During Tuesday’s PGA Tour players’ meeting in Toronto, Tour pros called PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan a hypocrite and said it was time for new leadership. The latter remark drew a standing ovation.
This moment in time happened shortly after Monahan blindsided the players he works for by announcing an agreement brokered in secret to merge commercial interests in a newly formed business entity with the DP World Tour and Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, the sole financier of the rival LIV Golf.
The optics following that meeting, which Monahan himself described as “heated” and “intense,” are that he’s in a tumultuous and weakened position. The knee-jerk reaction is to think Monahan has lost trust with the players and is a dead man walking.
But that is a short-sighted view, according to one former Tour pro.
“Survive?” he wrote in a text. “They are going to give him a raise and throw him a parade.”
The parade may have to wait several years for the anger to die down and for players to have been rewarded handsomely for being good soldiers during golf’s civil war. But the larger point is that Monahan’s in the strongest position he’s ever been in, which is hard to fathom after the beating he’s taken in the court of public opinion the last few days until you factor in that he’s CEO in the proposed for-profit enterprise and his only competitor is now his partner. He’s leading a new global golf entity and has two of his board members – chairman Ed Herlihy and Jimmy Dunne – covering his flank.
“Can he survive it? He’s already come out on top. This is game, set, match,” said a former longtime PGA Tour executive, who knows the ins and outs of how the Tour operates. “Now we’re just dissecting the game: How was the Tour down two sets to one and all of a sudden they went 6-0, 6-0, we win. And, oh, by the way, the guy we just beat is going to be our new doubles partner.”
PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan speaks during a news conference ahead of the 2022 Tour Championship at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo: Cliff Hawkins/Getty Images)
In this brave new world, Monahan and board members Herlihy and Dunne are at the top of the mountain. According to the press release announcing the deal, the Tour will hold the majority of the board seats. This was a power play, a turf grab and Monahan protected his job all under the flag of ‘this is the best for the game.’
It took the two board members, Monahan’s consiglieres, to convince him to take a meeting with His Excellency Yasir Al-Rumayyan, the governor of Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, who, sticking with the mafia theme, made Monahan an offer he couldn’t refuse. He finally realized that there’s no bottom to the Saudi pockets and that LIV wasn’t going away and would continue to poach players. So he sold his soul and took the money.
Then it became a matter of determining how he was going to justify his about-face and explain his utter lack of transparency to his membership. He could argue that the litigation was a drain on resources and that dropping it would avoid having its dirty laundry aired in discovery, which could be problematic. Monahan won’t publicly address some of the challenges the Tour was facing but sources say that there was pushback from sponsors asked to pony up more money for the designated events, which the Tour was funding this year through its reserves, and the TV networks were asking for modifications to their long-term agreements due to the loss of big names.
The Tour’s rainy day fund may not have been equipped to outlast the storm. Remove the source of the money and the deal makes a lot of the Tour’s problems go away, not to mention the financial woes of the DP World Tour. Taking the moral high road in the fight against LIV, all the anti-Saudi rhetoric turned out to be just another strategy to securing a better price. Monahan knew he’d be painted as a hypocrite and he made the deal anyway.
“Jay took the arrows, took the hit, he got lambasted and was burned in effigy, but is he going to lose his job? No,” said the former Tour executive.
But at least one agent to a multiple major winner was making phone calls on his players’ behalf to determine how Monahan could be ousted from office so that the unhappy pros could hit the pause button on the memo of understanding with the Saudis.
“It was an autocratic decision. This is supposed to be a member’s organization, right?” the agent said.
PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan converses with Dustin Johnson on the seventh tee during a pro-am prior to the RBC Heritage at Harbor Town Golf Links on April 13, 2022, in Hilton Head Island, South Carolina. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
But here’s the reality: the players have little to no recourse. They could have a majority vote to remove Monahan and it would only confirm how support for his leadership has dwindled. Monahan can only be ousted from above and that’s the board and two of the independent directors on the board are also on the board of the new entity.
There’s nothing in the Player Handbook labeled “how to replace the Commissioner.” But to organize a special meeting a player has to have a written request from two or more of the player directors of the Tour’s policy board or file a petition signed by no less than 25 percent of the voting members of the PGA Tour with the Commissioner. Within 30 days of receipt of the request of that petition, the Commissioner shall schedule and give notice to such a meeting. In short, to have a policy meeting requires a lot of leg work.
Monahan may have lost the faith of many of the players but there is no unified voice – they are divided over PIP, over designated events, etc. As one former Tour pro put it, “the majority of players just care if their direct deposit works on Tuesday.”
Unless the Tour’s policy board were to block the deal, which seems highly unlikely, Monahan’s job isn’t just secure, he’s more entrenched than ever before. No one has any leverage to unwind the agreement he’s made. The players don’t have a voice. They’d have to unionize against their own association. There is, however, one way Monahan’s power play could unravel: if the U.S. Department of Justice determines the proposed merger violates anti-trust rules. A DOJ probe is ongoing, but Herlihy, the Tour’s chairman and a lawyer by trade, co-heads one of the top law firms and his specialty is mergers and acquisitions. He’ll know how to lead the Tour through any murky waters.
“The corner office is set,” the former Tour executive said. Monahan’s legacy may look in tatters today, but in time his preemptive strike to end the hostility in golf and pump billions of dollars into the sport may have the same pros calling for his head to throw him a parade down PGA Tour Boulevard.
All it took was selling the PGA Tour’s soul less than one year after Monahan said it wasn’t for sale.