MEMPHIS, Tenn. – Back to full health, Commissioner Jay Monahan said Wednesday the PGA Tour is on the right path to finalize a deal with the Saudi backers of LIV Golf. Whether he's the best person to lead the tour will be measured by results of the surprise agreement.
“I am confident when we complete this process, this will be a rewarding result for PGA Tour players and the fans,” Monahan said in a roundtable media discussion.
He spoke publicly for the first time since returning to work July 17, having stepped away for five weeks with what had been described only as a “medical situation.” Monahan said it was anxiety that had built up for two years, and there were no guarantees when he stepped away on June 14 that he would make it back.
The task ahead is just as big.
The agreement for a new commercial venture with Saudi Arabia's national wealth fund and the European tour is to be finalized by Dec. 31 — that includes the future of LIV Golf — all the while Monahan is faced with regaining trust from players who felt betrayed about the PGA Tour's about-face deal with the Saudis.
He said his only regret about the deal was keeping players in the dark.
“I put players on their back foot,” he said. “That’s something I regret and will not do again.”
Asked if he was the right person for the job, Monahan said, “I understand the position I’m in in the short term. But I think the real answer to that question is where are we at the end of this year? And I think where we're going to be ... is going to be a very positive place.”
Monahan offered few details on the negotiations with the Public Investment Fund with the media — and with players in his first formal meeting with them Tuesday afternoon — because negotiations are ongoing. Tour officials met with PIF last weekend.
Monahan was bullish that a deal would get done by the end of the year, and that the PGA Tour is not considering any outside investors at the moment.
“Our focus is on conversations with PIF,” he said, adding later that he was “determined to get this right.” He said a definitive agreement by the end of the year “is the target and that is realistic."
"There is the short term and there is the long term. Looking out over the horizon, we feel like this is the right move for the PGA Tour to create a new commercial model that allows PIF to invest ... and to be able to grow the PGA Tour that will reward players and fans.
“That's what we think is the right path forward.”
The commercial venture has been referred to as “NewCo” in documents — typical in business transactions. The actual working title is PGA Tour Enterprises, a for-profit company that operates separately from PGA Tour Inc., which has 501-(c)-6 tax-exempt status.
Monahan said the Saudi deal contributed to his anxiety, though it had been building up over time and reached a point that he had to step away to continue.
“The reality for me was that I was dealing with anxiety, which created physical and mental health issues and challenges for me,” Monahan said. “I needed to step away and deal with that.”
The timing was difficult. The agreement was announced on June 6, and Monahan met with players at the Canadian Open later that afternoon. He described the meeting as “intense," with some players wanting him to resign.
A week later he announced he was taking a leave.
“My nature is to always ... run into a fight or a conflict, not run away from it,” he said. “To step away at that point in time was very difficult for me, but I needed to take care of myself for my family, for myself, and ultimately to come back here stronger than I've ever been to lead the PGA Tour forward.”
Emotions have cooled over the last two months. Monahan described the Tuesday afternoon meeting attended by 25 players as “productive.” He said he was “entirely determined” to regain the players' trust. “I see a clear path doing that, as difficult as that might seem right now to some.”
His only regret was how the deal was announced. Monahan said he was impatient on the eve of the announcement, and if he had a mulligan he would have flown to Canada to tell the players privately before anything was disclosed in public.
Players were to get a memo roughly a half-hour before Monahan and Al-Rumayyan went on CNBC, but when an embargo was broken, some players only read on social media about a merger with LIV before seeing the memo.
“Ultimately, the rollout on June 6 was ineffective,” Monahan said. "And as a result there was a lot of misinformation, and I think anytime you have misinformation, that can lead to mistrust. That's my responsibility — that's me and me alone.
“I apologize for putting players on their back foot, but ultimately the move that we made is the right move for the PGA Tour. I firmly believe that. As we go forward, time will bear that out.”
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