Let’s rewind to June 22, 2022.
It’s the eve of the Travelers Championship and Jay Monahan, the commissioner of the PGA Tour, is addressing assembled media at TPC River Highlands.
It’s just over a week since LIV Golf staged its inaugural event at the Centurion Club near London.
Bankrolled by the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia, the Greg Norman-fronted enterprise had defied expectation first by launching and then by attracting a field of some of the world’s biggest names.
Despite the threat of sanctions, Dustin Johnson, Sergio Garcia, Phil Mickelson and others turned their back on the PGA Tour to align with LIV. Bryson DeChambeau, Brooks Koepka and Patrick Reed soon followed.
To most bystanders, the PGA Tour was under siege. Having been silent for months (publicly, at least) Monahan finally stepped up to the podium.
Dismissing LIV as an “irrational threat”, he was equal parts bullish and optimistic on his own tour’s prospects – with one exception.
“If this is an arms race,” he said, “and if the only weapons are dollar bills, the PGA Tour can’t compete.”
If events of the past week are anything to go by, it looks as if they’re going to at least try.
Many of LIV’s points of difference, which countless commentators have spent the last year condemning in the most pugnacious, combative of terms, are suddenly crucial cornerstones of the PGA Tour’s future. From denounced to de rigeur quicker than you can say ‘FIGJAM’. What a time to be alive!
Limited field events, offering guaranteed pay-days by dint of the fact they have, wait for it, no cut will be coming to the PGA Tour en masse next year.
Surely you jest?
What next? Shotgun starts? Players in shorts? Post-round concerts headlined by The Chainsmokers?
No matter how you try to spin it – and plenty have tried – the PGA Tour’s Big Plan™ to defeat LIV would appear to be to replicate its “irrational” behaviour.
Worse, it is doing so at the expense of its own product. The structural and financial changes to the ‘Elevated Events’ have been made to satisfy the top players. They are the ones who stand to, quite literally, profit the most. Despite what anybody says, there is now a ‘them and us’ divide on the circuit. Those in the top half; those in the bottom.
“But wait,” they protest. “Players can play their way into the ‘Elevated Events’. That’s the difference between us and LIV.”
Except, for those who care to look, LIV has clearly defined the mechanics of the relegation and promotion element it has introduced for this season.
All of which leaves Monahan in an uncertain position. Fetch the lettuce, some might say.
He has ceded to player power and bent the pillars of the PGA Tour’s “meritocracy” to suit the will of his star men (presumably because he can’t afford to lose any more of them). Nothing wrong with that, of course. But when you’ve spent the last year rejecting and reviling an alternative product only to then borrow heavily from it to lay the foundations for your own future growth, it’s an iffy look.
Of course, all this could, potentially, have been avoided had Monahan responded to attempts to engage him in dialogue at the very outset. According to multiple people I’ve spoken with, LIV officials – then operating as ‘Super League Golf’ – wrote to the PGA Tour chief in April 2021 to invite him into discussions about how the PIF intended to invest “several billion dollars” into the game.
It’s understood he didn’t respond.
His inflexibility on suspending LIV golfers from the tour has also weakened The PLAYERS Championship, laying waste to its claim to be the ‘unofficial fifth major’. Next week’s edition will go ahead without last year’s top-three finishers. The ground the tournament had closed on the US PGA Championship has widened to a chasm because of self-sabotage masquerading as self-preservation.
Combine all of the above with Monahan’s continued defence of the tour’s oft-challenged charitable status – as a 501(c)(6) organisation, it enjoys considerable tax breaks… but still has enough left in the coffers to build a state-of-the-art, brand-new $65million headquarters – and it’s plain to see why some are starting to ask questions about Monahan’s future.
Few would contend he has done a broadly excellent job since he took over from the Lilliputian Tim Finchem in January 2017. His navigation of the COVID pandemic was particularly laudible. However, his handling of LIV’s emergence – a problem not of his making, but a problem nonetheless – has been much less impressive. There are murmurings of discontent amongst some of the tour’s ‘rank and file’, whilst several sponsors are known to be unhappy.
Honda, whose 42-year sponsorship of its eponymous Classic was the longest-running continuous deal on the PGA Tour, have already cut ties. That’s what happens when you ‘elevate’ some at the expense of the other.
Sadly, Jay Monahan is in an invidious position, a commissioner divested of much of his authority by his own players and an existential threat he was ill-prepared for.
He is the man in office but not the man in power.
And without power, what is a leader?