PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – A boyish grin belies his years, but at 48 years old, PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan is clearly out of his element when it comes to throwing shade.
Like his predecessor, Tim Finchem, Monahan is better suited for classic B-to-B speak and corporate jargon, but on Tuesday at TPC Sawgrass he was at his subtle best during a 45-minute news conference that covered everything from the coronavirus to the Premier Golf League, with the latter being the primary focus of his “beef.”
Monahan had been noticeably quiet since news of the new league surfaced in January, and other than a memo that was sent to players that warned that they wouldn’t be allowed to be members of both the PGA Tour and the PGL, he’d allowed the players to handle the narrative.
Within the shadow of the Tour’s flagship clubhouse on Tuesday, Monahan had plenty to say. His responses to repeated questions about the proposed team league oscillated between tolerant indifference and dismissive evasion. It’s also worth noting that he never actually referred to the PGL, instead opting for the intentionally vague “team golf concept.”
Perhaps the most noteworthy comment spoke to how Monahan and Co. view the league as little more than a startup.
“I think that it's flattering when any entity is looking at what's happening on the PGA Tour and they see growth, they see momentum, they see a broadening reach to a larger fan base domestically and internationally, and it's no surprise that someone is coming to try and take a piece of that,” he said. “That's the nature of business.”
If Monahan sounds overly confident, it’s because he is – and for good reason. A day earlier he’d announced the Tour’s domestic media rights agreements with NBC, Golf Channel, CBS and ESPN to the tune of a nine-year deal. Although Monahan declined to offer financial details of the new deals, he did reference $12 billion in revenue through 2030 and even speculated $25 million purses.
“There's a day in the not-too-distant future where the [FedExCup] will be worth significantly more, perhaps $100 million or more. That's not a commitment, but that's, generally speaking, the kind of growth that I expected for us to see for our athletes,” he said.
As a rule, Tour types don’t normally deal in hypotheticals, but on this front it appears Monahan intended to send a message to his players if not those who wish to crowd the landscape with a new tour touting mega-purses and even bigger bonuses.
In what’s amounting to a very real game of tour-purse hold ’em, Monahan threw down his cards and they were flush with new television cash. It appears those who have been loitering between the status quo and something new have blinked.
After weeks of speculation, Phil Mickelson seemed to step away from the brink last week when he told reporters he wouldn’t have anything to say about the PGL in the near future. Earlier this year, he’d caused a stir when he said he was “intrigued” by the concept of team golf and the possibility of an equity stake in the new league.
The key part of the PGL’s charm was the promise of larger purses and generational wealth for those tabbed for team ownership, but that appeal was dulled this week by Monahan and the new television agreements. Conversely, a source close to the PGL said ultimately the players will decide.
You know the deal, when they say it's not about the money... it's always about the money.
“I would just tell you that we're encouraged by the response that our players have had in our discussions,” Monahan said. “I think that the value that we provide to our players, to our tournaments, to our fans, the strength and security and foundation of this Tour has never been stronger, so that's what we're focused on.”
And if Monahan’s money play wasn’t persuasive enough, he wrapped up the conversation with a macro assessment of the golf landscape and where a potential new league may or may not fit in.
“You look at the PGA Tour and you look at what [European Tour CEO] Keith Pelley and the European Tour have been able to accomplish, and you look at some of the other international tours, the professional game is performing at a very high level across the world,” he said when asked if there was room in pro golf for another global tour. “We're about to get a lot stronger. We're going to continue to go strength to strength, and that's a question for you guys to answer.”
That’s not exactly full shade toward the PGL – that’s not Monahan’s style – but it also doesn’t leave any ambiguity as to where he stands on the potential challenger. It wasn’t “PGL who?” so much as it was “whoever.”