GREENSBORO, NORTH CAROLINA | Around lunch time Wednesday as the Wyndham Championship’s pro-am was underway, with each team getting a thunderous introduction from the overly caffeinated first-tee announcer, PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan stood nearby with Bobby Long, the man who years ago saved this event from extinction.
Two months since the earthshaking announcement of a potential alliance between the PGA Tour and Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund and just over two weeks since his return to work after stepping away from his duties for undisclosed medical reasons, Monahan was back in his familiar environment.
He shared a hug with the bearded Billy Horschel, and when a young fan asked for his autograph, Monahan signed his hat and encouraged the youngster to keep golf as a part of his life. Then, the commissioner headed toward Sedgefield Country Club’s Tudor clubhouse.
One day earlier, the tour had announced a fundamental change to how it operates, creating a sixth player seat on its Policy Board and putting Tiger Woods there. With that news came process adjustments, meant to assure that the secret meetings that led to the bombshell announcement could not happen in the future.
It is one more major step in a sport in the midst of a seismic shift virtually unseen two months ago, leading to the question of where things will stand two months from now.
Wherever they land – whether it be an acceptable alliance with the PIF, which funds LIV Golf, or with each group moving ahead independently – the PGA Tour’s reimagining is ongoing.
When Monahan received a letter signed by 41 mostly high-profile players last Monday detailing the moves – adding Woods to give players a 6-5 voting advantage on the board, assuring no major decisions can be made in the future without direct input from the player directors, and other assurances regarding transparency – it wasn’t an either/or proposition.
“This is a players organization, and off the back of some of the events this year and maybe in years past, it had felt like maybe that voice wasn't heard enough,” said Adam Scott, a member of the tour’s Player Advisory Council. “I think the players have generally tried to get a bit organized recently and act responsible as members of this tour and get that balance right going forward. I certainly don't think the players want to be running the tour; that's for sure. We need a lot of help with that. But I think getting that balance right so that the membership is heard accurately is kind of what this is.”
What the players don’t want to happen is what occurred when Policy Board members Jimmy Dunne and Ed Herlihy, along with Monahan, brokered a framework agreement with PIF governor Yasir Al-Rumayyan, and no one but those directly involved were aware of it.
Monahan, Dunne and Herlihy didn’t violate any rules regarding tour governance, but after more than a year of blowtorching LIV Golf and all it represents, the about-face was almost inconceivable, blindsiding virtually everyone.
Monahan now finds himself working to regain the trust of his constituency, and there are questions about whether he ultimately can survive this chapter. One Policy Board member said the players generally support Monahan and want him to remain, but how the current negotiations play out ultimately might decide his fate.
In other words, if the potential alliance strengthens the PGA Tour (meaning more money for the players), the players will move past what happened. One misstep, the board member said, should not cancel out all the good work Monahan has done on the tour’s behalf.
If the agreement falls apart, there are major questions because the tour essentially admitted in a Senate hearing last month that it can’t sustain the financial battle against LIV’s billions of backing dollars.
Adding Woods’ voice and physical presence in board meetings will be significant. He has grown into his role as statesman, and he wears it well. Woods can be persuasive, and should be.
It was likely Woods’ insistence that the tournament he hosts – the Genesis Invitational – keeps a 36-hole cut despite having a limited field as a signature event in 2024. According to reports, that will be the case along with the Players Championship, the Arnold Palmer Invitational and the Memorial Tournament next year.
It all changed with LIV’s arrival last year, and now it’s in the midst of more turbulence. Should the players have insisted on these changes before now? Yes, but hindsight makes that an easy answer.
Woods has been a strong defender of the PGA Tour and, in the announcement of his appointment, said of Monahan, “He has my confidence moving forward with these changes.”
That statement was in the release for a reason.
Through the years, tour players have taken matters into their own hands. It’s how Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus instigated the tour’s separation from the PGA of America in 1968. In the 1990s, Mark Brooks, Danny Edwards and others pushed the idea of a players’ union (it was called the Tour Players Association), seeking more transparency and accountability from the tour. It didn’t happen, but their point was made.
For years, it felt as if the PGA Tour could almost autopilot its way into the future. Concerns about the tour’s popularity after Woods and Phil Mickelson passed their prime evaporated. From Rory McIlroy, Dustin Johnson and Brooks Koepka to Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas and Jon Rahm, the stars came out and the tour kept moving forward.
How the negotiations between the two sides are going remain a mystery. Have they stalled? Are they still on track? That information remains hard to come by.
The addition of Colin Neville as the players’ special adviser in these negotiations should help the process. Neville, a partner in The Raine Group investment bankers, is said to be a brilliant negotiator who understands the landscape of professional sports as well as the challenges facing these two distinct entities.
The FedEx Cup playoffs begin this week in Memphis, and it should be a celebratory time for the tour. The tour will announce its 2024 schedule this week, and a season will culminate at East Lake in Atlanta later this month.
There are more changes to come, and Monahan, looking fit and smiling in the summer sun last week, probably knows that better than anyone.
Top: At the end of the day, the question of whether the sun is setting on Monahan's tenure remains.
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