Professional golf looks dramatically different than it did in March 2022, the last time the PGA Tour rolled into TPC Sawgrass. Commissioner Jay Monahan has technically been the Tour’s leader during this time, but he hasn’t always seemed like one.
Early on, Monahan appeared unwilling to admit that change in the face of the threat from LIV Golf was necessary. Instead, tour executives seemed to hope that the rival league would simply go away. Eventually, in partnership with its players, the Tour embarked on an overhaul of its system.
The past year resulted in an improved 2024 PGA Tour product, but at times the process made fans want to pull their hair out. Jay Monahan spoke publicly on five occasions, and looking back, his progression from denial to bargaining to acceptance is clear.
March 8, 2022 – Almost exactly a year ago, the commissioner gave his Tuesday press conference ahead of the Players.
“We have too much momentum and too much to accomplish to be consistently distracted by rumors of other golf leagues and their attempts to disrupt our players, our partners, and most importantly our fans from enjoying the tour and the game we all love so much,” Monahan said. “We are and we always will be focused on legacy, not leverage.
“There is no better place than at the home of the PGA Tour to reiterate our focus and our promise to our fans and our players, let’s move on.”
Sounds like denial to me.
June 12, 2022 – On the Sunday of LIV’s first weekend, Monahan reemerged on the Canadian Open broadcast alongside Jim Nantz and Nick Faldo.
“Those players have chosen to play in a series of exhibition matches against the same players over and over again,” he said. “[At the Canadian Open], you have true, pure competition with the best players in the world. Life is all about meaning and purpose and we are an organization with meaning and purpose. The best players in the world make wonderful things happen on this platform day in and day out.”
Clearly moving on hadn’t worked, and the bargaining phase had begun.
June 22, 2022 – Two weeks later, Monahan announced an ambitious set of changes to the Tour’s schedule.
“Implementing substantial changes to our schedule gives us the best opportunity to not only drive earnings to our players,” he said, “but also improve our product and create a platform for continued growth in the future.
He had come a long way from “legacy, not leverage.”
Jay Monahan at the 2022 Travelers Championship
August 24, 2022 – After the famous player-only meeting in Delaware, Jay Monahan gave more details on the Tour’s new elevated-events system.
“With the best interest of the collective in mind,” he said, “[the players at the Delaware meeting] rallied together to strengthen the tour platform, recognizing that if the fans are going to invest in the PGA Tour, it means a hell of a lot more if the players are investing right back.”
At this point, Monahan had clearly reached some sort of acceptance.
March 7, 2023 – At yesterday’s Players press conference, Monahan noted that the 2024 system might not be perfect, but that the Tour is willing to be more nimble.
“We’ll listen, we’ll learn and adapt, but we’re firm on what we’re doing in 2024,” he said. ““We’ll learn, just like we’ve learned this year. We’ll learn along the way, and we’ll apply that learning where we think it’s going to be to the betterment of this organization and all of our members…. There are no sacred cows. We’re just trying to get to the best possible outcome, and that is to continue to grow this Tour and its preeminence.”
The note of humility here—that things won’t be perfect and continued change will be necessary—is very welcome.
The PGA Tour and Monahan’s initial stubbornness in the face of an existential threat was baffling. While messaging is still an issue in Ponte Vedra, it appears that tour leaders now acknowledge the need to change and be flexible. As they should. The future of their organization depends upon it.