As the PGA Tour-PIF Merger Draws Near, Is It Time For Jay Monahan to Relinquish His Throne?
The clock’s ticking for Jay Monahan. Actually, it was since the morning of June 6, when a Twitter blitzkrieg about a shocking merger announcement disrupted Justin Thomas’s practice round. And when Mackenzie Hughes, like most other PGA Tour pros, found out on Twitter that they were “merging with a tour that we said we’d never do that with.”
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Sitting beside his soon-to-be ally, Yasir Al-Rumayyan, Jay Monahan, the PGA Tour commissioner, announced an armistice with LIV Golf, the upstart league they fought tooth and nail for a year. Seven months later, it’s more of a morbid curiosity that drives golf fans to check on the merger update.
The damage has been done. The golf world is fractured, and Monahan has a dent in his public image the size of Ponte Vedra. At first, there were whispers about his competency. Eventually, the hushed voices in close quarters gave way to clarion calls at press conferences. So, regardless of what December 31 holds for the future of golf, is it about time Jay Monahan quietly stepped down and let someone else take charge?
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‘Merger’ announcement: blunders and faux pas galore
If the first misstep was outrightly banning the star players, the second was aligning with LIV Golf without any heads-up to the Tour pros. On Monahan’s part, his biggest misadventure was appearing on the CNBC morning show and letting the media dub the framework agreement as a merger.
Not to dip our toes in the murky sea of semantics, but a ‘framework agreement’ with some clear-cut pointers would have provided a different image than the damning picture two-syllable ‘merger’ evokes. Especially when the entity you are dealing with boasts a $775 billion treasury, merger often denotes subsuming.
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Not only did it fail to capture the nuances of the June 6 announcement, it completely missed the point that the PGA Tour had the upper hand. The crucial details came out only after the Senate hearing.
🚨 Jay Monahan on the PGA – PIF Framework Agreement:
“We have put an end to the divisive and distracting litigation. We have safeguards in place to control the future. I am confident we will reach an agreement that will have a positive impact for the PGA Tour and our fans. I’m…
— NUCLR GOLF (@NUCLRGOLF) August 22, 2023
Let’s also not forget that the PGA Tour, by that time, had incurred over $20 million in arm wrestling with PIF in courtrooms. Add to that the $480,000 that the Tour purportedly spent lobbying against the rival league. But as the man spearheading a deal like this, Monahan was expected to have more command over the narrative.
PGA Tour Inc.’s legal expenses jumped more than 10 times from 2021 to 2022—from $2 million to $20.7 million
The legal costs were a large part of what drew the PGA Tour to agree to the three-way merger. https://t.co/DdYqsPvbrO.
— Sportico (@Sportico) December 13, 2023
However, the rollout of the framework agreement couldn’t have been worse. Only a handful of players had any prior knowledge. ‘Prior’ here covers only hours, not days or months. Inevitably, Jay Monahan’s image as a bankable boss was shattered.
Jay Monahan lost control of the helm
The criticism was so great that Jay Monahan had to take a month-long sabbatical. Moreover, Randal Stephenson, a board member for 12 years, resigned, citing “serious concerns” about the merger.
Not long after, PGA Tour players came out to voice their disappointment, anger, and frustration at the decision. Players who stood by Jay Monahan’s side lost their faith. Xander Schauffele frankly admitted, “I don’t trust people easily. He had my trust, and he has a lot less of it now. So I don’t stand alone when I say that.”
Very curious how many people knew this deal was happening. About 5-7 people? Player run organization right? 🤷🏻♂️
— Michael S. Kim (@Mike_kim714) June 6, 2023
Monahan, though, was expecting this. The 53-year-old CEO admitted he might be called a hypocrite, and Geoff Ogilvy said a PGAT pro actually called him that during a heated post-merger meeting. Even Rory McIlroy, probably the biggest supporter of Jay Monahan, blasted the move, saying the alliance legitimized dealing with Saudis for Tour pros. The current World No. 2 resigned from the Tour Policy Board last month.
🚨👀 #RESIGNED — Rory McIlroy has resigned from the PGA TOUR policy board. Here is the email Commissioner Monahan sent out tonight:
I wanted to inform you that Rory Mcllroy has resigned from the PGA TOUR Policy Board. Rory's resignation letter, which he sent to… pic.twitter.com/uotDyI8FFo
— NUCLR GOLF (@NUCLRGOLF) November 15, 2023
It’s been seven months since then. But the bridges are still burning. Consider Viktor Hovland’s comments as recent as last week. Slamming the top brass, the tour’s most prized youngster said, “The management has not done a good job. They almost see the players as labor, and not as part of the members. There is a great deal of arrogance behind it all.” However, the perception was not like that a few years ago.
Jay Monahan made a rookie mistake
The PGAT commissioner showed early signs of business acumen when the specter of LIV Golf started becoming a tangible threat. Jay Monahan shared a common cause with Keith Pelley, the DP World Tour CEO.
Even before that, Monahan enjoyed a good rapport with players. After Timothy W. Finchem, Monahan was perceived as a more player-friendly CEO who was willing to stand up for them. In fact, that’s how the PGA Tour commissioner steered the ship to a sunny course through the COVID-19 storm. Naturally, Monahan thought he had earned the trust of players, and in turn, he could trust their words.
Do you agree? pic.twitter.com/44eqwsnp4b
— NUCLR GOLF (@NUCLRGOLF) November 29, 2023
But words have only so much value when the dollar bill is what moves the needle. In his defense, the PGAT commissioner committed the cardinal sin of aligning business interests with personal relationships. In the modern world, where “money talks,” as Rory McIlroy tweeted a few days ago, Monahan solely banked on the words of all too mortal humans, some of whom had vested interests, and the rest were just prone to the lure of scintillating metals.
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“Somebody will sell out and go to it,” said a five-time Major winner before deciding that the LIV money would help him to be back at his top game. The strategy has worked stupefyingly well for Brooks Koepka, who became the first LIV Golf pro to nab a major win this year. However, Jay Monahan, who was present at his wedding two weeks before the monumental decision, might feel like he shot himself in the foot by taking words at face value.
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