Jay Monahan achieved a positive outcome in his annual State of the Tour address at East Lake on Tuesday by not stepping in it. It was not a shining performance, and compared to the now-infamous press conference when he challenged LIV by announcing the Tour’s designated events plan, it felt equivocating, even chastened. We rarely hear from Monahan in a setting where he has to face questions outside the friendly confines of CNBC, and that’s for a reason. It’s not his strong suit. But at such a contentious and critical time, getting out of there without making much news counts as a positive outcome.
That was the phrase of the day, pounced on by close listeners: positive outcome. In the middle of a 19-minute opening monologue on a host of issues, he concluded on the status of the Framework Agreement — the worth and substance of which seems to decrease by the day — by saying, “I am confident that we will reach an agreement that achieves a positive outcome for the PGA TOUR and our fans. I see it and I’m certain of it.” Given that this was in the prepared remarks, it seemed to be deliberate framing, and he went back to it during the more off-the-cuff exchanges of the Q&A portion with the press.
He did it several times, including:
“And at this point, I think players are focused on their play and they know, you know, as we move forward, and certainly as we move towards the end of the year, there’s a responsibility, an expectation, from them towards me and the team that, you know, we’re going to be in a position to communicate a positive outcome for the PGA Tour.”
And in response to a question about the deal’s timeline:
“We’re confident that we’re going to reach a positive outcome for the PGA TOUR…”
And again, tying things together:
“And I feel inspired and ready to go from the position we’re in, ultimately, to generate a really positive outcome for the PGA Tour, and I came back ready to do that, alongside my peers and our players.”
So this was the message prepared by Jay and his communications staff. What does it mean? Not much, on its face. But it does not specifically mean that the PGA Tour will consummate things with the Saudi PIF beyond the Framework stage. It does allow for a positive outcome with a source of alternate investment, an idea likely being bandied about by the Policy Board and the potentially partitioned group of player directors, who now have more power than ever. That may be a fractious group at this particular moment, with Jay left attempting to paint the corners with his words.
Whether it’s wise to go for that alternate investment, given that the current proposed investor is currently dumping money into a competitor and would be emboldened to dump more into that threat should the deal implode, is a separate matter. But that “positive outcome” hedge did seem to allow for a handful of possibilities during this nebulous negotiating period.
A few other notes
- Overall, I thought Monahan’s lengthy monologue made a strong case for the health of the PGA Tour. That’s the point of a scripted opening, of course, but amidst the chaos of the past year, the Tour has a story to tell beyond the rake-stepping of recent months. Some of the numbers were framed with amusing benevolence, but the Tour has objectively progressed and grown under his watch. Now, did it proactively prepare and react to the mammoth threat it faced while also doing all this other stuff? That’s a rougher story. The Tour seemed to be humming along relatively healthy, and didn’t NEED the Saudi money, but they DID need them to go away.
- There was a keen interest in the status of the January kickoff event in Maui. That is, again, in January. Maui is in the news for horrific, non-golf reasons, and the interest (it was the very first question he was asked) was a little odd given that the answer was always likely to be a non-answer along the lines of “we plan to play there in four-plus months.” And the golf concerns are quite trivial either way. That said, amidst the generally solid opening monologue, there was a somewhat cringey transition from the Maui wildfires to the exciting news that in 2024 everyone will start the year-opening event with zero FedEx Cup points to chase “record bonus pools” as part of the reimagined PGA Tour schedule.
- Tyler Dennis was there, brought in to answer certain questions via silent count head nod from Monahan. The questions Dennis fielded mostly focused on Tour operations, gambling, the rollback, DP World Tour relations, and future scheduling notes, but his presence and repeated participation seemed noteworthy. Perhaps an increased role awaits Dennis in the new world order.
- Jay’s comment that the PIF agreement and investment could lead to reduced commercials played well on Twitter, as you would imagine. It was designed to do that.
- Lastly, as we’ve recently written in this space: skepticism is necessary. Given the events of the past year or two, what stock are we supposed to put in anything Jay says?