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It's Time For Action Not Words to Unify Golf

By: | Mon 20 May 2024

Sharing his latest View From The Fairway, Golfshake's Derek Clements looks at the most recent comments surrounding the future of the professional game and why it's action and not words that are required.

It was illuminating to hear Jon Rahm’s thoughts on the future of professional golf when he addressed the world’s press on the eve of the PGA Championship

He claimed that a merger between the PGA Tour and Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund (PIF) should not be rushed because it has the "opportunity to set golf up in a very positive way for decades to come."

Well, he would say that, wouldn’t he? Rahm has hundreds of millions of dollars tucked away in his bank account after defecting to LIV Golf at the end of 2023 and his place in the majors is secure on the back of his victory at The Masters last year.

Negotiations between the PGA Tour and the PIF, which funds LIV Golf, have been taking place for nearly 12 months in an attempt to end the rift that has torn the game asunder. But the bottom line is that the vast majority of fans of our sport are sick to the back teeth of reading about talks about talks. 

I don’t know about you but my heart sank when I read that 15-time major champion Tiger Woods, who is heavily involved in the process, said that there is a "long way to go" before an agreement can be reached. 

Most worrying of all for me is that Jimmy Dunne, the businessman who set up the deal, has resigned from the PGA Policy Board saying "no meaningful progress" had been made, with multiple reports saying he was unhappy at the slow pace of talks, which have stretched well beyond last December's original deadline. He is not the only one.

The whole thing smacks of self-serving individuals trying to negotiate the best financial deal for themselves that they can. How much money do they need?

Rahm says he is untroubled at the length of negotiations given what is at stake for golf. He said: "Some decisions and negotiations can't be taken lightly, so it should take quite a bit of time to get it done properly. I wouldn't want to see something rushed just to get a resolution. They should take their time to make this work properly. 

"I don't know if that takes one, two, three, five, six years. I don't know what that might be like. But I don't feel like I'm in any rush to make something happen today."

Six years? Really? Rahm may not be in any rush to find a solution but the slump in TV viewing figures for the PGA Tour in 2024 indicates that the rest of us feel very differently. The sums of money being handed out to men who make a living by hitting a ball into a hole is obscene. Period.

Jon Rahm

Rahm concluded: "You need the people that do this for a living that are far smarter than I am to get together to come together to be able to make it work." 

Bizarrely, the Spaniard also claimed that he still supports the PGA Tour. Eh? This from the man who signed for LIV for a reported $500m. 

He said: "I’m still a PGA Tour member, whether suspended or not. I still want to support the PGA Tour. And that’s an important distinction to make. I don’t feel like I’m on the other side. I’m just not playing there."

It was a comment that, unsurprisingly, sparked some reaction. Former PGA Tour winner Arron Oberholser, speaking on the Golf Channel, said he wanted to wring Rahm’s neck. He recalled that Rahm, before he went to LIV, sought greater influence in the PGA Tour’s decision-making, but now Oberholser is glad that did not happen.

"He doesn’t get it," Oberholser said. "To this day, he doesn’t get it. And this is a guy who wanted a position or wanted to be heard, from what I understand. Either a board position, policy board. He wanted to be heard on this whole thing before he went to LIV. And I feel like he wasn’t as heard as much as he probably should have been.

"And now I’m glad he wasn’t in that position because he doesn’t get it. As a PGA Tour player and as a PGA Tour member - still, a card-carrying PGA Tour member - and someone who supports the PGA tour, who is not happy with what’s going on right now, obviously, but supports the PGA tour. I’m incensed by that, quite honestly."

You will be aware that Rory McIlroy, who was a fierce critic of LIV Golf, has softened his stance and is now keen to find a way to unify golf. Having resigned from the player board last year after saying that he felt he had been hung out to dry, he volunteered to take the place of Webb Simpson in an attempt to get a deal over the line. It is deeply depressing that this was vetoed, with it being claimed that Woods was the main voice of dissent when it came to McIlroy’s return.

Woods, who is a member of the PGA Tour Policy Board transaction sub-committeem which is tasked with working out a deal, said: "We're working on negotiations with PIF. It's ongoing. It's fluid. It changes day-to-day. Has there been progress? Yes. But it's an ongoing negotiation so a lot of work ahead for all of us with this process.

"We're making steps. It may not be giant steps, but we're making steps. We've made some progress, yes, for sure, but there's a long way to go still."

Dunne clearly did not agree that progress is being made. 

In his resignation letter, he claimed that "my vote and my role is utterly superfluous" now that player directors outnumber independent directors on the policy board. Unsurprisingly, the players made no attempt to dissuade Dunne, whose resignation was accepted without comment. 

"It is crucial for the Board to avoid letting yesterday's differences interfere with today's decisions, especially when they influence future opportunities for the tour," Dunne wrote. "Unifying professional golf is paramount to restoring fan interest and repairing wounds left from a fractured game. I have tried my best to move all minds in that direction."

Along with PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan, Dunne and policy board chairman Ed Herlihy secretly negotiated the so-called framework agreement with the PIF, which is financing the rival LIV Golf League. Monahan and PIF governor Yasir Al-Rumayyan announced the deal on June 6, 2023

Nearly 12 months later, we are no further forward. It simply cannot be allowed to continue. 

Refreshingly, some players do seem to get it. Max Homa said: "I don’t like where it’s going. It’s got to be exhausting to be a casual golf fan at this point in time. I don’t know why you would want to hear about the business side of this game." 

Amen to that Max!

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Tags: PGA Tour LIV Golf

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