Keith Pelley, the outgoing DP World Tour chief executive, has given the clearest indication yet that a deal with the Saudi Public Investment Fund could be reached soon by revealing that he asked to stay on for an extra three months to help the negotiations get over the line.
Telegraph Sport exclusively reported last month that the European circuit, alongside the PGA Tour, had agreed to extend the talks until April and Pelley’s rich positivity explains why this date might prove to be important.
“I’m here for the next three months and by then we hope to come to a conclusion and I’ve told the PGA Tour and representatives from PIF that is my primary focus” said Pelley, who announced on Thursday that he would be moving back to his hometown of Toronto to take control of four of the city’s sports franchises.
“I truly believe it [that a deal can be reached]. I’ve believed it for a long time and that is the reason that we entered into the framework agreement [last June] – and we need to move forward.”
Pelley has remained upbeat even when the chances of a deal seemed unlikely to the point of impossible. “I said things would heat up after the Ryder Cup, and they have,” Pelley said. “So yeah, I’m optimistic over the next couple of months. And that’s the primary reason I’m not leaving straight away.
“I had a conversation with the [DP World Tour] chairman and the nomination committee to stay on to try to bring the ‘framework agreement’ to a conclusion is a priority. I think unifying the game is something we all want.”
Pelley’s stated confidence will change the narrative of the saga. Just six weeks ago, LIV Golf – the breakaway league bankrolled by PIF – gave a timely and emphatic reminder of the Kingdom’s financial might by signing world No 3 Jon Rahm to a contract believed to be approximately £450 million.
This stunning development was widely seen as a shot across the Tour’s bows. Having previously agreed not to poach any more big names, Yasir Al-Rumayyan, the PIF governor and chairman of LIV became frustrated with the progress and by the fact the Tour was talking to US private equity investors.
Furthermore the US senate declared it was keeping a close eye on any merger and then pros on the PGA Tour policy board – which as well as Tiger Woods, included Rory McIlroy before he quit in November – gained control of veto powers that could still scupper any deal.
The Rahm acquisition forced Jay Monahan, the beleaguered PGA Tour to commissioner, to act quickly and he named Fenway Sports, the owners of Liverpool FC, as the US investors with whom he wished to negotiate, a notable announcement considering that conglomerate’s links with the Saudis.
Monahan was then due to meet with Al-Rumayyan – who is also the chairman of Newcastle United – before Christmas but Telegraph Sport understands that while this was not possible, the pair did have a long conversation on the phone, their first since the ‘framework agreement’ in June.
That chat has apparently pushed on the negotiations substantially, hence Pelley’s desire to hang around before he departs for what he calls “my dream job”.
“To see a conclusion reached before I leave would be something that would be very gratifying,” Pelley said.
Pelley, 60, is bound by a non-disclosure agreement so cannot discuss the details of how a merger might look. Yet the feeling here in the locker room at the Dubai Invitational is that McIlroy’s statements earlier this week could be on the mark.
The world No 2 proposed a global tour, along F1 lines, taking in the national Opens in Asia, Australasia, Europe, Africa and, of course North America.
McIlroy also suggested that two months of the elite calendar being handed over to team golf – this time in the style of cricket’s Indian Premier League – and that players would be contracted as to where and when they appear.
Thomas Bjorn, the 2018 Ryder Cup captain, fully supports these proposals and urged the power-brokers to sit up and take notice.
“I am with Rory,” the Dane said. “The time is now and only now and I hope the guys who are making decisions are listening because this is an unbelievable opportunity for our sport. With the money that’s in the game at the moment, they can create something that’s best for the players, best for the fans, best for the media. They just have to be brave and do it right now.”
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