Jimmy Dunne. Ed Herlihy. Ron Price.
Of those three men, I only knew — vaguely — of one entering this summer. (That one was Dunne, who has developed a reputation as the highest of rollers in the American country club circuit, in addition to his origin story as honcho at an investment firm that used to operate out of the World Trade Center.)
Yet, these three men have been revealed to be the real power brokers as men’s professional golf lurches toward what figures to be a massive restructuring in the near future.
Dunne and Herlihy are members of the PGA Tour board of directors, while Price is the Tour’s COO. While Herlihy, a top mergers and acquisitions lawyer, has remained largely behind the scenes orchestrating this proposed partnership with the Saudi Arabian sovereign wealth fund, Dunne and Price have been more public in their representation of the pro golf establishment.
That spokesmanship extended to all the way to the Capitol for Tuesday’s hearing in front of the U.S. Senate, although to be fair Price was filling in for PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan while the latter is on what the Tour is calling medical leave.
Still, even for someone like me who’s pretty locked into the golf scene, it’s odd that no one whose face I recognize is representing the Tour in one of its higher-profile moments in history — even if all this is much more related to the boardroom than the putting green.
For me, this essentially describes all that I dislike about this sport that I love. Putting Price aside, the idea that Dunne and Herlihy basically are standing in for the most visible part of the game is troubling.
No offense to both men, who are obviously accomplished and at (or at least near) the very tops of their professions. Full credit to them for excelling at what they do, but they personify Wall Street exclusivity.
I thought it fitting that the PGA Tour membership was left in the dark about what was going on between their leadership and the Saudi Public Investment Fund, because isn’t that how it goes for most of us? We’re left at the mercy of decisions made atop mahogany tables during power lunches.
Certainly, in big-time pro sports, we’re used to the folks in suits making the calls. But for me that’s more palatable when it’s the commissioner or players’ union chief grinding out a deal. That’s the job, after all, and everyone knows it.
The way the PGA Tour went about it, Monahan served almost a ceremonial role in the negotiations with the PIF, with Dunne making the crucial initial connection with Saudi golf governor Yasir Al-Rumayyan while Herlihy monitored to make sure the whole thing made sense from a legal perspective.
In that way, it was fitting that Monahan was nowhere to be found on Capitol Hill this week. It’s probably too strong to call him a puppet commish, but during this most pivotal part of his tenure, I’m struggling to come up with a better descriptor.
I suppose the counterargument would be that Monahan is in a position that few big-league commissioners have encountered. He and his colleagues aren’t facing problems within the framework of what’s been set up previously; the barrels of Saudi money in play has presented a literal existential crisis to the PGA Tour.
So maybe it’s justified to bring in these shadowy hands to navigate the stormy waters. Maybe Monahan is simply an ideal peacetime president who needed some more battle-hardened characters to patch up his weak spots.
All I know is that the players and fans whom these decisions affect the most have to be wondering, “Who are these guys?”
In case you’re wondering, that’s not a good thing.
To play devil’s advocate again, I might say that at least the PGA Tour side of things showed up for their day in D.C., unlike Al-Rumayyan and LIV CEO Greg Norman. Both were asked to attend by the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, but both declined, citing scheduling conflicts.
Excuses aside, the LIV side of the table doesn’t bear the burden of proof on this whole process. It was the PGA Tour, in case you forgot, who repeatedly insisted that it was superior — both morally and business-wise — to its competitor.
Ergo, the PGA Tour should be the side that has to demonstrate why this truce with the PIF is suddenly a desirable thing. Obviously, that reason is solely monetary, but at least there should be a recognizable face making the case.
Monahan, who is probably the only person on the planet who would fulfill that description, is still away from his office, yet he was well enough to send out a memo to the players a few days ago detailing his imminent return to duty at Tour headquarters in Florida next Monday.
I fully understand that this was never going to be like the Senate hearings on performance-enhancing drugs in baseball, which featured players like Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and Rafael Palmeiro getting the fifth degree on national television.
Not only could current pro golfers not be expected to turn up in Washington just before the final major of the year, overseas in England, but also they have little real power as, essentially, independent contractors in this particular labor ecosystem.
It was either going to be Jay, or it was going to look like the J.V. team.
This week’s hearing in Congress will just be one of many milestones in what’s been one of the more compelling sports business developments of our lifetime.
From this perspective, though, the PGA Tour has a couple questions to answer:
Who’s really in charge? And should they be in charge?