as a leader.
Unfortunately, in the wake of recent news, I also understand the cries of hypocrisy. Because he is a smart man, I know Jay does too. In my opinion, the communication has been mishandled and the process by which the Tour agreed on a proposed partnership with PIF was executed without due process. As a group of players and stakeholders who represent the face and the brands of the Tour, what are our choices?
Clearly, the Tour’s traditional business model was threatened by LIV. The upstart tour created unprecedented obstacles and battles of both moral and financial consequence.
While I wasn't in the player meeting on Tuesday, June 6th (ironically on the anniversary of D-Day), for Jay's PIF partnership/Tour announcement, I've watched enough to know that it was certainly unlike any of the player meetings I've been involved with in my 50-plus years as a member of the Tour. The Commissioner and the PGA Tour Board, on which five Tour players sit, are going to have to do a lot of firsthand explaining to comfortably coax acceptance with our membership on this partnership with the PIF. The Tour's stakeholders: the players themselves, the broad span of global media, as well as the tournament sponsors and independent Tour partners, require an explanation of the benefits of forming this partnership.
There are many unanswered questions to date, which I hope will be addressed with the players by Tour management at this week's Travelers tour event. What does acceptance of this partnership mean to the Tour? What do we get? What do we give up? Why was this deal done in such secrecy and why wasn't even one of the players who sits on the Tour's Policy Board included? A matter this profound deserves thorough vetting by a representative group of stakeholders which include those, who in the end, define the public image and emotional connection with the PGA Tour.
I have a basic understanding of the role Saudi Arabia's PIF plays in the world's economy and that PIF money is invested in U.S. brands and businesses that are part of our everyday lives. I realize the United States has diplomatic relations with the Saudis and they have occasionally been allies of ours in the Middle East. It is my further understanding that many businesses, including some professional sports leagues have strict guidelines on the percentage of investment they will accept from sovereign funds. Before this agreement is finalized, I wonder, does the PGA Tour have guidelines? Have we, as a body, defined an acceptable percentage of PIF funding in the proposed partnership?
These questions are compounded by the hypocrisy in disregarding the moral issue; a position which for a long time was publicly highlighted by Tour leadership. While it is accepted that players on all levels would value the opportunity to make more money, it has also been illustrated that not all of our players are in search of money at all costs. Those who stayed true to the Tour for whatever personal reason or position of moral conscience are more than a few outliers. There are widespread rumors on the Tour offering financial reparations to these players who rejected offers from LIV and remained loyal to our Tour. Surely, that alone misses the larger issue of context here? And in a related question, what if any, are the plans to reinstate Tour players who defected and now want to return to the PGA Tour?
I still await Saudi acknowledgement of their role in the attacks of 9/11, which resulted in the loss of the innocent lives of 3000 of my fellow American citizens. I support 9/11 Families United and their efforts to release supporting exculpatory U.S. Government documents (See 9/11FamiliesUnited.org/KeyDocuments). That day, forever among the darkest in our nation’s history, is sadly not alone among the human rights violations we have seen employed by Saudi Arabia. I ask the Tour, how is a non-negotiable point for us one day one we negotiate around the next?
The reversal does appear to indicate a more desperate financial situation than has been previously revealed by the Tour. While last week I learned the significant news that litigation around the Tour/LIV conflict would be terminated with prejudice, that only solves one significant financial problem. It is important to understand how all of this has impacted the Tour's Reserve Fund and the Tour's overall financial solvency. Have funds been depleted to the point where the Tour needs an unprecedented capital injection to remain solvent now or for the future? Policy Board independent director Jimmy Dunne, (who helped broker the deal), has said the PIF is not investing money into PGA Tour, Inc. but rather into a newly formed for-profit commercial entity under the banner, PGA Tour Enterprises. Will PIF funds be invested only in PGA Tour Enterprises, not PGA Tour, Inc? What does that mean? What present and/or new assets go into this new partnership? What assets will be sold?
My overarching questions remain. Is the PIF the only viable rescue from the Tour’s financial problems? Was/is there a plan B? And again, what exactly is the exchange? We need clarity and deserve full disclosure as to the financial health of the PGA Tour and the details of this proposed partnership.
My loyalty to golf and this country live in the same place and have held equal and significant weight with me over my lifetime. Please educate me and others in a way that allows loyalty to both and in a way that makes it easy to look 9/11 families in the eye and ourselves in the mirror.
I am very grateful for our country, its abundant opportunities, and the wonderful life made possible by the PGA Tour.