PGA Tour board member Randall Stephenson quits over deal with LIV Golf

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Former AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson has resigned from his post on the influential policy board of the PGA Tour in protest to the proposed merger with Saudi-backed LIV Golf.

Stephenson’s resignation, first reported by the Washington Post on Sunday evening, was confirmed by the PGA Tour early Monday.

In his resignation letter, Stephenson wrote that he had “serious concerns” with the PGA Tour’s deal with LIV Golf, saying it “is not one that I can objectively evaluate or in good conscience support, particularly in light of the US intelligence report concerning Jamal Khashoggi in 2018,” a source familiar with the letter confirmed to CNN.

A 2021 US intelligence report said Washington Post journalist Khashoggi, a Saudi citizen, US resident and critic of the Saudi regime, was murdered at the direction of Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Stephenson’s letter also objected that the deal with LIV Golf, negotiated in secret by PGA Tour executives, “came to fruition without board oversight.”

The PGA Tour policy board acts as a governing board for the golf association. It includes five golfers, including Rory McIlroy and Patrick Cantlay — plus five non-paid independent directors and a nonvoting representative from the PGA of America. McIlroy has also been vocal in his opposition to the LIV merger.

Stephenson is hardly the only one objecting to the proposed deal.

Beyond objections from several golfers, elected officials and media outlets have also cited the longstanding concerns about Saudi Arabia’s human rights record. Those concerns include free speech restrictions, torture, political prisoners and enforced disappearances, according to the US State Department.

To critics of the Saudi government, LIV Golf and its effort to merge with the PGA Tour represents a big-dollar attempt at “sportswashing,” as it tries to improve is badly tarnished reputation.

Stephenson’s resignation comes just days before the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations — part of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs committee — is set to hold a hearing on the proposed deal on Tuesday at 10 am ET .

Witnesses include PGA Tour Chief Operating Officer Ron Price and Jimmy Dunne, a company board member who helped broker the deal. They are expected to field tough critiques and questions from committee members.

Other critics include some families of victims of the September 11 terrorist attacks, who have been protesting outside of LIV Golf tournaments and complained about the deal on the day it was announced. Of the 19 al Qaeda terrorists who hijacked four planes, 15 were Saudi nationals.

The Saudi government has denied any involvement in the attacks, and the 9/11 Commission established by Congress said in 2004 that it had found “no evidence that the Saudi government as an institution or senior Saudi officials individually funded” al Qaeda.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified the citizenship of Jamal Khashoggi. He was a resident of the United States but held Saudi citizenship.


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