Get to know North Palm Beach's Jimmy Dunne, the man behind the PGA Tour-LIV Golf merger
By Tom D'Angelo, Palm Beach Post,2023-06-09
Jimmy Dunne, the man PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan credits for sealing the deal that led to the tour and LIV Golf uniting, is a power broker in the financial world with deep personal connections to 9/11.
The North Palm Beach resident and president of Seminole Golf Club, who joined the PGA Tour's policy board last year, has advised in some of the financial industry’s largest mergers.
But nothing was like the talks with Yasir Al-Rumayyan, governor of Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund, which owns more than 90% of LIV Golf, over the past seven weeks.
"The difference is confidentiality and speed are the two most critical things in getting a great deal done," Dunne told The Palm Beach Post. "We were able to act with incredible speed and complete confidentiality, which is highly unusual.
"However, that confidentiality led to misunderstandings, misperceptions and a lack of understanding of where the PGA Tour was and what this offer would enable them to get to."
The PGA Tour, according to Dunne, had two options when it came to the tour being funded by the kingdom's sovereign wealth fund: "Continue to battle legally and … indefinitely against a very deep-pocketed competitor, or we could meet with the principal and find out that a lot of the things we want to do were extremely similar."
Those things: "End the litigation, end the burdens and legal expense, create a pathway for their players to come back to the tour under the standards that our players set, and then start a new vehicle where, as commercial opportunities rise the tour would have the wherewithal to underwrite them in a vehicle they would control."
Although it was Monahan who sat with Al-Rumayyan in a CNBC studio Tuesday to announce this landmark deal that will include the PIF investing a reported $2 billion into the yet-to-be-named joint venture, the commissioner singled out Dunne as the key figure in the talks.
"What (changed) was a very productive conversation that … Jimmy Dunne had with Yasir and members of PIF," Monahan said on a conference call Tuesday.
That conversation allowed the two sides "to have a discussion about how we work together to grow the game, how we work together to grow the PGA Tour, and to really get an understanding and start building some trust as we pursued that," Monahan said.
Golf saved his life on 9/11
So who is Jimmy Dunne, besides the man who, since 2012, has been the president of one of the most exclusive golf clubs in the world that sits along the Atlantic Ocean in Juno Beach?
Here is what Bob Ford, the former head PGA professional at Seminole Golf Club, said:
"He's one of the great Americans in our country. All the incredible things he did with 9/11 and with the families. He's an incredible leader.
"Jimmy is all business. And it's for the good of the game. Nobody loves the game more than Jimmy Dunne and I know he'll do the right thing for the game and certainly, he'll make everybody whole. Guys are going to be very pleased when all this shakes out."
Dunne, 65, became part of Monahan's trusted inner circle after joining the board. He was one of two advisers to Monahan — along with attorney Ed Herlihy, chairman of the PGA Tour policy board — during the seven weeks of talks with Al-Rumayyan.
Dunne is vice chairman and senior managing principal of Piper Sandler, an investment bank and financial services company heavily involved in mergers and acquisitions. He is based in West Palm Beach. He began his career on Wall Street, working at Bear Stearns, and was a co-founder of Sandler O'Neill & Partners, which was acquired by Piper Sandler in 2020.
Under Dunne's leadership, Sandler O’Neill grew to become the largest independent full-service investment banking firm focused on the financial services sector.
Piper Sandler's offices were on the 104th floor of the south tower of the World Trade Center. Dunne, though, was on the golf course on Sept. 11, 2001, trying to qualify for the U.S. Mid-Amateur. That decision, he once said, saved his life.
That connection to 9/11 — 66 people from Dunne's firm died in the attack — is one of those misperceptions, likely as is his decision in January to not invite LIV golfers to Seminole for the Pro-Member tournament.
"I am quite certain, and I have had conversations with a lot of very knowledgeable people, that the people I'm dealing with had nothing to do with it," Dunne told the Golf Channel.
"If someone can find someone who unequivocally was involved with (9/11), I'll kill them myself."
Ford, 69, who retired as the head professional at Seminole and Oakmont Country Club in 2021 and spends most of his time in Jupiter, admires Dunne for all he's done for those 9/11 families. He said this deal was all about golf.
Job was to keep golfers from joining LIV
Ford knew something was in the works about a month ago when he received a call from a friend who said Dunne and Herlihy were meeting with Al-Rumayyan at Beaverbrook Golf Club in London.
"Very innocently this young man said, 'I met Jimmy Dunne and Ed Herlihy today,' " Ford said. "I said, 'Really? Who are they with?' He said 'Yasir.'
"I'm like, oh boy. If anybody was going to make a deal it's Ed Herlihy and Jimmy Dunne. I still was still surprised but not entirely. I knew something was up."
Dunne holds a bachelor’s degree in economics from Notre Dame and is a member of the school's board of trustees. He served as Notre Dame's commencement speaker in 2021 and received an honorary doctorate.
Dunne is skilled at mergers and acquisitions transactions, something he has been doing for three decades. Among those he has advised are TD Ameritrade in its merger with Charles Schwab, and FCB Financial Holdings in its merger with Synovus Financial Corp.
His expertise and influence extend into the golf world. He's a member at Augusta National, Pine Valley and Shinnecock Hills along with other exclusive clubs. The Pro-Member tournament held each year at Seminole on the Monday after the Honda Classic is one of the most prestigious in the country. He counts Tom Brady, who joined Seminole three years ago, among his close friends.
When Dunne joined the tour's Policy Board as an independent director, one of his jobs was to prevent more tour members from defecting to LIV Golf.
It was Dunne who first informed Rory McIlroy of the deal with the PIF in a phone call early Tuesday. McIlroy, one of five player-directors on the PGA Tour board, is aligned with Monahan more than any other player. He has been the tour's most outspoken critic against LIV Golf.
Dunne was aligned with McIlroy in that criticism, telling Sports Illustrated last June:
"I don't like it when they say they're growing the game. That's crap. I don't even like it when they say 'I have to do what's best for my family.' I really wonder how many of those guys … the lifestyle that they were living was so horrible that their family needed them to do this.
"Just say, 'I'm at a point in my career where I (want to) make five times as much money against much weaker competition and play less.' Just tell the truth. Don't cover it with a lot of crap."
So much has changed.
This article originally appeared on Palm Beach Post: Get to know North Palm Beach's Jimmy Dunne, the man behind the PGA Tour-LIV Golf merger