Jimmy Dunne, the Architect of the PGA Tour-LIV Golf Deal, Lays Out the Details
The Story of Jimmy Dunne Bravery
At 7:10 am on April 18, Jimmy Dunne sent a WhatsApp message to Yasir Al-Rumayyan, the governor of Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund:
Yasir, my name is Jimmy Dunne. I’m a member of the Tour policy board. I’d like the opportunity for a call and hopefully a visit.
Al-Rumayyan had spent billions of PIF money funding the upstart LIV tour. Dunne was not sure how he would react.
“I think they were just honestly happy we had taken the time to meet with them,” Dunne told SI Thursday. “And I think he was somewhat surprised that we reached out directly.”
Dunne flew to England in late April and had dinner with Al-Rumayyan. They followed it with a cigar that evening and a round of golf at Beaverbrook Golf Club the next day. The groundwork was being laid for a deal that is both seismic and, at this point, largely misunderstood.
Dunne laid out the parameters of the PGA Tour’s deal with PIF to SI:
- The PGA Tour will still be called the PGA Tour, but now commissioner Jay Monahan also oversees LIV Golf, and the PGA Tour remains a partner of the DP World Golf Tour. Monahan has told Al-Rumayyan they will evaluate LIV at the end of the year.
- If Monahan wants to disband LIV, he can. If LIV golfers want to play on the Tour, Monahan and the current PGA Tour leaders have to approve the terms. Monahan has banned them; it is presumed that penalties to return to the Tour will be significant.
- PIF is not actually contributing anything directly to the PGA Tour or its players. PIF will instead get “right of first refusal” to be the Tour’s investment partner, through a new company the Tour is creating. What does this mean? Well, let’s say the Tour wants to buy Pebble Beach. PIF has the right to be its partner. The Tour will be the controlling partner in any investments.
- PIF has not promised a single dollar in investments, and the Tour has not promised the Saudis anything other than that right of first refusal: No guarantee of tournament sites or sponsorships or anything else. It is presumed, however, that Saudis will want to be as involved financially as they can be – and that the Tour will welcome sponsorship opportunities with its new investment partner.
- “We don’t know, is the honest answer,” Dunne said. “It is not like an iron-clad ‘this is how it’s gonna be’ kind of thing … the lowest they (will likely) do is billions. They have a $720 billion fund.”
There will be more fallout. But Dunne called complaints that PIF has bought the PGA Tour “laughable.” The deal is actually fairly simple, and for good reason: For all the animosity of the last year, when the two sides met, they realized they weren’t actually fighting over the same piece of real estate.
- All legal disputes have been settled.
After Dunne went to England, there was another meeting with Al-Rumayyan in Italy in mid-May. This time, Monahan was there. So was PGA Tour chairman Ed Herlihy.
It had been a long and wild year in the world of men’s golf. Tour officials had underestimated LIV, then watched as stars Phil Mickelson, Brooks Koepka, Dustin Johnson, Bryson DeChambeau and Cam Smith left for nine-figure guarantees.
The public face of LIV, Greg Norman, had used the tour to advance his longstanding beef with the PGA Tour, and he sold the world on the idea that LIV’s mission was to give players more power, make team golf a big deal, hold 54-hole shotgun-start tournaments, and shake up a staid sport. LIV’s motto was “Golf but louder.”
Much of that infuriated the golf establishment, from Monahan to Tiger Woods to Rory McIlroy. But Norman was not the one funding LIV. This is why Dunne reached out directly to Al-Rumayyan: to see why he was spending so much on LIV.
“I believe in getting to the right person,” he said. “I had said to Jay, ‘At some point, we need to do that. Let’s really understand what’s important to them. What are they trying to do? And is there a path between what they want to do with the game of golf, and what we want to do? Could we possibly work this out?’ That (was) the entire master plan.”
Al-Rumayyan made it fairly clear that, although PIF invested much more than $1 billion in LIV, it mostly wanted to be a major part of golf. LIV was a means to the end.
“He was more about growing the pie and interest in the game, rather than ‘We’re gonna do it x way,’” Dunne says. “They have LIV, which, at some level, they’ve got to think was not what they hoped it would be. They have the ability to align with the PGA Tour, and that is meaningful to them. And that’s it.”
The Saudis have billions that they want to put into sports; LIV Golf is a way to do that, but not the only way. The PGA Tour wants to dominate the world of golf, and do so with the same competitive principles they always had. LIV Golf threatened that.
The solution serves both agendas. Al-Rumayyan can now partner with the PGA Tour, rather than just put billions into an upstart tour that is struggling to gain traction. The deal is short on financial specifics because they weren’t really necessary. PIF has billions it wants to spend on golf. The Tour will take advantage of it.