Stephenson resigns from PGA Tour board over ‘serious concerns’ about Saudi deal, according to report

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Former AT&T Chairman Randall Stephenson resigned from the PGA Tour’s policy board over concerns about the tour’s proposed partnership with Saudi Arabia’s national wealth fund, The Washington Post reported Sunday.

The PGA Tour confirmed the resignation in a memo to its members, referring to Stephenson’s “exemplary service” for more than 12 years.

Stephenson retired as chairman and CEO of AT&T in June 2020.

The Post said it obtained a copy of his letter that was dated Saturday and said the tour’s framework agreement with Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund “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.”

Khashoggi, a Washington Post contributing columnist and critic of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, was slain at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in 2018. U.S. intelligence concluded the crown prince likely approved the killing, which the crown prince denies.

PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan stunned every corner of the golf world — including his own membership — when he announced on June 6 a partnership with the PIF, which had paid for the rival league LIV Golf and was part of antitrust lawsuits.

The agreement, which still requires PGA Tour board approval and is being looked at by the Justice Department, would create a for-profit company in which the PIF, the PGA Tour and the European tour would pool their commercial business and media rights.

Monahan would be the CEO and Yasir Al-Rumayyan, the PIF governor, would be chairman of the new company. Al-Rumayyan also would have a seat on the PGA Tour board, though the PGA had assurances in the preliminary deal that it would always have a majority vote.

Stephenson said he intended to resign on June 12, but then Monahan stepped away with a medical issue. Monahan announced Friday he would return to work on 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,” Stephenson said in his letter. “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.”

The 10-member PGA Tour board consists of five players and five independent directors. Two of them are board chairman Ed Herlihy and Jimmy Dunne, who joined Monahan in negotiating the deal over seven weeks with Al-Rumayyan.

The others are investment manager Mark Flaherty, a board member for Goldman Sachs, and Mary Meeker, a venture capitalist.

The resignation comes three days before Dunne and Ron Price, the tour’s COO, are to testify before a Congressional subcommittee that wants more details on the partnership between the PGA Tour and the Saudi wealth fund.

According to the tour’s bylaws, the four independent directors are to choose who replaces Stephenson after consulting with the five players on the board and John Lindert, the PGA of America president who is a non-voting board member.

There is no time frame to fill the spot.

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