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SENATE HEARING

PGA Tour officials: No choice but to join LIV Golf

A PGA Tour sign during round two of the Dell Technologies Championship at TPC Boston on 2 September 2017 in Norton, Massachusetts. (Photo: Andrew Redington / Getty Images)

PGA Tour officials painted a bleak outlook during a contentious Senate hearing on Tuesday, sharing they felt no other choice was left but to merge with Saudi-backed LIV Golf in order for the tour to survive.

“The PGA Tour is not that big in terms of players,” PGA Tour board member Jimmy Dunne said during sworn testimony on Tuesday before the US Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations in Washington, DC. “If [LIV] takes five players a year, in five years they can gut us. They’ve got a management team that wants to destroy the Tour. And even though [LIV] could take five or six players a year, they have an unlimited horizon and an unlimited amount of money.

“So it isn’t like the [LIV] product is better. It’s just that there’s a lot more money that will make people move.”

Several senators cited accusations of Saudi Arabia’s human rights abuses as reason to question the May 30 framework agreement between the PGA Tour and LIV Golf.

“Today’s hearing is about much more than the game of golf,” Senator Richard Blumenthal said. “It’s about how a brutal, repressive regime can buy influence, and indeed even take over a cherished American institution to cleanse its public image.”

Dunne and Ron Price, the chief operating officer of the PGA Tour, testified on behalf of the tour with CEO Jay Monahan on medical leave. They said the framework of the planned merger is the best opportunity to allow the PGA Tour to continue to have some degree of control over the sport despite the Public Investment Fund (PIF) of Saudi Arabia’s involvement.

When pressed on the details of the financial involvement of the Saudis, Price said, “There’s been discussions. It would be a significant amount. North of $1-billion.”

Along with other Senators, Blumenthal offered harsh criticism of the financial aspects of the decision to merge.

“There is something that stinks about this path that you’re on right now,” Blumenthal said, “because it is a surrender, and it is all about the money and that’s the reason for the backlash that you see.”

Blumenthal asked Price what his options are if the PGA Tour doesn’t execute the merger with LIV Golf.

“We would still be facing a real threat that LIV Golf would continue to recruit our top players,” Price said.

Blumenthal responded, “These players that stood by you are heroes.”

Dunne testified that he shares some of the concerns Blumenthal raised in the hearing.

“I really understand Sen Blumenthal’s concern about having them take over,” Dunne said. “…I’m concerned with what the senator is worried about. But I’m concerned if we do nothing, we’re going to end up there, they’re going to end up owning golf. They can do it.”

The proposed merger could face blockage from the Justice Department, which has been investigating the PGA Tour for its attempt to keep its players from leaving for LIV, as well as a review by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, a Treasury-led committee that assesses mergers for national security purposes.

Price and Dunne stressed during Tuesday’s hearing that final details of the merger are undetermined.

“We have no agreement,” Dunne testified. “We have an agreement to possibly get to an agreement.”

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