Jay Monahan revealed 1 clue about golf’s future at the Players

PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan

Jay Monahan made his annual Players Championship state of the union press conference Tuesday.

Cliff Hawkins/Getty Images

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. — Jay Monahan has never been particularly good at the public speaking thing.

By now you’ve no doubt become accustomed to his press conference routine — a song-and-dance of which we were reminded on Tuesday at the Players Championship: slumped shoulders, his voice registering in a dull monotone, his words forming some exceedingly corporatized cliches.

Friends of the PGA Tour speak often — and glowingly — of his skills as a people person. Several of golf’s all-time good guys, including Rory McIlroy, have intimated that Monahan is one of their closest friends. Those who have spoken with him even once know his natural state to be warm and beguiling; genuine in a way that is not practiced or difficult. Even the people who dislike Monahan admit that he is annoyingly good at working a room, deft at navigating relationships with friends who also make you a lot of money.

If those sound to you like a different Jay Monahan than the man who answered questions for the better part of an hour on Tuesday morning about the increasingly fraught state of professional golf, well, you’re not alone.

That Jay Monahan sounds dynamic and charismatic; this one’s first public words in close to nine months were equal parts bleached, robotic and mildly combative. That Monahan would be able to answer the complicated questions facing the future of professional golf with dignity and specificity; this one seemed to relish in obfuscation and misdirection. That Monahan surely grasps that losing fans to issues of apathy and disillusionment is an extinction-level issue for men’s professional golf…did this one really refer to the sport’s gluttony as “noise”? We could go on.

The point is not that Monahan was evasive or carefully choreographed, or that his words were lobbed to the press behind the safety of a 40-foot brick wall. The point is that he chose to be this way even knowing his words represented the golf world’s closest look at What All This Means. And perhaps chose to be this way because he knew that’s what his words would mean.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with not wanting to divulge trade secrets while in the midst of complicated negotiations with a foreign autocracy, particularly when those negotiations also have attracted the interest of the U.S. Justice Department. And it’s not like Monahan chose to have his annual State of the Union before he’d staked legitimate resolutions to the dozens of thorny questions he faced Tuesday. The Players is in March (which, to be fair, is at least partially his doing), and the shape of the deal with the PIF — and by extension, the shape of the deal with the SSG and the future of the pro game — was not clear enough to be divulged in March. Maybe it will be in April, or May, or maybe not at all. Monahan did leave that last option open.

“You always have to be open to not doing something while you’re trying to do something,” he said. “I don’t have anything to add about what happens if we don’t — I’m trying to see if we can.”

But the problem with missing another milestone without sharing any idea of golf’s future is that it risks telling the world that such an idea might not exist. Monahan surely has some sense of how the future will look, but his refusal to specify indicates he’s worried the rug could still come out from under him. Three years and an unquantifiable number of controversies into this quagmire, that’s a pretty terrifying thought.

Consider alone the tip-toeing Monahan did on Tuesday: The Signature Events have shown “great returns” but are still in beta testing; the PIF deal is “accelerating” but still so undetermined that Monahan can’t say much more; LIV is still ostracized enough to refuse even a mention of its highest-profile player, Jon Rahm. Even a question about one of the few certainties at the time of his presser, the ROI needed to justify a $3 billion investment promise from the SSG, yielded word salad from the man in charge about the Tour’s “loyal and committed corporate partners” and “doing more” to increase fandom.

The press can be a powerful partner for a high-ranking executive — shifting public expectations and setting the tone in negotiations were the original stakes that created the “Bully Pulpit.” Monahan and his 1.5 press availabilities per year have never quite realized the full potential of that ally. On Tuesday, he was the first to admit that he needs it now more than ever.

“If we don’t negotiate a deal,” Monahan said ominously. “Then I think ultimately we’re back in the same posture that we’re in, and we haven’t unified our game and taken advantage of this unique point in time.”

At some point, though, there will be no avoiding it. Monahan will have to bare his soul to the golf world, explaining in painstaking detail how the future actually looks and why this version is the right one. He will have to walk us all, one by one, through the steps he will take to ensure the future is unified, compelling, and (most importantly) profitable. He will have to speak with the kind of enthusiasm and charisma in quiet moments that have made him powerful enough to survive years of threats to his job and his standing.

Tuesday was not that day. And maybe it was never supposed to be. But as the golf world shuffles back to whispering about the shape of the future, it will do so knowing that Tuesday was a missed opportunity. A missed opportunity for Jay to show us his truest self, and for the PGA Tour to reestablish an upper hand it once held over the sport.

James Colgan

Golf.com Editor

James Colgan is a news and features editor at GOLF, writing stories for the website and magazine. He manages the Hot Mic, GOLF’s media vertical, and utilizes his on-camera experience across the brand’s platforms. Prior to joining GOLF, James graduated from Syracuse University, during which time he was a caddie scholarship recipient (and astute looper) on Long Island, where he is from. He can be reached at james.colgan@golf.com.

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