PEBBLE BEACH — Jordan Spieth said he doesn’t believe a deal with Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund is necessary now that a new partnership with Strategic Sports Group could infuse $3 billion into the newly formed PGA Tour Enterprises going forward.
Spieth, who joined the PGA Tour’s player policy board following the resignation of Rory McIlroy in November, said the primary positive of a deal with the PIF, which funds the LIV Golf League, is that it could reunify golf, but he is “not sure if or how or when it would get done.”
The PGA Tour said in a news release Wednesday that the deal with SSG allows for a co-investment from the PIF, subject to all necessary regulatory approvals.
“I don’t think it’s needed,” Spieth said Wednesday. “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, with the option of other investors.”
According to a release, with SSG’s funding, 200 PGA Tour members would have access to a “first-of-its-kind” program that would allow them to become equity holders in PGA Tour Enterprises, which is a for-profit entity. The members would collectively have access to more than $1.5 billion in equity grants, which will vest over time. The size of the grants will be determined by a tiered system based on “career accomplishments, recent achievements, future participation and services and PGA Tour membership status.”
“The players are now owners,” Spieth said. “So not only do they benefit with the tour, they now are equity owners, so they want to push it themselves. They want to make the product better themselves. Not that they didn’t before, but you directly benefit from owning a piece.”
Golfer Eric Cole said the plan “sounds like a good thing” for PGA Tour members.
It sounds like it’s something that hasn’t really been done in sports before,” Cole told ESPN. “… I think a lot of the details are still yet to be decided or determined, but it sounds like exciting news, and it’s going to be cool to see where it goes.”
While the SSG deal has been agreed to, there is still a general sense of uncertainty among players regarding exactly how the equity will be disbursed, as well as what a potential PIF deal could mean for the return or reintegration of LIV players.
“There’s been so many big changes in golf in the last year or two, and I feel like every single week there’s a new change, so we’ll see how it goes,” Ben Griffin told ESPN. “I felt like it’s still a little vague on what we know as players, but ultimately, hopefully, this will help kind of stop the war that seems to be happening between [LIV Golf and the PGA Tour], and hopefully we gradually get closer and closer to where golf’s kind of thriving.”
On Tuesday, McIlroy said he believes LIV players should be allowed to return without punishment and play on the PGA Tour if they have remaining eligibility. Spieth, meanwhile, said the membership remains split on that decision as well as undecided on the possibility of any kind of partnership with the PIF.
“I’ve asked a lot of players, I’ve done a lot of talking with a lot of players in the last couple months,” Spieth said. “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.”
Christiaan Bezuidenhout said he doesn’t agree with McIlroy and feels that a significant portion of the tour’s membership doesn’t want a reunification.
“I wouldn’t mind more investors into the PGA Tour, but I wouldn’t want to see any of the LIV guys come back,” Bezuidenhout told ESPN. “[McIlroy’s] one guy out of 200 guys that feels that way. So I don’t feel like his say should be the only say on the tour. He’s obviously a huge asset to the PGA Tour and he drives our tour well, but I just don’t feel that his 180 turn that he’s made over the last few months would be the right call. I think there’s a lot more to it and there are a lot of guys that feel that.”
Though Bezuidenhout said he agreed with McIlroy’s point about a reunification being good for the sport, he also expressed that this fissure in golf happened only because of LIV and that most tour players are still holding on to the fact that they stayed while others took the money and left.
“There’s a lot of guys who also turned down millions of dollars, which would’ve made a difference in their life, probably not in Rory’s life, but in a lot of the other guys’ lives,” Bezuidenhout said. “I just know even some of the top guys who don’t want the LIV guys back here. If the PIF wants to invest, it’s obviously great, but I just feel like the players on the board should represent 70% of the players that feel the way I feel.”
Griffin is one of those players who appears to be on the fence. From a financial standpoint, he said, what McIlroy is now advocating makes sense, and he understands why McIlroy changed his mind.
“I feel like opinions are changing by the day,” Griffin said. “But I think everyone wants everyone playing against each other. We have 80 of the best players in the world this week, but Jon Rahm’s not here, and there are certain names that maybe should be here. Hopefully we can get closer to having that back again.”
That future, however, remains at a distance. Any potential deal with the PIF would take time and also require not just an agreement on the financials, but a regulatory review after the proposed alliance between PIF and the DP World Tour has drawn the scrutiny of Congress and the U.S. Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division.
“If the PIF were interested in coming in on terms that our members like and 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,” Spieth said. “I think that it should be extremely positive at this point that the ship’s turning and it can only go on the right way from here. …
“We’re in a place where we could be better than we’ve ever been as a tour.”