HONOLULU – On Monday, as he made his way through the Waialae clubhouse, a 1970s ranch deal with arguably the best views on the PGA Tour, Jay Monahan stopped every few steps to glad-hand.
There were the predictable encounters with the occasional A-lister - Jordan Spieth, Zach Johnson, et al. - that one would expect from the newly minted Tour commissioner; but it was the other stops, to talk with the occasional caddie or tournament official, that stood out.
Monahan is many things to many people – from passionate golf zealot who grew up in a “golf family” to unapologetic taskmaster who never turns off his day job; but as the 46-year-old made his way through the locker room it was another label that seemed to define the new guy – engaging.
Whether it’s the minutiae of some esoteric Tour policy or a broader discussion on growing the game while maintaining its traditions, Monahan is driven by information.
It will be a key component of Monahan’s leadership style, not necessarily one of consensus building but instead an insistence on making the most informed decision possible.
Immediate comparisons between Monahan and Tim Finchem, whom he replaced as commissioner on Jan. 1, are quickly evident. In an hour-long conversation with a handful of media last week in Maui, Monahan began the conversation with a curious commitment.
“I’m going to try and be as open and transparent as a I can be,” he said.
It’s not as though Finchem was ever dishonest or misleading, but he was never one to volunteer information or freely elaborate. Where Finchem has been described as steady and patient, some might even say deliberate, by comparison Monahan admits he’s not a patient person.
“I can be anxious,” he admits. “Hopefully, it’s not apparent I’m anxious, but there’s not an idle moment.”
For Monahan, who was appointed deputy commissioner in 2014 and has been handling the day-to-day dealings of the Tour for some time, there is no detail too insignificant and no option too outlandish as he prepares for his first player meeting later this month at the Farmers Insurance Open.
That attention to detail is evident just by the routine Monahan keeps. Each day when he arrives in his office he will find a list of 10 priorities for the day, a second list of people he needs to talk to and a third list of things he needs to learn.
“That’s how I go about every day – try and have a fresh look at the things that are right in front of us,” he said.
From the day Monahan took office, those lists were filled with moving parts, from the possibility of a dramatically reworked Tour schedule to ongoing negotiations with the circuit’s television partners and potential sponsors.
The details of just one of those issues could overwhelm even the most structured chief executive, but it’s a telling moment when Monahan is asked the biggest challenges facing the Tour. He doesn’t slip into an overly complicated explanation of linear growth or a detailed conversation on the fundamental aspects of an influence matrix, but instead boils the road ahead down to two talking points.
“The world is so dynamic, the rate of acceleration and change is unlike anything we’ve seen,” he said. “For us to grow it starts with the fan and really understanding the fan, not just in the U.S. but throughout the world.”
Many have made the distinction over the years between Tour growth, which is healthy, and the growth of the game, which is struggling, but Monahan is quick to point out the two notions aren’t mutually exclusive.
“We have an important role that we are doing everything we can that we are part of the leadership in that regard,” he said.
To be fair to Finchem, who held the job for more than two decades, these are the same issues and priorities he had for years, but even this early in Monahan’s tenure it’s clear the new guy has a much different modus operandi.
It’s no surprise, for example, that one of Monahan’s first trips as commissioner-elect late last year was to Silicon Valley to meet with the heads of many of the top players in social media. In a refreshingly blunt style, he admits that the Tour hasn’t moved fast enough on this front.
“They told us to be more open, produce more video, and let your players speak more freely,” Monahan said.
If Finchem’s leadership style felt a tad risk-averse at times, Monahan seems to have embraced a notion of trial and error on many fronts, including social media which golf has been slow to embrace. It’s a side that the Tour’s membership has already come to appreciate.
“He’s very personable and all of us are very excited with Jay’s role as a guy who can be a sounding board for us as well as the guy who can make executive decisions,” said Spieth, who met with Monahan this week at Waialae.
Finchem’s reach still looms. In fact, Monahan said he’s already called his old boss on a number of issues, but as the commissioner went over a litany of topics last week in Maui the most revealing distinction between new and old came 57 minutes into the hour-long conversation when he declined to comment on his first, and only, question.
Fifty-seven minutes of no sidestepping or spin control. That's a good start.