“I would ask any player that has left or any player that would ever consider leaving: have you ever had to apologize for being a member of the PGA Tour?”
Jay Monahan said that almost exactly a year ago, during an interview with Jim Nantz at the RBC Canadian Open. Nantz had just asked for the PGA Tour commissioner’s thoughts on a statement from a group called 9/11 Families United. The statement criticized Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson, and other golfers for accepting money from the Saudi Arabian government to play for LIV Golf. Monahan’s answer framed a player’s decision to accept or reject LIV’s millions as a moral one. The implication: some things are bigger than money.
Yesterday morning, Monahan appeared on CNBC—his preferred venue in which to prance around pretending he’s someone Jamie Dimon would respect—sitting next to his new friend and business partner Yasir Al-Rumayyan, the governor of Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund.
Many observers cringed at the dissonance, including 9/11 Families United, which accused Monahan of “co-opt[ing]” the 9/11 community last year, only to become a “paid Saudi shill.”
In the coming weeks, there will be plenty of time to review Monahan’s business errors. How he arrogantly refused to engage with a proposal from the Premier Golf League, LIV’s predecessor. How he underestimated LIV’s ability to recruit top talent. How he then shifted to heavy-handed tactics that angered players on his side and united those on the other. How, after all of that, he ended up accepting a deal that looks a lot like the PGL’s original offer. Eventually we need to account for the ways in which these moves led to the Tour’s current predicament.
But first let’s just appreciate what an absolute chicken Jay Monahan has been.
He rarely appeared in public, preferring to operate from behind a literal moat. When he deigned to give a press conference, he was vague and defensive. He used the most popular members of his organization as a meat shield—leaving them to answer questions he found difficult, take criticism he didn’t have the guts to face, turn down paydays he himself couldn’t resist—and then let them find out on Twitter that their loyalty had been a negotiating asset. He suggested that some things were bigger than money, but he never believed it.
Keith Pelley, Monahan’s counterpart on the DP World Tour, hasn’t acquitted himself much better. In an interview on Golf Channel yesterday, host Rich Lerner asked Pelley what he would say to those affected by Saudi Arabia’s human-rights abuses. “Rich,” Pelley said, gazing solemnly through pretentious blue-framed glasses, “I’ve been consistent with that, that this has never been about human rights for us. We play in many countries that, uh, you could question some—some of the things that might happen. We have never mixed sports with politics.”
They’ve never mixed sports with politics—except for that time they went into business with the sovereign wealth fund of an actual polity.
Monahan and Pelley will no doubt defend their actions by saying that a unified professional-golf ecosystem will result in a better entertainment product. They won’t be wrong. Having Brooks Koepka and Cameron Smith back on the same tour as Jon Rahm and Scottie Scheffler would be an undeniable upgrade.
But I’d ask Monahan and Pelley this: have you ever apologized for being a fan of a sport? Because I’m starting to feel like I should.
This piece originally appeared in The Fried Egg newsletter. Subscribe for free and receive golf news and insight every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.