Jay Monahan regrets rollout of PIF agreement, ‘confident’ moving forward
MEMPHIS, Tenn. – In the world of professional golf, June 6 is whispered about in hushed tones as the day everything changed.
At 10 a.m. (ET) on June 6, the PGA Tour announced its landmark framework agreement with the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia following months of legal vitriol and public hyperbole between the two sides. According to multiple accounts, the circuit’s senior staff was informed about the deal at 9:30 a.m. and most players learned of the deal only after it was made public.
There’s no shortage of mulligans the Tour would gladly take to revisit the agreement’s clunky rollout – a list that likely goes back to the earliest vestiges of what would become LIV Golf – but if the circuit’s commissioner, Jay Monahan, had one do-over it would be the rushed and secretive nature of the announcement.
“My biggest regret was not being more patient on the night of June 5th,” Monahan said Wednesday at the FedEx St. Jude Championship in his first meeting with the media since the June 6 announcement. “I think moving to make this announcement the next day, if I could do it over again, we don’t get do-overs in this sport, I would have flown up to [the RBC Canadian Open] and would have communicated directly to the players that day before anything was said publicly. But it wouldn’t change my belief and my determination for what we had accomplished.”
In an imperfect world, these types of announcements rarely go to plan and in Monahan’s defense, the secrecy that surrounded the framework agreement was unavoidable because of the contentious litigation between the Tour and PIF and the inevitable blowback the deal created.
Prior to June’s announcement, Monahan and the Tour had publicly and privately been hammering PIF, LIV Golf and the players who joined the breakaway circuit for the better part of a year. During an interview with CBS Sports last summer at the Canadian Open, the commissioner famously said, “I would ask any player that has left or any player that would ever consider leaving – have you ever had to apologize for being a member of the PGA Tour?”
But it wasn’t that hypocrisy or the hard stance the Tour took in its battle with the PIF and LIV Golf that, with the benefit of hindsight, the commissioner regretted. Instead, it’s the loss of trust with the players that Monahan has wrestled with since June 6.
“For those that I lost [trust] with, I’m determined to regain it. I see a clear path to doing that, as difficult as that may seem right now for some,” said Monahan, who returned to work on July 17 after taking a leave because of a “medical situation” in June. “I care deeply about our players. I care deeply about this Tour. I care deeply about our model.”
Perhaps a more robust rollout with better messaging would have softened the blow to both players, many of whom had taken a similarly hard line against the PIF and LIV Golf, and the public, but no amount of planning would have changed the narrative or softened the criticism.
Monahan knew this on June 6.
A week after Monahan, alongside PIF governor Yasir Al-Rumayyan, unveiled the deal on CNBC, the Tour announced he would be taking a leave for unspecified medical issues. On Wednesday at TPC Southwind, the commissioner offered a glimpse into that “medical situation” and how the agreement played a role in his mental and physical health.
“It builds over time, it affects everybody differently, and it had been affecting me,” he said. “It was particularly acute that day [June 6], but again, I realized the position I was in and said this is the right time to go take care of myself.”
Without going into detail, Monahan explained a process that was driven by his medical team and his family, not his desire to lead or shore up support for a potential “definitive” agreement that would create a new, for-profit entity between the Tour, PIF and the DP World Tour. A benevolent monocrat whose most admired strengths have always been consensus building and his ability to see beyond the crisis du jour was sidelined during the Tour’s most vulnerable moment.
For a Type-A personality like Monahan, watching Rome burn from the outside with no ability to intervene was so much worse than being in the middle of the mayhem, and he admitted on Wednesday that the uncertainty of his own future loomed large.
“I knew that we have a great team in place, and I knew that I had – ultimately, you can’t wait when you’re in a situation like that, and I needed to deal with it, and I needed to deal with it for my family, as I said, for myself, and ultimately to be as strong as I can possibly be for the players,” Monahan said. “That was a very hard thing for me.”
Since returning to work last month, Monahan’s primary goal has been rebuilding the trust he lost with Tour players on June 6 and based on the attendance at Tuesday’s meeting in Memphis, about 25 players from the 70-man field joined the commissioner in the Oaks Room, it’s clear he still has plenty of work to do.
Jon Rahm and Brian Harman both supported the commissioner this week when asked if he should “keep his job,” and Monahan paused when asked a similar question on Wednesday.
“I’ve acknowledged it was an ineffective rollout [of the “framework” agreement], and that’s on me. My performance has always been and will continue to be measured based on results and the productivity of the organization, results delivered and done in the right way,” he said. “I am confident that when we complete this process, as I’ve said before, this will be a rewarding result for PGA Tour players and for our fans.”
Being second-guessed is baked into the commissioner’s gig and there will be plenty of time to revisit how the PIF/LIV Golf challenge was handled from the very beginning, but consider Monahan’s plight since he took the job in 2017.
In March of 2020 the COVID-19 pandemic brought the world to an unprecedented standstill, but Monahan and the Tour forged ahead long before the other leagues attempted to resume play. Less than two years later the “irrational threat” of PIF/LIV Golf landed on the commissioner’s doorstep.
It’s also worth pointing out that during Monahan’s tenure, Tiger Woods, the engine that made the entire machine work for more than two decades, essentially stopped playing. The game’s most important player has teed it up in just 12 official Tour events since the pandemic. Monahan isn’t one to make excuses, but it’s impossible to tell his story without recognizing the historically difficult hand he was dealt.
Perhaps Monahan and the Tour could have handled June 6 better. Maybe he could have softened the blow with players and created a more refined message for the public, but none of that would have changed the impossible situation created by an irrational threat.