With 3 unwavering words, Tiger Woods puts PGA Tour on notice

Tiger Woods speaks at press conference.

Tiger Woods addresses the media during a press conference at this week's Hero World Challenge.

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It had been a long time since Tiger Woods sat in front of a microphone. Sure, there are the mic’d up range sessions and event galas where he speaks with fans. But actually sitting in front of a mic, answering questions from the media? The last time that happened, he was at Augusta National, nearly eight months ago. Much has happened since.

So it was natural that one of the first questions Woods received Tuesday at the Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas started with an apology: “Tiger, I’m sorry to kind of go back, but we haven’t really spoken with you. What was your reaction to the June 6th framework announcement?”

That’s right, Woods hasn’t spoken publicly about the seminal day that defined much of the 2023 golf year — and could define much of the golf world moving forward.

“Well, going back to that,” Woods started, “I would say that my reaction was surprised as I’m sure a lot of the players were taken back by it, by what happened. So quickly, without any input or any information about it, it was just thrown out there. I was very surprised that the process was what it was.”

It’s not surprising that Woods was surprised. So was every pro golfer on the planet. But Woods — the global face of the game, who decried LIV Golf and rallied the top pros into creating a Signature Events system — also wasn’t going to let the Tour’s secret backroom dealings with its one-time Saudi rivals pass, or further develop, without closer inspection. 

That’s why Woods is now one of six players on the PGA Tour’s all-important Policy Board. He never once held that position during the peak of his playing days, but he does now, thanks to a late-summer quasi coup during which 41 pros demanded Woods be granted a place on the board. 

Why did that happen? Woods is never keen to dive into detail, but for a man who doesn’t say much, it’s often telling when he repeats himself. Tuesday’s phrase of the day was just three telling words: Can’t happen again. As in, what happened in the weeks leading up to maybe the most pivotal decision in PGA Tour history can’t…happen…again.

When asked about Jay Monahan’s role as commissioner, Woods said, “I think Jay has been a part of the direction, he understands what happened prior to that can’t happen again and won’t happen again.” 

When asked for the emotions that drove him to join the board, Woods said, “I think the overall emotion is…we can’t let that happen again.

When asked about his confidence in Monahan, Woods said, “That was part of why I came on to the board is I did have faith in Jay and in what he could do going forward and what can’t happen again.

After more than a year of telling PGA Tour players that leaving for LIV Golf and a Saudi-backed payday was the wrong decision, Monahan and two non-player directors on the board — Jimmy Dunne and Ed Herlihy — agreed to finally take meetings with the Saudi PIF. The plans were cooked up almost entirely in secret, with only a few PGA Tour executives brought into the fold in the late stages of developing the Framework Agreement — essentially a deal that dropped active lawsuits and set a Dec. 31 deadline for a Definitive Agreement. 

That Woods — who more than any other player over the last two decades made the Tour what is today — was surprised by the June 6 announcement tells you how much he was made aware before it all happened. Rory McIlroy, who was on the board alongside Herlihy and Dunne, only heard about the news on the morning the proposed deal was announced. And yet negotiations had been taking place for six weeks. The response from Tour membership was a fiery cocktail of confusion, anger and disappointment, and led to plenty of regret on Monahan’s behalf. 

“My biggest regret was…I would have flown up to Toronto and would have communicated directly to the players that day before anything was said publicly,” Monahan said two months later. In other words, he wished he would have been more patient and brought the information to players more directly. That’s part of what Woods and the membership is still reeling about. Player involvement, or lack thereof.

Tiger Woods smiles during a press conference at the Hero World Challenge on Tuesday.
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Woods is able to speak definitively now — “can’t happen again” — in part because players now have a 50 percent share of the policy board. Even though the board has never made a decision that went against unanimous player support, there has always been at least as many non-player seats as player seats. The membership, at least optically, wanted a change to that system. The board grew to 12 members, six of them being Tour pros. The players also now have a major window into the negotiations happening between the PGA Tour and outside investment. 

As part of the demands for Woods to join the board, Collin Neville, a partner at Raine Capital, was guaranteed full access to documents and decisions made in the negotiations between the PGA Tour and the Saudi PIF, as well as extra investment interest via private equity firms. Neville, who manages Raine’s sports division, has overseen some of the biggest investment deals in recent sports history, including the record sale of Chelsea Football club and the ongoing interest in Manchester United. He understands Woods, he understands McIlroy, he understands major investment, and even understands deriving a league with player equity, a rare thing in sports but one of the topics being discussed in the negotiations. Neville helped launch the Premier Lacrosse League in 2018, which has a player equity system.

With Neville’s oversight role, Woods’s spot on the Policy Board and the belief that “Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me,” it’s likely that Woods’ “can’t happen again and won’t happen again” mandate will come to fruition.  

But will a deal between the PGA Tour and the Saudi PIF happen in 2023, ahead of the New Year’s Eve deadline? Even Woods doesn’t sound sure of that. 

“I’m pleased at the process and how it’s evolved,” he said. “Also frustrated in some of the slowness and the governance change that we want to have happen. And December 31st is coming up very quickly.”

Sean Zak

Golf.com Editor

Zak is a writer at GOLF Magazine, currently working on a book about the summer he spent in St. Andrews. You can read about those travels here and catch his latest thoughts on the Drop Zone Podcast:

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