Why Webb Simpson’s board seat could play a key role in PGA Tour-PIF deal and the future of professional golf

McKINNEY, Texas – Ever since Webb Simpson offered to resign his seat on the board if Rory McIlroy took his spot, it has been a hot topic of conversation in the PGA Tour locker room and beyond.

Simpson, one of the six player directors on the Tour Policy Board, submitted a letter stating he’d like to resign with the caveat that McIlroy serve the remainder of his time on the Board. It’s a strange twist given that McIlroy resigned from the board abruptly in November, and was replaced by Jordan Spieth through a Board vote. (Simpson responded via text to an interview request saying, “I’ve been hunkered down and focused on my family and golf the last couple of weeks and it’s been very nice.” He didn’t participate in this story.)

Adam Scott, who joined the Board this year, said there wasn’t anything scheduled “at the moment as far as I know,” but noted, “it could be a good thing.”

“Rory is an important part of this Tour. His voice matters. We have to come together and make a decision as a Board how this is going to go forward,” Scott said.

He added the process is complicated because of Simpson’s highly unusual request.

“Usually, a player doesn’t have a contingency to their resignation and names a successor,” Scott said. “Some of the delay is just figuring out what is sensible. It’s a shame that it is out in the public. We don’t need all the ins and outs and being spread out detail-wise. We have a responsibility to shareholders now. The process matters more than ever. I think the process matters in general.”

If McIlroy were to rejoin the board that would mean that three of the largest stakeholders in the Tour’s new for-profit business entity – Woods, McIlroy and Spieth – would also be voting on Board matters.

“I think I could be helpful to the process,” McIlroy said at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans when the story originally broke. “But only if people want me involved, I guess. When Webb and I talked and he talked about potentially coming off the board, I said, ‘Look, if it was something that other people wanted, I would gladly take that seat,’ and that was the conversation that we had.

“But yeah, I think that’s the whole reason. I feel like I can be helpful. I feel like I care a lot, and I have some pretty good experience and good connections within the game and sort of around the wider sort of ecosystem and everything that’s going on. But at the end of the day, it’s not quite up to me to just come back on the board. There’s a process that has to be followed. But I’m willing to do it if that’s what people want, I guess.”

2024 Zurich Classic of New Orleans
2024 Zurich Classic of New Orleans

Rory McIlroy shares a laugh with Shane Lowry about his belt not fitting properly after winning the 2024 Zurich Classic of New Orleans. (Photo: Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports)

While McIlroy gained respect among players for serving as an unofficial Tour spokesman for the better part of two years in the Tour’s civil war with LIV Golf, his decision to exit the Board during such a pivotal time in shaping the Tour’s future didn’t sit well with everyone.

“He was very clear that it was too much for him. He had business dealings, he has a kid, he wants to focus on his game. Trust me, I get it. But once you quit, you’re not getting back,” said Kevin Streelman, a former member of the policy board who ran against McIlroy for Player Advisory Council chairman. “I wouldn’t quit on something that you were elected to by your peers. To want back in is peculiar.”

James Hahn, another former player director, questioned how Simpson could handpick his successor.

“That’s just not how democracy works. It goes against all the principles of what make a Tour-run organization,” he said.

Hahn wondered what would happen if U.S. Vice-President Kamala Harris said she was stepping down as long as she could choose her successor. Then he put it back into terms that hit more closer to home. “Imagine if instead of Rory, Webb said he wanted Nate Lashley, who has been vocal against some of the Tour policy decisions, or named me to replace him. There would be an absolute uproar. People would be saying, ‘You can’t do that.’ ”

One veteran pro, who asked for anonymity because of his limited status – “I’m begging for starts,” he said – claimed that Simpson will remain on the board for the remainder of his term. The veteran pro said he asked board member Patrick Cantlay at the Zurich Classic about McIlroy’s potential return.

“I asked Cantlay, Is Rory back on the board? He said, No. But Patrick is really smart so I thought about how I phrased the question,” the veteran player recounted. “Maybe he was just answering based on this very moment. I said, Pat, I apologize, maybe I asked the wrong question. Did Webb step down? He said, Webb has not stepped down from the board. Then I went higher up and got the full story. Now, it does sound like things change daily out here, maybe hourly, so you never know.”

Cantlay and McIlroy had been at loggerheads during their time on the Board. In November, McIlroy told Paul Kimmage of The Independent, “My relationship with Cantlay is average at best. We don’t have a ton in common and see the world quite differently.” And that was the nicest thing McIlroy had to say about Cantlay, who also described him using a four-letter word for male genitalia.

Rory McIlroy and Patrick Cantlay shake hands after their final round of the FedEx St. Jude Championship golf tournament. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

The idea of Simpson stepping down and being replaced by McIlroy is appealing to many who want to see the Tour complete a deal with Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund. Speaking at the Zurich Classic, McIlroy said, “I think I can be helpful. I don’t think there’s been much progress made in the last eight months, and I was hopeful that there would be.”

One tournament director said McIlroy realized he made a big mistake in stepping down and is needed to help get a deal with PIF across the finish line.

“We need Rory back on the board. Had he stayed on he could’ve neutered Cantlay. He’s the only one with the power to neuter Cantlay. We need Rory to try to keep Cantlay from ruining the Tour,” a tournament director said. “Webb is too nice. A lot of people at the Tour at a very high level are thrilled that Rory is going back on the board for that reason.”

The tournament director compared McIlroy’s return to picking its poison.

“Rory wants the Irish Open and other international events to be promoted and smaller fields and larger purses. There’s a lot we don’t like about Rory and his deal. But the main thing is Cantlay and we’ve got to get a deal done with the PIF. LIV’s got to go away. If we don’t get a deal done, we’re all screwed in the end. We all know it. (Cantlay) is against it. Rory is for it. So let’s get a deal done and get these (guys) put to bed. Do any of us want to work with the Saudis, no? But, on the other hand, none of us want to fight against them and their money for the rest of our careers, either. Cantlay is blocking any type of deal they try to put together. Rory wants (independent director) Jimmy Dunne to be the negotiator, not the players. The players should only be voting on what happens inside the ropes and rules and stuff. They are not businessmen. If you have a high school education how the hell can you vote on multi-billion-dollar finance situations and investment properties? They don’t have a clue. They don’t know the business. Hire the top business guys in the world to do your deal. Put them in place and be done with it.”

Simpson is expected to meet with the media on Wednesday at the Wells Fargo Championship, where he is playing on a sponsor’s invite, and he undoubtedly will be asked about his future on the Tour’s policy board. How he chooses to address those questions may offer some clarity into why he’d like to resign and insight into how this process may play out.

Story originally appeared on GolfWeek