[PHOTO: Vaughn Ridley]

The framework agreement between the PGA Tour and the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia reached its one-year anniversary on Thursday, and while tour players continue to express optimism that a deal can be reached, they also seem resigned to the possibility that a resolution might still be quite a way off.

PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan announced on June 6 last year that the tour and PIF, the financial backer of the rival LIV Golf League, struck a deal that ended litigation between the organisations and set in motion a proposed for-profit business entity, PGA Tour Enterprises, that would lead to a reunification of the game’s top players and a potentially game-changing financial investment from PIF.

“I think a year later seems like there’s a lot of rumours and everything’s the exact same, so I don’t know,” Keegan Bradley said at Muirfield Village after opening the Memorial Tournament with a hard-fought two-under 70. “I haven’t seen a single difference since that day. I’ve heard a lot of things that could happen. I’m thankful for Fenway Sports Group. I have no clue what’s going to happen with PIF. I hear a new rumour every day.

“I’m hopeful,” Bradley added. “I would love to have some of those big boys come back out here and play.”

Peter Malnati, a player director on the PGA Tour Policy Board, said a number of factors have slowed down negotiations. Some of it has to do with emotions. Players reacted with disappointment and anger at the news that Monahan had been working in secret to bargain with Yasir Al-Rumayyan, the head of PIF, and they felt blindsided by the announcement. Those hard feelings lingered. And in some cases, Malnati added, they still do.

LIV Golf chairman Yasir Al-Rumayyan at the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship last October at Carnoustie Golf Links in Scotland. [Photo: Richard Heathcote]
Then there’s the very real issue of reintegrating LIV players into the PGA Tour fold. Those players have been suspended by the tour indefinitely. Under what terms will they be allowed to compete again? Is there even room for them?

“I think the biggest hurdle is just what do we give up from the PGA Tour’s current ecosystem? What do we give up? Because right now it’s full,” Malnati pointed out. “We can’t handle any more players, so we can’t just invite players back because we have too many players, we have too many events. Our schedule’s too full, and our top players make so much money. They’re telling us they want to play less, not more. So what do we give up from the tour schedule in order to create some unity.”

As if that isn’t enough, the tour announced in January an infusion of capital from the Strategic Sports Group worth up to $US3 billion, which initially seemed, at least in the eyes of some players, to obviate a need for PIF’s investment. That didn’t send a hopeful signal. Not to be forgotten is that the US Department of Justice still might weigh in on a final deal in unfavourable fashion.

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Monahan, at Muirfeld Village on Wednesday for meetings with the tournament’s Captains Club and for the Memorial Honouree Ceremony celebrating Juli Inkster and the late Tom Weiskopf, declined comment when asked about the one-year anniversary. He appears to have had a good reason; the New York Times is reporting that Monahan was set to meet with Al-Rumayyan on Friday in New York after the two sides exchanged term sheets a few weeks ago that might be worth another $US1.5 billion to the tour’s new for-profit entity.

“I think a lot of us would’ve thought we’ve been a lot closer or we’d have a deal by now, but we all understand things are very complicated and we can only hope that that’s all rectified here in the next couple of months because I think we’re all getting tired of it,” Billy Horschel said. “Once we have some resolution of what is going to happen, whether we do a deal, don’t do a deal, I think then we can sort of start moving on a little bit and seeing what the future of the game of golf looks like. But right now, I feel like if a deal’s going to get done, we need to get this done here in the next two, two-and-a-half months, in my opinion. And it needs to be done. I say quickly, but I know it’s a slow, arduous process, but I think we’ve got to figure out how to make this deal work.”

Whether there is some kind of agreement in principle in the coming months doesn’t mean that men’s golf is going to coalesce any time in the near future.

“It could be two or three years before the dust settles, from what I’ve been told,” said veteran Matt Kuchar. “You hear that even if we do get something figured out, things could get really slowed down, whether it’s by the DOJ or whatever.

“It’s interesting just the evolution of what’s going on. I think people were really pissed [off] at first about doing a deal. I wasn’t in that camp,” Kuchar added. “Now people have come to an understanding that it’s probably best for us to do something, so I have to foresee something working out. I do think we will come together and join forces. How soon? I don’t know. I can’t imagine it being inside of three years to really happen.”

Peter Malnati said the original deal last year was handled so poorly that there is so much to overcome in order for a deal to be finalised. [Photo: Logan Riely]
Malnati said that the past year wasn’t as productive as it could have been. He cited several reasons.

“We’ve spent the past year learning how far apart the LIV Golf vision for the future of golf and the vision of the PGA Tour really is, but I think in the past few months we’ve entered a phase actually trying to figure out how to bridge that gap,” Malnati said. “This whole thing has been so complicated and convoluted because for a long time it turned into this – it wasn’t always a battle between PGA Tour and LIV. It was a battle between PGA Tour players and PGA Tour leadership, and rightfully so. I mean, June 6th was handled poorly and sprung on us and… that battle was very distracting.”

And, apparently, it threw a lot of sand in the gears, too.

“We have a lot of great people doing a lot of great work, and you need to give them the chance and the confidence to do their jobs rather than constantly for months and months it was just everything they tried to do, we blocked because we were mad. Essentially, we did everything they told us we need to do, and we were like, ‘Well, we’re still mad at you, so that’s not a good idea.’

“There’s just so much scar tissue to overcome because of June 6th and how that left the membership of the PGA Tour feeling that we just had a lot to overcome. But I think something will get done. But I don’t know what that means. We have challenges for how it’s going to work. A lot of challenges.”