Rory McIlroy revealed on Wednesday that he learned of the PGA Tour merger with Saudi-funded LIV Golf in a 6:30 a.m. phone call the day before.
It wasn’t McIlroy, or a player like Tiger Woods, or even PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan. Jimmy Dunne was the man on the other end of line.
Dunne is a 66-year-old Wall Street veteran who may be better known to sports fans than Wall Street. He is a vice chairman and senior principal at Piper Sandler, a reputable investment banking firm. In the world of golf he is a quiet giant.
Dunne, a member at Augusta National, is also the president of Seminole Golf Club. He has played with Phil Mickelson, Jordan Spieth and retired NFL quarterback Tom Brady. Golf Digest dubbed the “ultimate” power broker in a headline published last year after he joined the PGA Tour policy board.
McIlroy recalled their conversation at 6:30 a.m. “Jimmy described the PGA Tour-PIF agreement as, ‘Rory sometimes you have 280 yards over water and you just have to go for it.'” “And that’s exactly what they did.”
PIF and PGA Tour: Brokering the deal
Monahan, who has been the face of the scandal that erupted in golf on Tuesday, is the person most responsible for the questions and criticisms. The deal centers around the massive financial investment made by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund. He noted that in a press conference on Tuesday, it was Dunne and PGA Tour Board Chairman Ed Herlihy as well as PIF Governor Yasir al-Rumayyan who were the initial points of contact.
Monahan explained that, “Because I was in a position to be able to depend on these two gentlemen for the first conversation,” he said. When they said that it was a good conversation and I should meet again, that’s probably when things began to move forward.
Dunne and Herlihy did not immediately respond to separate interview requests sent Wednesday morning to their corporate emails by a PGA Tour representative.
Dunne’s role as a broker in the deal wasn’t entirely surprising given his significant influence in golf circles.
It was shocking, given his past and his comments on LIV Golf.
Personal tragedy on September 11, 2001
Dunne, a native of Long Island and a graduate of Notre Dame, got his start on Wall Street working at Bear Stearns. He then left to co-found Sandler O’Neill & Partners investment banking firm in 1988. The firm then moved to the 104th level of the World Trade Center’s south tower, where 83 employees reported for work on September 11, 2001.
Dunne was among the group, but he traveled to Bedford, New York, that day, in order to qualify for U.S. Mid-Amateur Championship. In the attack on South Tower, 66 of his colleagues, including Christopher Quackenbush his lifelong friend, were killed. The game of golf may have literally saved his life.
Media outlets repeatedly highlighted Dunne’s firm and its resolve to rebuild in the immediate aftermath. In 2002, Dunne told Newsday that “(Osama Bin Laden) set out to murder me and my co-workers.” What would he have us do? Would he want us to start a new company or quit and run?
Since then, Dunne’s golf balls have been marked with the letter “Q”, in honor of Quackenbush. They met as teenagers, both working at a Long Island Golf Course, where they worked as caddies.
He has also recently alluded to the 9/11 experience he had as a personal factor that influenced his opinion of LIV Golf, and its Saudi supporters.
Dunne said to Sports Illustrated in 2013 that he was not the best judge when it came to Saudi involvement.
In addition to bin Laden, 15 of the 19 hijackers who participated in the terrorist attacks on September 11 were Saudi citizens. Saudi Arabia is accused of a wide range of human rights violations, including its involvement in the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
The PIF is the Saudi government’s financial arm, and overseen by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. It has invested in Formula One racing, international soccer and other sports.
Dunne stated in a second interview with The Fire Pit Collective, a golf media outlet, that Dunne’s son was angry at him. “He will say that you have never said anything negative about Saudi Arabia, despite all the things you’ve been through. But, the truth is, I wouldn’t want to work there.”
“I’ve enjoyed making money,” Dunne added. “I’ve also enjoyed feeling good about my work.”
Dunne was appointed to the PGA Tour board in less than a calendar year, after Victor Ganzi retired. Dunne has described his appointment in open terms as a “wartime deal” in reference to last year’s conflict between the PGA Tour, LIV and the federal courtroom. The two sides have agreed to end the litigation following the Tuesday deal.
Dunne, in an article for Sports Illustrated 2022, said: “I don’t like when they say that they’re growing the game.” “That’s crap. “That’s crap.” I don’t like when people say they have to do the best thing for their family. I wonder how many were so miserable that it was necessary to make them do that.
Dunne has had a career that is “too successful to count” in terms of leadership.
Herlihy stated in a press release that “everyone knows Jimmy’s passion for the PGA Tour, and golf as a game,” It’s not just his track record, but his position as one of the most successful investment bankers in his generation. This makes his impact as a member on the PGA Tour Policy Board difficult to overstate.
Although Dunne is a banker and Herlihy a partner in the highly-regarded law firm Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz, both men have a wealth experience in one area: mergers and acquisitions.
Their relationship dates back over a decade. In a 2013 New York Times article, they were seen driving together back to New York City after playing golf in the Hamptons. Dunne’s Sandler O’Neill merged in 2019 with another group for $485 million. Herlihy’s company was chosen to represent the deal.
Dunne and Herlihy never could have imagined the impact they would have on the future of the professional sport of golf. Now, they are at the heart of this transformation.
Look no further than the news release from Tuesday. The PGA Tour and European Tour have already announced that two directors will be joining the new board: Dunne and Herlihy.
Contact Tom Schad by email at [email protected], or via Twitter @Tom_Schad.