Former AT&T executive Randall Stephenson resigned his position on the PGA Tour’s influential policy board in a letter dated Saturday, writing that he had “serious concerns” about the tour’s controversial partnership with the Saudi Arabian Public Investment Fund.
Stephenson’s resignation suggests the partnership faces significant hurdles if it is to move forward. The first step to the deal getting finalized is securing the approval of the 10-member policy board. Stephenson had been a member of the policy board since 2012, and in his resignation letter he said the framework of the deal “is not one that I can objectively evaluate or in good conscience support, particularly in light of the U.S. intelligence report concerning Jamal Khashoggi in 2018.”
Stephenson sent his letter to fellow policy board members and said his resignation is effective immediately. In the letter, a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Post, he said he intended to resign weeks earlier — on June 12, just six days after the deal was announced publicly — but he delayed his board departure after hearing that PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan was taking leave to deal with unspecified health concerns. Monahan informed tour golfers Friday that he will be returning to his post July 17.
“I joined this board 12 years ago to serve the best players in the world and to expand the virtues of sportsmanship instilled through the game of golf,” wrote Stephenson, the longtime chair and chief executive of AT&T. “I hope, as this board moves forward, it will comprehensively rethink its governance model and keep its options open to evaluate alternative sources of capital beyond the current framework agreement.”
Stephenson declined further comment Sunday night, saying his letter “covers everything I have to say.” The PGA Tour did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Stephenson’s resignation landed just three days before the PGA Tour is scheduled to testify before a key congressional subcommittee that is investigating the alliance between the tour and LIV Golf’s deep-pocketed benefactors. The Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, chaired by Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), is holding a hearing Tuesday and will be questioning Jimmy Dunne, the policy board member who helped broker the deal, and Ron Price, the tour’s chief operating officer.
The PGA Tour and the PIF shocked the sports world when they announced June 6 that the rival parties would drop their litigation against each other and team up to create a new for-profit entity that would oversee the commercial interests of the PGA Tour, LIV Golf and the Europe-based DP World Tour.
The sides initially agreed to terms May 30, but most professional golfers didn’t learn about it until after it was announced. Most members of the policy board also were kept in the dark, according to people familiar with the matter. In Stephenson’s letter, he expressed concern that the deal “came to fruition without board oversight.”
The policy board consists of five players — including Rory McIlroy and Patrick Cantlay — plus five independent directors and a nonvoting representative from the PGA of America.
While Monahan signed off on the deal, Dunne and Ed Herlihy, the board chair, have been credited with negotiating with the PIF and hammering out terms of the 3½-page framework of the alliance.
The tour and the PIF continue to sort out details of a final agreement. The tour has spent the past several weeks trying to sell its players and the policy board members on the partnership, saying it’s vital to the long-term sustainability of the tour. The policy board met with tour executives June 27 in Detroit and later issued a statement saying, “We are all committed to the safeguards in the Framework Agreement that ensure the PGA Tour would lead and maintain control of this potential new commercial entity.”
Aside from Dunne and Herlihy, most policy board members have had little to say publicly about the deal. Players serving on the board have been careful with their words, saying they were surprised by the deal but also noting that the basic agreement between the parties is short on details and many questions have yet to be answered, including how LIV golfers might be reintegrated into the PGA Tour.
“I don’t have enough information about the deal yet to have an unfavorable or favorable view about it,” Cantlay told reporters at the US Open last month.
The tour sent a memo Sunday evening to its members about Stephenson, thanking him for his service but making no mention of the reasons behind his resignation. The tour explained to players that Stephenson would be replaced by someone chosen by the policy board’s other four independent directors after consultation with the five golfers who also serve on the board. There is no timeline for Stephenson’s replacement, but the board isn’t expected to meet again until the fall.