Exclusive: PGA Tour players nearing secret meeting with Saudi fund boss

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – A group of PGA Tour players are nearing a meeting with the head of Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund as efforts continue to broker a deal between the Tour and the controversial sovereign wealth fund that has been disrupting men’s professional golf.

Six sources told Golfweek that the Tour’s player-directors are being strongly encouraged to meet Yasir Al-Rumayyan and that it could happen within days. Two sources said a meeting is tentatively scheduled for Monday at a private residence in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida. The Players Championship concludes on Sunday at nearby TPC Sawgrass. Details of the meeting are being closely guarded and several insiders caution that it’s still unclear if the powerful Saudi investment chief will commit to attending or cancel at the last minute.

Five of the six player-directors on the Tour’s Policy Board — all of whom now also serve on the board of the new for-profit entity, PGA Tour Enterprises — are in the field at the Players: Patrick Cantlay, Jordan Spieth, Adam Scott, Peter Malnati and Webb Simpson. Only Tiger Woods is not competing. Joe Ogilvie, a retired veteran who was added to both boards last week as a liaison to player-directors, plans to arrive in Ponte Vedra Beach Sunday in advance of an Enterprises board meeting scheduled for Tuesday at Tour headquarters.

A meeting between Al-Rumayyan and the players would be intended as an informal ice-breaker in a bid to advance negotiations between the Tour and the PIF, talks which have been largely stalled since the June 6 announcement of a Framework Agreement between the parties. A faction of player-directors remains angered about the secretive process leading to that agreement and are known to be skeptical of a deal with the Saudis, who have poured billions of dollars into LIV Golf.

On Tuesday, Tour commissioner Jay Monahan confirmed that he met recently with Al-Rumayyan in Saudi Arabia and was accompanied by representatives of Strategic Sports Group. In January, SSG invested $1.5 billion into PGA Tour Enterprises, the vehicle through which the future of the sport will be shaped. “Our negotiations are accelerating as we spend time together,” Monahan said.

Under the terms of the Framework Agreement, the PIF could also become a minority investor in PGA Tour Enterprises, but last month one player-director was noticeably lukewarm when asked if a deal with the PIF was necessary after the SSG infusion.

“I just think it’s something that is almost not even worth talking about right this second given how timely everything would be to try to get it figured out,” Spieth said. “But 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.”

Those comments led to a public response from Rory McIlroy, who Spieth replaced on the Policy Board in December. McIlroy said reaching a deal with the PIF is in the Tour’s best interests and warned that Spieth’s implicit stiff-arming of the Saudis could complicate negotiations. McIlroy has also suggested that LIV golfers be allowed to return to the PGA Tour without sanction as part of a unity agreement. That’s one of the thorniest issues negotiators will face, and several prominent Tour loyalists immediately rejected McIlroy’s view, including Justin Thomas, Rickie Fowler and world No. 1 Scottie Scheffler.

When Monahan addressed the media on Tuesday at TPC Sawgrass, he repeatedly declined to offer specifics on the state of negotiations or on any areas of contention, but reiterated his belief that a deal with the PIF is the best outcome for his organization. Asked what the game will look like if a deal with the Saudis is not concluded, Monahan said, “I guess I’ll answer that question if a deal isn’t concluded.”

“However we end up, I think that we’re not going to be able to satisfy everyone, and that goes for both sides,” he added. “But what we’re trying to do is to get to the best possible outcome again for the Tour and for the game, and I do think that that’s achievable.”

Story originally appeared on GolfWeek