Jordan Spieth believes the unification of professional golf would be a positive outcome in the future but said that time is not now and that an investment from Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund is not “needed.”
Spieth’s comments came at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am on Wednesday, hours after the PGA Tour advised its members that Strategic Sports Group, a consortium of U.S.-based sports franchise owners, made an initial $1.5 billion investment to become minority owner of PGA Tour Enterprises.
Spieth was part of the player directors group that voted unanimously in support of the three-part equity investment that affords PGA Tour players an opportunity to become equity stakeholders in the new company. Spieth was joined in the vote by Tiger Woods, Patrick Cantlay, Peter Malnati, Adam Scott and Webb Simpson.
“I think the coolest thing about it is the players are now owners,” Spieth said. “So not only do they benefit with the tour, they now are equity owners so they want to push it themselves, they want to make the product better themselves.
“Not that they didn’t before, but you directly benefit from owning a piece. So I think that part is maybe the coolest part of the funding.”
Fenway Sports Group and other U.S. sports franchise ownership groups, including the New York Mets’ Steve Cohen and the Atlanta Falcons’ Arthur Blank, formed Strategic Sports Group in order to engage with the tour about helping fund PGA Tour Enterprises. FSG immediately steps into the role of commercial adviser for PGA Tour Enterprises.
“Obviously having some big guns behind us, some backup and the strategy that this group offers was actually something that was very important when we were looking at it,” Spieth said. “So to have, I think it’s like 200 years of sports owning experience, the idea they can help navigate in our future how content will be consumed when our next media deals are up, stuff like that … to have these partners in perpetuity, I don’t think that can be overlooked.
“You talk about the funding, but really the strategies that they can have in navigating that space will be very important.”
The proverbial elephant remaining in the room is where this development leaves the PGA Tour in its ongoing discussions with PIF, the majority owner of LIV Golf.
In a memo outlining more granular details of the SSG deal that could be worth more than $3 billion, PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan noted progress toward an agreement with LIV. Only PGA Tour members can “collectively access over $1.5 billion in equity” over time based on “career accomplishments, recent achievements, future participation and services,” per the tour’s release Wednesday.
The investment from SSG welcomes the potential for another $3 billion investment — possibly more — from the Saudi Public Investment Fund, which started the competing circuit. The memo sent to players makes clear any PIF investment can be accepted “subject to any necessary regulatory review and approvals.”
Spieth was clear to point out that any potential deal with PIF remains outside of Wednesday’s announcement, and that the members will determine what any additional investment will be approved. There are additional hurdles to overcome, including a regulatory review by the Department of Justice before any deal with PIF could be reached.
“I don’t think that it’s needed,” Spieth said. “I think the positive would be a unification, but I think that … it’s something that is almost not even worth talking about right this second given how timely everything would be to try to get it figured out.
“But the idea is that we have a strategic partner that allows the PGA Tour to go forward the way that it’s operating right now without anything else with the option of other investors. Whether them or somebody else, that will just be a decision with (PIF) obviously being, you know, the active talks.
“But I think the short answer is we don’t have to and I think the long answer is the positive there is a unification. We have members that feel strongly on both sides, so until that would be able to be solved and that would be No. 10 on the list of 10 things despite any government interference on what they’ve talked about being a lengthy process.
“We should try to have, but I’m not sure, you know, if or how or when it would get done.”
As with most developments since LIV made its entry and disrupted the professional golf world, Wednesday’s announcement came with almost as many questions as answers.
How will individual equity in PGA Tour Enterprises be determined? Spieth knows “ish” how it’s determined but said it wasn’t “on the top of my agenda to personally figure out what I gain from this matter.”
How will LIV players be handled if they want to come back to the PGA Tour? Rory McIlroy said Tuesday that he doesn’t believe LIV players should be punished — a stark reversal from his previous position, and one that Spieth says isn’t shared by the full membership.
“That’s Rory’s viewpoint. I could name some guys with the same viewpoint, I could name some guys with a totally opposite viewpoint,” Spieth said. “So it’s certainly mixed on how players feel about that, that’s what I think.”
Spieth is excited that Pebble Beach, one of his favorite tournaments, gained signature status this year. Whether it remains at that level — or whether signature events are even part of the equation come 2025 — are part of an ongoing evaluation of the business model.
Much is yet to be ironed out. For now, Spieth said the tour has stability it has lacked since LIV came onto the scene. And most important, its future will be charted by its members and backed by deep-pocketed sports owners.
“It’s the premier place to play professional golf and these partners will help us continue to make it that way and will have some impact, while the membership will still have the majority of the impact on what that can look like going forward,” he said. “The fact that it will be collective and very up front, very — they want to talk to us, they want to know what we want to know, we want to know what they can do. As just the talent, we can only go so far just playing golf.
“I think that it should be extremely positive at this point that the ship’s turning and it can only go on the right way from here.”