NORTH PLAINS, Ore. – Pat Perez sees the reporter’s notebook and does not take long to fill it. Always glib, rarely with a filter, sometimes profane, he was talking all things professional golf and his move to the LIV Golf Invitational Series after more than 20 years on the PGA Tour.
A three-time winner who is proud of the fact that he never lost his PGA Tour card, Perez, 46, amassed more than $28 million in career earnings. He reminisced about playing the 1996 U.S. Amateur – won by Tiger Woods – at Pumpkin Ridge and talked about still wanting to compete on the PGA Tour Champions when he is 50.
But he makes no apologies for signing a four-year deal to play with LIV Golf. He said it was like “winning the lottery’’ and celebrated like he meant it. While he admits to there being moments where he paused to consider the ramifications of signing on with a Saudi-backed endeavor, Perez acknowledged that while those misgivings are real, his participation either way would not impact the regime’s human rights record or people’s feelings about it.
And he reiterated a general feeling among some of the LIV players – not enunciated quite as boldly as Phil Mickelson did back in February – that there is a level of discord about PGA Tour players not having their voices heard or some of the concepts they embrace be implemented by commissioner Jay Monahan.
“It’s upsetting that the players didn’t even get a chance to have Jay take a meeting and at least have something to come to the players with and say this has been offered,’’ Perez said. “Why is it only up to him to make the decision? I think that’s why a lot of players are mad.
“What if the LIV group said, ‘Jay, we’re going to give you $1 billion. We want some of your players for eight tournaments. And then we’re going to fund other tournaments, give money to every player to start out, but you can call the shots. Let’s figure out how we can work both. All these other tournaments are going to go to $20 million (purses) and guys have a chance to get some money out of the gate.’ But he didn’t take the call.’’
Then Perez goes off on a tangent about the funding source for LIV. The Public Investment Fund is a $600 billion sovereign wealth fund whose governor, Yasir Al-Rumayyan, has been prominent in LIV Golf and is also the chairman of the Newcastle United, the Premier League football club who majority owner is the PIF. Al-Rumayyan reports directly to Mohammed Bin Salman (MBS), Saudi’s crown prince.
“I know everybody’s talking about sportswashing and all of that, but Jay goes everywhere on a G4 (private plane). What do you think that f—— thing’s filled up on? It’s not solar,’’ Perez said. “It’s not a Tesla, last time I checked. It’s gas. You think he’s worried about the gas bill? I know they don’t have their own f—— oil field in Jacksonville.’’
Perez’ reference is to the fact that the United States imports oil from Saudi Arabia that is turned into gasoline. And he also noted the number of U.S. companies that do business in Saudi Arabia, including the PGA Tour’s biggest benefactor – FedEx. The PIP owned nearly $250 million of FedEx stock in late 2021. And FedEx announced a plan late last year to invest more than $400 million in the Saudi economy over the next 10 years.
Such conflicts, Perez said, make him feel that the criticism being directed at golfers for taking part in this is missing perspective.
The PGA Tour Turns a Deaf Ear
Perez was correct when he said that Monahan, the PGA Tour commissioner since 2017, never took a meeting with LIV CEO Greg Norman. Monahan has acknowledged this on several occasions. In fact, LIV officials said that Monahan has never responded to any correspondence sent by the group.
Of course, Perez’ idea of a $1 billion infusion might have been a dream. It’s unclear what Norman would have proposed. He has said all along that his venture is “additive’’ and that he believes it can co-exist with the PGA Tour. Norman said LIV has purposely scheduled its events away from the PGA Tour’s marquee events, with an eye on players being able to prepare for the major championships while being able to also compete on the PGA Tour, if allowed.
But LIV’s ultimate plan is to have a 14-tournament league with 12 teams of four players each that compete for an individual and team purse each week. And players would be required to play in all 14 events. In order to meet the PGA Tour minimum, another 15 events would be required. The idea of these guys playing 29 events a year is not realistic. So some of what Norman says on this topic comes across as disingenuous.
Perhaps given some cooperation, LIV would reduce the number of its events to 12 or 10 to make it more manageable. For now, the PGA Tour is not cooperating. It has suspended indefinitely all of its members. Some, such as Patrick Reed, Dustin Johnson, Graeme McDowell and Sergio Garcia, have resigned their membership.
To Perez’ point, it was Reed who when asked the biggest obstacle with the PGA Tour, said: “Listen to the players for once.’’
Monahan was unlikely to engage with Norman and the Saudi-backed LIV. He and the Tour hierarchy believed it to be a threat. They saw how Saudi Golf, which sponsors the PIF Saudi International on the Asian Tour, tried to gain favor with players when it began in 2019 under the European Tour banner.
At the time, there was no LIV Golf. The rival entity was called the Premier Golf League, and most of its ideas are now being used by LIV. PGL still exists, but a faction of people from the original group broke off in late 2020 to go down a different path which now exists as LIV Golf.
“We welcome good, healthy competition,’’ Monahan said last week at the Travelers Championship. “The LIV Saudi Golf League is not that. It’s an irrational threat; one not concerned with the return on investment or true growth of the game.’’
Andy Gardiner, the CEO of the PGL, shifted the focus to try and bring the PGL concept – a team format with as many as 18 events with 54 holes and 48 players – under the PGA Tour umbrella. That is similar to what Perez suggested with LIV.
Monahan admitted at the Travelers Championship last week that he has never spoken to Gardiner, who earlier this year submitted a lengthy proposal about how the PGL would generate $10 billion for equity value by 2030, which would equate to $20 million per PGA Tour voting member and $3 million per Korn Ferry Tour member over the next eight years.
The PGA Tour policy board had an outside consultant look at the proposal and it was deemed not feasible.
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Gardiner remains frustrated by the answer, simply because the consultant looked that plan without studying the Premier Golf League or speaking to any of his people.
‘This Is Perfect For Me’
Perez admitted that Monahan is in a tough spot. Pleasing the players is difficult. He simply hoped that they’d have more of a voice, a point he made often. “They always say they work for us,’’ he said again. “But it always seems like the other way around.’’
The former deputy commissioner under Tim Finchem, Monahan first came to the PGA Tour in 2008. Since taking over in 2017, he’s faced several hurdles that never were in play for Finchem to any large degree.
Woods, for one, was in the midst of being away from the game for two years. At the time, nobody knew if he’d ever play golf again, let alone come back to win three times, including the 2019 Masters.
After negotiating a new television rights deal that was announced in March 2020 – setting up the PGA Tour through 2030 with significant streams of income – the coronavirus pandemic hit. The PGA Tour canceled or postponed tournaments for three months. Monahan gave up his salary and other executives took pay cuts; the Tour laid off more than 50 people as it lost millions in TV rights and sponsorship fees.
Then, after a successful return to competition, Woods was involved in a serious car accident that knocked him out of action last year and then came the LIV Golf threat, with the plan to launch its league this year.
That blew up in the wake of Mickelson’s comments about the Tour’s “obnoxious greed’’ and his negative views on Saudi Arabia. Rory McIlroy called it “dead in the water.’’
Perez, at the time, was highly critical of Mickelson and the idea.
“I think the way Tiger’s approaching it is phenomenal,’’ Perez said of Woods, who said he was not interested and backed the PGA Tour, a the Genesis Invitational. “I think he understands where he made all his money. I think these young kids, I think that’s great that they’re backing Tiger. Tiger’s our guy. Tiger and I are three months apart. I idolized him my whole life even though we’re the same age. What he says is pretty much gold.
“I would follow his lead more than anything. If he doesn’t want to do it, Rory doesn’t want to do it and if you don’t have the top kids doing it, I just don’t know how much water it’s going to hold anyway. I don’t know how long it’s going take. They’re not going to follow Phil, they’re not going to follow (Bryson) DeChambeau unfortunately. You need the young crew right now to go do this thing.’’
And yet, LIV Golf was undeterred. Less than a month later, it had regrouped and announced an eight-tournament schedule for this year that would not require players to compete in all of the events. It scheduled the first tournament outside of London and the first U.S.-based event at Pumpkin Ridge.
It was mocked for not having players, but eventually they came on board. Johnson, Mickelson and Garcia played in the first event. DeChambeau, Brooks Koepka and Reed joined them for their first event here, giving them 21 of the top 100 players in the world.
And Perez joined, too.
At its core, Perez suggested that he has a problem with no guaranteed compensation for golfers. He noted that the top player on the PGA Tour last year, Jon Rahm, made $7.7 million. “You’ve got guys in the NBA who don’t take off their sweats for that,’’ he said.
Perez figured he’s spent more than $3 million over the years just in expenses. “And I don’t fly on a private plane or any of that stuff,’’ he said.
He noted that each player for LIV events gets four airline tickets as well as four complimentary hotel rooms. (One of each is to take care of the caddies, who also have all expenses paid.) Transportation to and from the course is covered, as are meals in the hotel or at the course. There is a minimum of $120,000 per week in prize money plus his four-year deal means an undisclosed amount each year.
“Believe me, the Tour has been great for me,’’ Perez said. “But I earned my way onto it. I was on my own. They didn’t give me a damn thing. Yes, they gave me an opportunity, but I’ve done my job out here every year.
“And you’re on your own. You bring your family out you need three rooms, you need another car. More food. That stuff adds up.
“I’m more motivated now than ever. I’ve said 1,000 times I can’t beat those kids out there. I’m a realist. I’ve been playing pretty well and it still isn’t great. I finish 12th. Yeah, there’s no chance I can hang with those guys very often. So this is perfect for me.’’
Perez said he has no intention of resigning his PGA Tour membership. He sees LIV taking him to age 50, when he will be eligible for PGA Tour Champions. Even without playing PGA Tour golf, he figures he will still be high enough on the PGA Tour’s career money list to be exempt for the Champions Tour.
“I’m doing nothing to hurt that Tour,’’ he said. “I can’t see why I wouldn’t be able to play. If anything, I’m helping guys. But not playing, guys can pass me on that list. But there’s nothing that is hurting those guys out there now.’’
Perez again goes back to his original talking point, that the Tour could have done a better job of listening, of hearing all the concepts, of doing better by the players.
“Why didn’t we at least get the option?’’ he said. “Maybe the majority of the players so no to something like this. Fine. But at least bring it to us. And I think that’s why you’ve seen guys jumping ship. For me, it was a no-brainer.’’