ATLANTA – Jay Monahan settled into his chair with an easy smile and slight hunch, giving the commissioner’s annual State of the PGA Tour news conference a fantasy football draft feel.
Of the litany of things that have changed the last year since Monahan took over for Tim Finchem, however, friendly body language doesn’t begin to accurately portray the differences between the old and new bosses.
As metaphorical extremes go, maybe the easiest way to judge the gulf between current and former regimes was Monahan’s socks, a flowery pattern that fit playfully with the predictable loafers and blue blazer, which firmly announced there is new management now calling the shots in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.
Finchem didn’t own flowery socks. As best anyone can tell, he didn’t own flowers, just a stoic, B-to-B pragmatist who, in fairness, oversaw unprecedented growth during his tenure as commissioner.
A year ago at East Lake, Finchem gave his final State of the Tour less than two months before giving Monahan the keys to the kingdom. Finchem, as was normally the case, gave a lengthy explanation of the Tour’s reach across multiple media platforms and the coterminous, he actually used that one in 2006, of the circuit’s reach.
That’s not Monahan.
Instead, the commissioner spent his time talking fondly of Arnold Palmer, who passed away a year ago during the Tour Championship, and family.
“We all make a lot of sacrifices along the way where we're not home as much as we would like to be. That's a part of being dedicated to your craft and that's not lost on us,” he told the assembled scribes.
It wasn’t all warm and fuzzy with a side of flowery socks.
Monahan is currently in the process of the largest schedule makeover since the Tour introduced the postseason in 2007. The new dance card will include a post-Labor Day finish, the PGA Championship in May and The Players in March, to touch on just a few of the highlights.
But before Monahan and Co. can dig into that puzzle of a hundred moving parts, he must shore up next year’s schedule, a 49-event line up that looks largely the same as this year’s with a few concerning issues.
The Tour’s event in the Washington, D.C., area and Houston Open are both on the ropes and currently don’t have title sponsors. In the case of The National, which is run by the Tiger Woods Foundation, the event also doesn’t have a golf course since the Tour recently terminated its contract to hold the tournament at Congressional Country Club in 2018 and ’20.
“So we think that we'll be successful [in Houston] but obviously we haven't been yet and [Hurricane] Harvey is not an excuse,” he said. “I think that we'll continue to work our way through that and hopefully we'll have some positive news as we go forward.”
Monahan’s commitment to an event that has been a Tour staple since 1946 is admirable and understandable. The National, which debuted with much fanfare in ’07 thanks to Woods’ association, is another story.
The Jenga game that is the ’19 schedule and beyond is a factor here.
An indication of how profound those changes in ’19 will likely be could be gleaned from Jordan Spieth’s reaction to the 2017-18 schedule, which is virtually unchanged from this year’s line up.
“I'm not surprised that next year's similar and then after that we'll see what happens,” said Spieth, who has been involved with the ongoing schedule talks. “I wouldn't necessarily be quick to judge on how the Tour's saying that based on a short-term view of next year. Wait and see what happens after that.”
For Monahan, that means maintaining the status quo. If, for example, Quicken Loans, the title sponsor of The National since 2014, wanted to move the event to, say, Detroit, where the company is based, it would leave the Tour in a curious position.
“We’re focused on D.C. and we’re hopeful we can find a solution. There are a lot of markets that want to have a PGA Tour event, but that’s not where we are. It’s a matter of trying to be in a market that has been very good to us,” he said. “If we get to a place where we can’t accomplish that, then you’ve got to look at what those alternatives are and what fits best, but we’re not there yet.”
Perhaps, but if the Tour is going to end it’s season before the start of meaningful football, that means events will either have to be shifted to the fall portion of the schedule or removed, with the former the likely preferred outcome.
Although it’s become a popular topic in recent years, neither Monahan nor the Tour has any interest in an extended off-season. It was little surprise that the commissioner had a ready answer when the idea came up again on Tuesday, explaining that in 1967 the Tour had 47 events on its schedule, the same as this season.
Above all else, the Tour is a business and as a rule businesses don’t contract without a reason, which means whatever form the schedule takes in ’19 and beyond it will simply be rearranged, not reduced.
“If you get to that point and you're ending prior to the NFL and you're not going to the offseason, then you're ending at an earlier point and you're probably starting at an earlier point,” Monahan simply.
And that, more so than the flowery socks and easy smile, may be the biggest difference between the circuit’s old and new. Monahan may not have all the details of the new schedule, but he doesn’t need 10-dollar words and fancy business speak to explain the big picture.