Rory McIlroy, the esteemed golfer who was among the most outspoken opponents of his sport’s growing ties to Saudi Arabia, has resigned from the PGA Tour’s board of directors.
The tour confirmed his departure in a statement Tuesday night.
“Given the extraordinary time and effort that Rory – and all of his fellow player managers – have invested in the tour during this period of unprecedented transformation in our history, we certainly understand and respect his decision to step down to focus on his game. and his family,” Commissioner Jay Monahan and Edward D. Herlihy, board president, said in the statement.
McIlroy, the men said, was “instrumental in helping shape the success of the tour, and his willingness to express his opinions thoughtfully has been especially impactful.”
McIlroy’s agent did not respond to a message seeking comment.
McIlroy’s decision came about five months after the tour, after secret negotiations, reached a deal with Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund to try to create a joint venture to end the war for golf supremacy fueled by the money. Most board members, including McIlroy, were unaware of the deal or the conversations that led to it until shortly before it was announced in June and upended the tour’s duel with LIV Golf, the league that Saudi Saudi built with a mix of billions of dollars and major defections from the PGA Tour.
McIlroy soon expressed pragmatic fatalism about the deal (which calls for the tour and wealth fund to combine their commercial golf businesses) and the proposed partnership with Saudi Arabia, which has been expanding its investments in sports.
“If you are thinking about one of the largest sovereign wealth funds in the world, would you rather have it as a partner or as an enemy?” McIlroy asked on June 7, the day after the tour announced the transaction, which has not yet closed. “At the end of the day, money talks and you would rather have it as a partner.”
But he also made no secret of the fact that the machinations of the tour had caught him by surprise and hurt him. Few golfers had been more strident critics of LIV and the players who joined it, and the PGA Tour had benefited from the credibility of a four-time major winner who served, in effect, as its leading public champion. .
“It’s hard for me not to sit here and feel like a sacrificial lamb and feel like I’ve put in the work and this is what happens,” said McIlroy, who has also been among the tour leaders during the pandemic. at the same press conference in Toronto.
Although he continued, this week he showed signs that he had tired of the role. Asked in the UAE if he enjoyed his tenure on the board, McIlroy replied: “Not particularly, no. It’s not what I signed up for every time I came on the board. But yeah, the game of professional golf has been constantly changing over the last couple of years.”
He gave no indication that there was an exit in sight.
On Monday, the 12-member board wrapped up a meeting at the tour’s headquarters in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, where it heard about a handful of bids for minority stakes that could usurp or accompany any Saudi money. In a memo to players on Tuesday, Monahan, the circuit commissioner, said the board had “agreed to continue the negotiation process to select the final minority investors in a timely manner.”
Monahan said in his memo that during the tour he had heard from “dozens” of prospects about potential investments and had separated candidates into a smaller group for review by the board of directors. For the tour, which has faced criticism from Congress and the Justice Department for its changing approach to working with Saudi Arabia, the stakes are high beyond money.
Some actors and executives believe that a role for influential American investors could diminish Washington’s criticism of the transaction and possible efforts to block it.
“Even if a deal is reached, it’s not a sure thing,” McIlroy said this week. “So yeah, we’ll have to wait and see. But in my opinion, the faster something is done, the better.”
McIlroy is the second person to resign from the tour’s board of directors since the summer. In July, Randall Stephenson, former CEO of AT&T, resigned from the position he had held for twelve years, citing his “serious concerns about how this framework agreement came to fruition without board oversight.” At the time, Stephenson wrote that he could not “objectively evaluate or conscientiously support” the deal, especially given U.S. intelligence’s conclusion that Saudi Arabia was responsible for the 2018 murder of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Stephenson’s departure raised eyebrows on Wall Street and in golf’s inner sanctums. But McIlroy’s decision is a particularly public blow to the tour and its board of directors. Although the group still includes the likes of Tiger Woods and Patrick Cantlay, McIlroy, 34, has long been one of golf’s most amiable stars.
However, when it came time to enter into negotiations with the investment fund, he was among the board members left out of the talks.
Only two members participated, Mr. Herlihy, a partner at the Wall Street law firm Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz, and James J. Dunne III, a vice president at the investment bank Piper Sandler. The secrecy angered other board members and helped spark a player uprising that led to the installation of Woods as director over the summer.
Hours before the tour acknowledged McIlroy’s resignation, it announced a replacement for Stephenson, Joseph W. Gorder, executive chairman of Valero’s board of directors.