Jay Monahan's hour-long media address at The Players: Shared vision, Anthony Kim return, view on big departures

PGA Tour commissioner chats to media for an hour in build up to 50th anniversary of The Players

He said a lot without actually saying a lot. During an hour-long media conference ahead of this week’s 50th anniversary of The Players Championship, PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan covered a wide range of topics, including ongoing talks with Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, Anthony Kim’s much-publicised recent return to golf as a LIV player and the impending departures of Keith Pelley and Martin Slumbers from the DP World Tour and The R&A respectively. The consensus in the media centre at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach after it had come to end, though, was that it was a bit light in terms of meat on the bones.

In fairness, Monahan admitted that himself when the first of those topics was raised. “I recognise this is frustrating for all of you,” he said in response to a second question in quick succession about the PIF negotiations, which started after a bolt out of the blue last June and had initially been earmarked to produce something tangible on 31 December but are still ongoing, with many feeling the waters have been muddied in that respect by a separate $3 billion investment deal with Strategic Sports Group (SSG). “But it really is not in the best interest of the PGA Tour and our membership and for PIF for me to be talking about where we are with specific elements of our discussions.”

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But what about it in general terms, with LIV Golf having tempted the current Masters champion, Jon Rahm, to join the breakaway circuit by handing him a whopping $476 million since those talks started and continuing to be bullish after already luring the likes of Brooks Koepka, Dustin Johnson, Bryson DeChambeau, Cameron Smith and Phil Mickelson? “I recently met with the governor of the PIF, Yasir Al-Rumayyan, and our negotiations are accelerating as we spend time together,” revealed Monahan. “While we have several key issues that we still need to work through, we have a shared vision to quiet the noise and unlock golf's worldwide potential. It's going to take time, but I see a positive outcome for the PGA Tour and the sport as a whole.”

Jay Monahan, commissioner of the PGA Tour, speaks to the media prior to the 50th anniversary of The Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida. Picture: Richard Heathcote/Getty Images.Jay Monahan, commissioner of the PGA Tour, speaks to the media prior to the 50th anniversary of The Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida. Picture: Richard Heathcote/Getty Images.
Jay Monahan, commissioner of the PGA Tour, speaks to the media prior to the 50th anniversary of The Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida. Picture: Richard Heathcote/Getty Images.

This week’s milestone edition of the PGA Tour’s flagship circuit, won by Sandy Lyle in 1987 and Rory McIlroy being the only other British or Irish player to achieve that feat, is taking place without some of the game’s best-known players in the field due to players who switched to LIV having instantly been banned from the circuit where they made a name for themselves.

Asked about that, Monahan put forward a stout defence of the US circuit. “In terms of our strength, we are here at The Players and you've got 144 players competing in this championship, and they're the greatest players in the world, and this is the greatest tour in the world. If you're a junior golfer anywhere in the world, this is the place where you want to play,” he declared. “It's the highest expression of individual achievement in our game. There's been disruption in our sport, but that is a constant, and we do that week-in and week-out. Strength comes from a number of different factors. It comes from the strength of your membership and we consistently as an organisation regenerate talent and create stars.”

Only time will tell if a deal is indeed struck with LIV and Monahan said he wasn’t prepared to comment on how the landscape would look going forward if the talks collapsed, but he was adamant about two things. The first was about his leadership, having been heavily criticised by some of the circuit’s leading players – 2021 Genesis Scottish Open champion Zander Schauffele reckons he’s “still got a long way to go” to win back their trust – over initially keeping them in the dark about the possibility of trying to work together with LIV Golf. “I am the right person to lead us forward. I know that. I believe that in my heart,” he said on that.

The other was about how he believed this was an opportunity that could be huge for golf in a global sense, something that has been mentioned more than once by the aforementioned Pelley in the past few months and Rory McIlroy, too. “This is a transformational time for the sport we all love, and we're excited to take the lead,” he added. “I believe that negotiating a deal with PIF is the best outcome. Obviously it has to be the right deal for both sides. With the game booming, becoming cooler, becoming more mainstream, it's truly global. There are a finite number of athletes and this is a point in time, a unique point in time where unification ultimately puts the sport in the best possible position to take advantage of this growth on a go-forward basis.”

Anthony Kim is back playing - but on the LIV circuit.Anthony Kim is back playing - but on the LIV circuit.
Anthony Kim is back playing - but on the LIV circuit.

While it remains to be seen if he still has the potential to play a part in growing the game, Kim’s recent return to competitive golf after a 12-year absence certainly attracted a few eyeballs. It had been claimed that he’d considered that comeback being on the PGA Tour and Monahan was asked if he’d talked to him before the US talisman in a 2008 Ryder Cup win at Valhalla was unveiled by LIV CEO and commissioner Greg Norman. “I did not have direct conversations with Anthony,” he said “Members of our team did and they very clearly laid out what it would take for him to earn his way back to the PGA Tour. I'm glad that Anthony is healthy and well. I would have liked to see him compete and make his way back to the Tour, but he’s obviously made a different decision.”

As for Pelley, who is leaving his role as the DP World Tour’s chief executive next month to come president and CEO of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, whose holdings include the Toronto Maple Leafs (NHL) and Toronto Raptors (NBA), and Slumbers, who is stepping down from his position with The R&A after nine years, Monahan offered warm praise for both of them. “Keith is a peer, he's a partner, he's a friend, and I think it should come as a surprise to nobody that he's joined the Toronto Maple Leafs given the fact that he's been wearing those blue glasses for the last nine years,” he quipped of Pelley, who is being succeeded by Guy Kinnings, his current deputy. “Keith deserves a ton of credit for leaving the DP World Tour in a strong position.”

Turning to Slumbers, he added: “Martin came from the financial world and he continues to bring an intense focus on the values of the game, the integrity of the game, and I think he's done a remarkable job with The Open Championship and the way that has grown, and not known to a lot of people, he's also done a super job of really extending The R&A brand to markets around the world and trying to help grow the game and focusing a lot of his time in that area. I don't think that gets enough attention, but I think that will be a huge part of his legacy. I've enjoyed working with them both. We've also had a lot of challenging conversations. We've really pushed each other, and I'll miss that about both of them.”

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