[PHOTO: Andrew Redington]

It’s too soon to know how the resignation of Jimmy Dunne, the architect of the surprise framework between the PGA Tour and Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, from the PGA Tour’s policy board will impact the prospects of a final deal being completed. But according to Rory McIlroy, Dunne’s exit is not a positive development.

Speaking briefly to the media overnight (Australian time) at Valhalla ahead of this week’s PGA Championship, McIlroy was asked his thoughts on Dunne’s departure from tour leadership, and the Ulsterman did not hide his disappointment.

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“Honestly, I think it’s 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,” McIlroy said. “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 past few months, and I think part of the reason that everything is stalling at the minute is because of that.

“So it is, it’s really, really disappointing, and you know, I think the tour is in a worse place because of it. We’ll see. We’ll see where it goes from here and we’ll see what happens. But you know, I would say my confidence level on something getting done before last week was, you know, as low as it had been and then with this news of Jimmy resigning and knowing the relationship he has with the other side, and how much warmth there is from the other side, it’s concerning.”

Dunne is the vice-chairman and senior managing principal of Piper Sandler, an investment bank and financial services company heavily involved in mergers and acquisitions. He’s also an avid golfer and belongs to some of the most prestigious clubs in the USA, including Augusta National, Pine Valley, National Golf Links and Seminole Golf Club, connections that made him one of golf’s biggest insiders. Dunne, along with tour board member Ed Herlihy, was deputised by PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan during the onset of golf’s civil war to make contact with PIF governor and LIV Golf boss Yasir Al-Rumayyan to see if the PIF had any interest in a possible detente. It was Dunne’s initial meeting with Al-Rumayyan that paved discussions for the initial framework agreement. As part of those talks, Dunne was given a spot on the newly created PGA Tour Enterprises board.

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Dunne ultimately testified in front of US Congress in mid-2023 about his role in those negotiations. E-mails released by Congress later showed Dunne was supposed to oversee the direction of LIV Golf after the merger.

Due to the secretive nature of the initial PIF talks, Dunne faced a backlash of sorts from the PGA Tour membership. He was not given a role on the tour’s transaction team that will be handling future conversations with PIF, and because the tour created a new player position for Tiger Woods – the result of a petition from tour players seeking new governance and transparency measures after June 6 – Dunne felt his position with the tour lost the power it once had. In his resignation, Dunne said there had been no “meaningful” development in a deal. Dunne’s resignation came a week after Rory McIlroy’s bid to rejoin the policy board was blocked by several players. Dunne was considered one of McIlroy’s biggest advocates for returning to the board. However, McIlroy was eventually named to the separate transaction team.

McIlroy begins his PGA Championship pursuit tonight at 10:15pm (AEST) from Valhalla’s 10th tee.