Sat. Jun 22nd, 2024

Exclusive Q&A: Joe Ogilvie on the PGA Tour’s future, the Saudi deal, and boardroom strife

By admin Jun2,2024

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In 14 seasons on the PGA Tour, Joe Ogilvie made 399 starts and notched one win before quitting a decade ago to become a money manager. Yet his impact seems destined to exceed his résumé after his recent appointment to the Tour’s Policy Board and to the board of the new for-profit entity, PGA Tour Enterprises. He is the eyes, ears (and perhaps the brain) of the Tour’s player-directors, and was also named to the committee that will directly negotiate with the Saudi Arabian Public Investment Fund.

In a wide-ranging interview on the eve of the one-year anniversary of the controversial Framework Agreement with the Saudis, Ogilvie talks about boardroom dysfunction, Jon Rahm’s miscalculation, Jay Monahan’s job performance, and how private equity might radically reshape the Tour.

Joe Ogilvie: Obviously I played for 15 years and was previously a board member. I’ve kept my eye on the game. When the Framework Agreement happened, I started to get a lot of calls. As we were starting to look at private equity, I was asked to write a letter just to say, hey, what are we looking at? Do we own the Tour? I was on the board of the Tour and when you’re trying to play with the best in the world and also trying to be a part of the governance structure, it’s a big learning curve. They don’t send you to Wharton to take a 3-day course on how to be a director. You’re thrown into it. I think my 10 years away from the game managing money and looking at companies, you learn a lot. Having business experience as well as player experience, I can translate both worlds. I think the players looked at that like it’s a valuable skill.

Enterprises is where the cash flow is going to go through, but Inc. is a huge part because they own about 88%, 88.4% of the business. Something like that. The way it happens is the money waterfalls down, 88.4% or whatever Inc. owns, they get that amount of the cash flow and that’s paid out as purses. The Enterprise board will have an outsized influence over the business. And I think Inc. has been somewhat, well, I guess a kind word would be dysfunctional. The Enterprise board is the one that’s making a lot of the decisions for the business.

Yeah, that is a fair statement. In retrospect, if you had a big mulligan you’d certainly handle the Framework Agreement differently. I think everybody involved would say they bungled the rollout of that. If you’d have had a kind of mea culpa and all got in a room and said we botched this, if everyone had humility. It’s really unfortunate because the independent directors — I mean, I’ve seen stories about how much they’re making, things like that. It’s the only board where I guarantee you it’s costing them a quarter of a million dollars a year to serve. They don’t get paid. A lot of them fly privately. They’re paying that cost. The PGA Tour doesn’t pay that cost. These are great businessmen and women that love the game and they’re lending their expertise to the PGA Tour. It was basically a very closed decision-making process on doing the Framework Agreement. It was almost unrecoverable from there. Something had to give once there wasn’t a two-week therapy session between the board. I don’t know if that’s the right way to term it, but it never happened. Humility goes a long way and I don’t think there was a whole lot of humility. That’s my take. I wasn’t involved in those discussions, but it did get divided. There were massive trust issues and once you lose trust, it’s incredibly hard to earn back.

Unfortunately, I think long-term it probably helps. Jimmy’s a force of nature and a highly-regarded figure in golf and investment banking. A legend. I think it was handled very poorly to not bring other board members in. The fact that he broke through that wall and actually started discussions will probably be looked at very kindly. But him going off the board was I think very helpful.

Obviously, you’re talking about [board chair] Ed Herlihy. I don’t know what Ed wants to do. His term as chair ends in November. He was a big part of ending the litigation, which is incredibly helpful. That’s his biggest service to the organization because that was just incredibly expensive and it would seem to be never-ending.

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Jordan Spieth walks from the sixth tee during the first round of the 2024 Charles Schwab Challenge. (Photo: Raymond Carlin III-USA TODAY Sports)

When the PGA Tour negotiated investment from Strategic Sports Group, there was a lot of heavy lifting that went into that agreement. That would probably be the basis for any other investor to come in now, whether they have to pay more or whatever. The basic structure is more or less the same. Keep in mind, in the year since the Framework Agreement the Department of Justice has come down on companies that have board representation with a conflict, where they had ownership stakes in companies that could be perceived as a competitor. You have that situation if the [Saudi Arabian} Public Investment Fund invested in the PGA Tour. Clearly with LIV, they’re a competitor. So there’s some nuances to it, but I think with that SSG deal a lot of the heavy lifting has already been done.

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Patrick Cantlay of the USA is pictured on the driving range prior to the RBC Heritage at Harbour Town Golf Links on April 16, 2024 in Hilton Head Island, South Carolina. (Photo by Andrew Redington/Getty Images)

Patrick’s obviously a voice. When he speaks, and he doesn’t speak very often, he carries a lot of weight. But I’ve only been on the board since May 9th. Patrick is incredibly detail-oriented. I joked with him one time that if he wasn’t a professional golfer he could be a distressed debt investor and probably make more money. He remembers facts and he’s a bulldog. He has strong opinions. I’ve read what’s been said, about he’s controlling the board and all that kind of stuff. I don’t want to say it’s wildly inaccurate, but I would say it’s very inaccurate.

Under those circumstances, it was difficult. I realize Tiger Woods went on the board without a process, but the governance documents hadn’t been done yet. When Webb said he was going to resign and he was going to name his successor, there’s not a corporation in the world that would allow that to happen. Unless Webb was a 90% owner in the business. When you’ve been trying to fight for governance, under those circumstances, I think it was tough, no matter how important Rory McIlroy is. Rory’s opinion matters as much as any director in that room. I hope he eventually comes on the board.

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Yasir Al-Rumayyan, head of the sovereign wealth fund of Saudi Arabia, looks on from the 18th green during day two of the LIV Golf Invitational – DC at Trump National Golf Club on May 27, 2023 in Sterling, Virginia. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

It was a perfect first meeting. When we were going into the room, one of the big things was how do we address him? If we’re gonna address him as His Excellency, that’s just kind of weird. He comes in the room, shakes everyone’s hand, and looks you right in the eye and says, ‘My name is Yasir. Please call me Yasir.’ I had heard that he’s a nice man and that he loves the game of golf, and nothing told me otherwise after meeting him. It would be naive to think that we’re going to come out of that meeting with a handshake deal and say, ‘We’re done here.’  It was a very good meeting and you could see that there was a mutual respect between he and Jay, which is also good.

When you do a deal with a partner, you want to know who you’re dealing with. I think it’s really difficult in a global economy. You certainly want great values and everything else. But cultures and countries evolve. And they don’t evolve as fast as sometimes we want them to evolve.

Yeah, I know. Look, it’s a very messy world. You hope things evolve. That society has by any measure gotten better. It’s better now than it was 10 years ago. It was better 10 years ago than it was 20 years ago. And I’m assuming it will be better 10 years from now. You can’t paralyze yourself. You can’t expect perfection. You just want things to evolve in a better way. And I think that’s obviously what the kingdom wants to do. They will get there, or they will have to get there because tourism is a big part of their push. If they don’t, it’s going to be very difficult to achieve their vision.

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Xander Schauffele celebrates after winning the 2024 PGA Championship at Valhalla Golf Club. (Photo: Clare Grant-USA TODAY Sports)

I think everybody in golf wants to figure it out. I mean, the PGA Championship was fantastic. Bryson put on a show, Xander obviously put on a show. It was better when everybody is playing the same events. So there’s a huge incentive to figure this thing out, and there’s a huge incentive on their side as well. I think they wanna do a deal. As far as SSG, they committed to $3 billion. I think that they committed with the hope that there would be another investor, specifically the PIF. There’s plenty of capital on their side, so I think that they would be happy to put in more. Now, it’s obviously harder to put in capital when you’ve got someone with deep pockets that is willing to lose a lot of money. That’s a tough thing to juxtapose. So we’ll see. I’m hopeful that something can happen. I think everybody wants it to happen, which is a prerequisite.

It doesn’t. It was certainly shocking. It was a negotiating tactic to take a player like Jon, and for Jon to go. That was definitely a shot across the bow.

It doesn’t help. It certainly doesn’t help. And that’s a sticking point. Guys that stayed loyal now have equity in the PGA Tour. Did they get as much money as if they would have gone to LIV? No. However, it’s a very valuable security. They are owners. It takes some of the sting out, but we’re going to have to figure that part out. If we were to come to a deal, those problems could be ironed out. But not everybody’s gonna be happy with the way they’re ironed out.

I don’t. I don’t think it’s much different than being a new parent. It’s a fundamental difference. We’re only approaching three months into this so there’ll be growing pains. Tour players have been through a lot in the last two years. They will see some changes. I don’t know what those will be.  Not only players but don’t forget our employees as well. Private equity expects a return. You can get a return by growing revenues, you can get a return by reducing expenses. It’s not all going to be reduction. It’s going to be growing a business. For this to work, we’ve got to grow the game of golf and grow the PGA Tour in the right way. So for the vast majority of Tour players, their job is still gonna be the same — go out and try to shoot 66.

That’s probably likely. You’re seeing it now, right? A Q-school guy will probably only get into 14 or 15 500-point events [non-Signature tournaments in the FedEx Cup schedule]. You’re behind the eight ball. It’ll be interesting. Next week, you’ve got the Memorial, then the U.S. Open and then the Travelers. The average guy will not play for three straight weeks. Everybody that I’ve listened to from the player side said, look, if you’re gonna call me a Tour player, I wanna be a Tour player. But maybe I’m not a PGA Tour player. Maybe I’m a Korn Ferry Tour player. Just tell me what I am and be honest about it. So I think you’re probably likely to have a reduction in the number of wholly exempt players.

I don’t know. It depends on a lot of different factors. What does the fall look like? We have a lot of tournaments in the fall that signed up when they were in the FedEx Cup season and now it’s different. So I don’t know that answer. That could be talked about. The 2025 schedule, there’s not going to be a whole lot of change. 2026 is when you’ll start seeing some change.

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General view of players practicing on the putting green in the morning during day three of the LIV Golf Invitational – Singapore at Sentosa Golf Club on May 05, 2024 in Singapore, Singapore. (Photo by Lionel Ng/Getty Images)

Clearly, you want to get to a place where the best are playing against each other more often. Our sponsors want that, our fans certainly want that, our network partners want it. Everybody wants that. So how does that work? Maybe it’s domestically and maybe it’s internationally. I think you’ve got opportunity in the fall. And to help the DP World Tour as well. They’re our partners and the DP World Tour can be a bridge in this, especially from a fall standpoint. If we can get it where there’s a peaceful co-existence, some of the rhetoric’s out and instead of talking about how much money a guy won on Sunday, they talk about a trophy. Money’s been talked about ad nauseam. I’m watching the Canadian Open right now. I can tell you that Mackenzie Hughes doesn’t care how much money they’re playing for. Same thing with Bobby MacIntyre and Ben Griffin and Ryan Fox. They want that trophy and hopefully that is recognized again sooner rather than later.

Six out of the last 10 weeks ratings have actually gone up. The sport of golf is in a good spot. You’re seeing massive uptake in women and junior golfers. The only people we’re seeing playing fewer rounds are Irish journalists.

But that normally translates. It may not translate right away, but I think professional golf should be in a pretty darn good place. The narrative that nothing’s going on and nothing’s getting done will be firmly retired in the next four months. You’re going to see a lot of energy out of Ponte Vedra Beach about what the future of professional golf is gonna look like.

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PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan claps at a press conference prior to the Texas Children’s Houston Open at Memorial Park Golf Course on March 27, 2024 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Raj Mehta/Getty Images)

Jay kind of got on his back foot with the Framework Agreement rollout being challenged but Jay is a survivor. He’s got a huge amount of respect from his team. The players over time went from, ‘Let’s get rid of this guy’ to ‘This is the guy who’s gonna lead us.’  He’s incredibly good when he’s engaged with sponsors, he’s incredibly good one-on-one with the guys. I think he wishes he had a one-year mulligan, It was obviously an incredibly stressful time. He might get the Comeback Player of the Year award.

Yeah, he does. Jay is uniquely suited to accomplish the goals of not only what SSG wants, but what the players want. He’s got the respect of other leaders of the game and I think he’s got the respect of the PIF.

I don’t think they want to run the business, I really don’t. They want to be in the room where it happens and they want a say on what goes on between the ropes, if there’s anything that’s going to affect their livelihoods. Like, you’ve gotta go play certain places, certain times a year. But I haven’t seen that they want to actually run the business. They look at Arthur Blank, at Joe Gorder, at John Henry and Sam Kennedy and Andy Cohen and they’re like, okay, these guys have run businesses, they own sports teams, they’ve seen what works and what doesn’t work. And we’re gonna take a lot of their suggestions, the vast majority of them. Some of them we’re probably not taking because they haven’t been in the game of golf and there’s some traditions in the game that are sacrosanct. Generally speaking, they know who the businessmen are in the room and they want to listen to them. That’s the way it should work.

Obviously, the business would be better if that was the case.

I don’t think it’s likely to happen in the next year or two, but you never say never. Is there a way to do it so while they’re not contracted, there are certain obligations? Maybe. If I have my business hat on, yeah, I want these guys to play as much as possible, and I want to make sure that I have at least x amount of top 10 players in the world playing every week. That would be ideal. If they played too much they’re gonna be injured at a much higher clip, so there’s a give and take.

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Max Homa of United States speaks with the media during a press conference following the Pro Am event ahead of the Wells Fargo Championship at Quail Hollow Country Club on May 09, 2024 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

They’ll start to see it hopefully by the playoffs, but if not they’ll definitely see it — well, the next time they see it on network television will be next year. But they will see it. I mean, if we are still talking about money or if that’s the dominating question in golf next year, we’ve failed miserably as a board. Hopefully that will go away. Max Homa was the guy who said let’s do the walk and talk, and now you’re seeing that in a major championship, which is kind of amazing. I realize social media can amplify anything, but players are talking about it, media is talking about it and I can tell you that Jay Monahan and certainly SSG and the board members are talking about it. So you’re gonna see more things. Hopefully these guys play together more often, and hopefully you’ll start to see it in ’25 and moreso in ’26.

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