With more 'answers' to questions, less clarity provided on golf's future

With more 'answers' to questions, less clarity provided on golf's future

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – In less than a week, the breakneck news cycle has produced a curious snub, a complicated expansion, a crushing resignation and condemnation, and, now, an increasingly clear divide atop the world of men’s professional golf.

For those scoring at home, Rory McIlroy was denied a spot on the PGA Tour’s policy board last week by a vote of the board’s directors. While details on this — like nearly everything that goes on behind the closed doors in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, these days — were limited, there was a message between the lines.

“It got pretty complicated and pretty messy and I think with the way it happened, I think it opened up some old wounds and scar tissue from things that have happened before,” McIlroy said last Wednesday.

McIlroy resigned from the board in November with a year remaining on his term and was replaced by Jordan Spieth, but somewhere in that transaction feelings were hurt and it has become increasingly clear that the world No. 2’s vision of what golf should look like isn’t shared by some of the current player directors.

To be specific, McIlroy’s pivot to a desire for a deal with Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund and the creation of a world tour, doesn’t seem to dovetail with Tiger Woods’ vision.

“I think friends can have disagreements or not see eye to eye on things but have disagreements on things. I think that's fine,” McIlroy said when asked if his relationship with Woods has been strained. “No, there's no strain there. I think we might see the future of golf a little bit differently, but I don't think that should place any strain on a relationship or on a friendship.”

Woods echoed those thoughts when he spoke with the media Tuesday at Valhalla. “We're trying to make the PGA Tour the best it can be day-in and day-out. That's one of the reasons why we have arguments and we have disagreements, but we want to do what's best for everyone in golf and the Tour. Without those kind of conflicts the progress is not going to be there,” he said.

For those watching this unfold from grandstands (which would be anyone not on the Tour’s policy board), the issue is, neither Woods nor any of the other player directors have outlined what they want PGA Tour 2.0 to look like.

“We're making steps. That's all I can say,” Woods said when asked what he wanted from a potential deal with PIF.

Instead of a spot on the board, McIlroy was named to something called the “transaction subcommittee,” which will lead talks between the Tour and PIF. It was a likely nod to his existing relationship with the fund’s governor, Yasir Al-Rumayyan, but he will not have a vote if/when a deal is presented to the policy board.

In as much as players or the press can be stunned by any development in the post-framework agreement world, the evening resignation of Jimmy Dunne from the Tour’s policy board on Monday was the most-recent tremor to rock the golf world.

“Since the players now outnumber the independent directors on the board and no meaningful progress has been made towards a transaction with the PIF I feel like my vote and my role is utterly superfluous,” wrote Dunne in his resignation letter.

Dunne was an architect of last June’s framework agreement and became the de facto face and voice of the Tour in July when he testified before a U.S. Senate subcommittee.

Early last year, Dunne urged Tour commissioner Jay Monahan to meet with PIF. He was the first representative from the circuit to meet with Al-Rumayyan and has been an outspoken proponent of more dialogue between the two sides. His frustration with the slow pace of the negotiations speaks volumes.

In a memo sent to players late Tuesday, Tour commissioner Jay Monahan countered Dunne’s take, saying, “we continue to make meaningful progress behind the scenes in our negotiations toward a potential agreement [with PIF].” Spieth also went on the defensive when he was asked about Dunne’s resignation and McIlroy’s public concern that a deal was taking too long.

“I think things are, unfortunately, put in a really bad light right now, and I think things are actually in a really, really good place based on what I know, which is quite a lot in this situation,” Spieth said. “I think things are moving forward at a speed that both sides are probably frustrated at each other different times.”

Spieth’s attempts to convince the world the house isn’t burning aside, the dangerous side of firehose politics is that the absence of a clear vision will always be filled by wild speculation and a message that has become increasingly difficult to frame.

Monahan has stated repeatedly that this deal cannot be negotiated in public and the complexities of what golf might become don’t lend themselves to tidy sound bites or public input, but these conversations have been brewing for nearly a year and the framework agreement’s Dec. 31 deadline is a distant memory with no outcome in sight.

“It's ongoing; it's fluid; it changes day-to-day,” Woods offered. “Has there been progress? Yes. But it's an ongoing negotiation, so a lot of work ahead for all of us with this process, and so we're making steps and it may not be giant steps but we're making steps.”

Perhaps “steps” and “progress” are the sum total of more than 11 months of negotiations, but the void that has consumed golf could still be navigated with the slightest amount of clarity.