'It's 100 percent backwards': Major winner blasts PGA Tour board structure

As the politicking for the future of men’s professional golf has grown fiercer and more convoluted, the game, at its highest levels, has morphed into some combination of Survivor and Succession. There are boards and committees, factions and allegiances, infighting and ousters — much of which has bubbled up in the run-up to this week’s PGA Championship.

On Monday, Jimmy Dunne, who helped secretively script the bombshell 2023 framework agreement between the PGA Tour and Saudia Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, announced he was stepping down from the PGA Tour’s board, of which a year ago he was arguably the kingpin, perhaps the only dealmaker who had the trust and respect not only of the Tour’s executives and most influential players but also of PIF chief Yasir Al-Rumayyan. But when the players’ trust of the Tour eroded in the days and weeks after the June 6 agreement, so, too, did Dunne’s negotiating power. He was boxed out.

Dunne’s resignation — dismissal, really — has been a hot topic this week in Louisville. Jordan Spieth called Dunne’s departure a “loss.” Tiger Woods said the move was a “bit surprising,” adding what Dunne has “been able to do for the PGA Tour has been great.” Seth Waugh, the PGA of America’s chief and a former Deutsche Bank CEO, said of Dunne: “He’s a very thoughtful guy and he’s a grownup and he obviously has his own reasons for what he did. I wish his timing had been, you know, different than the Monday of our major.” (Patrick Cantlay, a board member who has denied rumors that he has outsized board sway, did not have a pre-tournament press conference.)

Mixed reactions, which is what you might expect given the splintered state of men’s pro golf in 2024. Dunne did have at least one bold-faced name in his corner, Rory McIlroy. When McIlroy met the press Wednesday, you sensed when it came to L’Affair Dunne he was itching to get some things off his chest. McIlroy called Dunne’s resignation “a huge loss for the PGA Tour, if they are trying to get this deal done with the PIF and trying to unify the game. Jimmy was basically the relationship, the sort of conduit between the PGA Tour and PIF. It’s been really unfortunate that he has not been involved for the last few months, and I think part of the reason that everything is stalling at the minute is because of that. It’s really, really disappointing, and you know, I think the Tour is in a worse place because of it.”

Waugh, speaking more generally of the two sides’ efforts to forge a pact, said the situation is “messy, and it has been, and it seems to get messier every week.” The messiness, at least in part, has been created by who, on the PGA Tour side, will ultimately decide the terms of a deal. When Woods was appointed to the policy board last August, the players, for the first time, assumed a 6-to-5 board majority. Cantlay has said that edge is not as significant as it sounds, because “any major vote around any of the things we’ve been talking about requires a two-thirds majority.” But at least some of the Tour’s rank and file aren’t so sure, and one of them — 2009 U.S. Open champion Lucas Glover — earlier this week was not shy about saying so.

“I’m probably gonna irritate my peers and fellow tour players by saying what I’m about to say…” Glover began, speaking on his SiriusXM PGA Tour Radio show; joining Glover, in role of co-host, was his agent, Mac Barnhardt.   

“For a long time the players were outnumbered on the board, five to four,” Glover continued. “And a lot of players thought that it would never be our tour if we didn’t have the majority. Well, I think we’re seeing why it was that way now. We do have the majority and we have no business having the majority. Tour players play golf. Businessmen run business. They don’t tell us how to hit 7-irons. We shouldn’t be telling them how to run a business. And we are running a business now. And we’re all on the same team because this for-profit entity that’s about to launch needs to get right. It needs to be right. And players that think they know more than Jimmy Dunne, players that think they know more than [independent director] Ed Herlihy, players that think they know more than Joe Gorder [another independent director], players that think they know more than Jay Monahan, when it comes to business, are wrong.” 


Rory McIlroy speaks to the media on Wednesday at the PGA Championship in Louisville, Ky.
Rory McIlroy calls sudden PGA Tour governance change ‘concerning’
By: Josh Berhow

Fair take? Spieth, for one, would say it is not. On Tuesday, Spieth wasn’t questioned directly about Glover’s remarks, but he was asked whether he feels if he and his fellow players now have more control over the direction of the Tour.

Yes, Spieth said, players do have more of a voice and influence than they did, say, five years ago, but not so much that they’re running the joint to the ground or putting the Tour in a precarious position. Spieth contended the Tour’s “governance is in a very sound place,” adding “players on the PGA Tour can feel really good about it, as well as not having players making business decisions. If you’re in the room, it’s very obvious that players are not dictating the future of golf and the PGA Tour. Like, it needs to be, you need to have everyone’s perspective on both sides of it, and everyone that’s involved within Enterprises. You have a lot of strategic investors that know a heck of a lot more than any of us players.

“That’s a false narrative that the players are determining all these things.”

If that’s the case, Glover will need some convincing to believe otherwise. Here’s some more of what else he said on his show:

“It’s scary because we’re about to launch a huge, huge, huge enterprise and a for-profit company that all the players are gonna own a part of, and we don’t have the smartest possible people there to help us guide us in the right direction. That’s scary.  

“I’m at the point in my career now and my future and my family’s future hinges on this, these decisions that are about to be made. So that’s why I’ve decided in the last few months to start speaking up. But the board situation and the way they’re gonna reach these decisions now is backwards. It’s 100 percent backwards. … The proof’s in the pudding, we had an opportunity to get this done and it didn’t get done. And now we’re losing the people that are the most effective and already had it done to be frank.”

Glover and Spieth’s portrayals of the situation are so at odds that you’d swear they’re talking about two different organizations. They’re not, but their wildly differing perspectives are a lens into the thorniness of where the men’s pro game has found itself. Players have needs and wants. So, too, do the tours. And the TV partners. And the sponsors. And finally, the most important constituency of all: the fans. Feeding all these mouths — and keeping those bellies nourished — is not easy. But the decision-makers must find a way to get there.   

Waugh, who knows a thing or two about cutting deals, believes they will.  

“I think both sides are not only committed to trying to find a deal but really need a deal,” he said Wednesday. “And in my history of deal-making, when both sides kind of need something to happen, it generally does.”

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