MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Sean Foley, one of golf’s more personable personalities, was answering a question on one of golf’s biggest topics when a pro walked past, on the range at TPC Southwind, and whispered hello. Foley then told him what he was talking about.
There was a short pause. And the PGA Tour player then offered this advice:
“Duck, dodge, weave.”
Such is life in men’s pro golf these days. Yes, the subject of Jay Monahan is akin to a game of dodgeball. Or maybe it’s a boxing match. Or maybe it’s escaping a burning building.
How did we get here? How much time do you have? Notably, it’s all gone down just over the past year-plus, though it’s really picked up over the past two months. Here’s a par-3-length recap (and we’ll provide the necessary links): The Tour and LIV Golf, funded by the deep-pocketed Saudi Arabia Public Investment Fund, have fought for players and prestige since last June. Words, many of them, were said. Money, a lot of it, was handed out. But that was nothing. A tap-in. Because here came the bombshells.
At the start of June, Monahan and the PIF governor, Yasir Al-Rumayyan, were sitting side-by-side on CNBC saying they were now bedfellows and that the sides would end all pending litigation. And most of the players found out about it when you did. And details have been scarce, though questions have been bountiful. A player meeting was held in Canada. And Monahan took a leave due to a yet-to-be disclosed health concern. And a hearing was held in the halls of Congress. And Tiger Woods tweeted. And Monahan returned, though he said the golf war had taken some toll. And Monahan sent a memo offering some detail of the deal. And the players wrote a letter demanding more say. And a day later, they got it.
And now it’s week one of the Tour playoffs, at the FedEx St. Jude Championship. Where, after all that above, there’s one subject at least being thought about:
Should Monahan keep his job?
Really? Take this quote, from Xander Schauffele, one of the best in the world, at last month’s Scottish Open:
“If you want to call it one of the rockier times on Tour, the guy was supposed to be there for us, wasn’t. Obviously he had some health issues. I’m glad that he said he’s feeling much better. But yeah, I’d say he has a lot of tough questions to answer in his return, and yeah, I don’t trust people easily. He had my trust and he has a lot less of it now. So I don’t stand alone when I say that.”
That’s telling. That’s damning.
So two big questions, along with a couple others, were asked Tuesday.
Notably, players met with Monahan here at 4 in the afternoon, though not all went, which you’ll learn.
Considering everything that’s happened over the past two months, do you think Jay Monahan should keep his job?
“I think I made my stance on that at The Open clear,” Jon Rahm, Masters winner and world No. 3, said during his formal, pre-tournament press conference. “I think he should have the opportunity right now to finish this off the way he did. I think we’re quickly forgetting how well he managed a lot of things. He did an amazing job in Covid and kept a lot of people employed. We were the first major sport to come back. I know UFC was doing fights, but we were the major sport to come back.
“A lot of players were able to earn their cards and keep competing thanks to that. I think we shouldn’t forget that that quickly. Again, we should give him the chance to see this through.
Then after everything is said and done, if players want to make a change, then that would be a better time, but right now, I don’t think it is.”
If you had the chance to ask one question or make one change, what would that be?
“That’s too vague of a question because we really have no idea what’s coming. We’re not in these meetings. They have until January to be in those negotiations.
“I can tell you right now my priorities are a lot lower than what a lot of people would think. If I have to — if I go by request — I know this is going to sound very stupid, but as simple as having a freaking Port-a-Potty on every hole — I know it sounds crazy, but I can’t choose when I have to go to the bathroom. I’ve told the Tour this many times, as simple as that.
“Just simple little things better for the Tour. Even though they do a phenomenal job throughout the year, just making it more consistent. Those TPC events, because the PGA Tour is more involved, our food situation is unbelievable. They have nutritionists that they’ve hired to work with and the options and the sources are incredible, so I would like to see that more across the board at every single Tour event.
“I would like to see physio areas to be a little bit better. Even though the gym trailer is great, it’s still a trailer, so when you have three people in it you’re a little crowded, so seeing better workout facilities, as well.
“Those are the kind of things that I hope come out throughout this whole thing.
“I’ve mentioned many times making the Tour better for the players, and I mean that. The very basic things they can do in tournaments to make them all as good as they can be is where I’d like to see some changes. Everything else can come out afterwards, but I’m not so worried about purses and bonuses and those things. I think giving us the best amenities possible is one of those things that should be a concern. That’s at least a lot of things I keep going to with them. It’s not usually what’s in people’s minds.”
Given everything that’s happened over the past two months, do you think that Jay Monahan should keep his job?
“I think Jay is a very qualified leader for our organizations,” Brian Harman, the Open Championship winner, said during his formal, pre-tournament press conference. “Without Jay Monahan, I don’t know if we make it through Covid. His leadership and his bravery through that — we were the only sport operating, and I can remember we were on the range and in Connecticut, and it’s peak Covid, and there was guys that were going down left and right, like this guy is positive.
“The world was scared, we were all scared, and we hear Jay is flying up, and I’m like, well, that’s it, we tried, he’s going to shut it down. He gets up there in front of everybody and plows ahead. He caught heat for that. He’s like, no, this is the way forward. We have to stay operating or we’re going to be toast, and he was right.
“I think Jay deserves a pretty long leash.”
If you could make a request or make a change right now, what would that be?
“In what regard, to the Tour or to golf?”
To the Tour, to the structure of the Tour, going forward with the proposed deal.
“I’d like for us to have access to cold plunges in the locker room. That would be the change I’d like.”
With the meeting today with Jay, what one question would you have for him, or what one detail would you like to know?
“Yeah, I think an important question is I believe that Jay had ultimate authority at all times as far as negotiating and stuff like that, and he knew that his reputation was going to take a major hit if they went forward. My question would just be, why didn’t he stop it, knowing that his reputation was going to take a hit.
Why did he …
“Why did he let it continue. In my mind, I think he believed that it was the best thing going forward, and that’s why he did it.”
Do you think Monahan should keep his job?
“To be honest with you, I don’t have enough facts on it to have any opinion,” said Foley, one of Woods’ former coaches and one of golf’s best instructors. “I’m an open-minded Canadian kid who likes to normally talk about what I know to be true and not what I think is happening. Look, I think at the end of the day, that the PGA Tour is at the place that it’s at now in the last 20 years financially and is as big of a game as it is is because of the kid in the red shirt from California. So I’m not so sure if the decisions that, without Tiger, where are we? I don’t really have an opinion on that. One, it doesn’t affect me, and two, I’m never surprised in the world of money and business when things aren’t as they seem. Pretty normal, isn’t it? But I’ve known Jay for a long time. I’ve always thought him to be an upstanding guy. I’ve always enjoyed my time with him. So I don’t know what works behind the scenes on these types of things.
If you were PGA Tour commissioner right now, what change would you make? What ideas would you have? What would you do differently?
“I don’t know. I think they do a pretty good job. When you’re dealing with power and you’re dealing with finances, it’s kind of tough, right? And who knows what’s behind all that. Money talks and bulls**t walks, so to speak, right? But no, I think the PGA Tour does a very good job. I think the players do a pretty good job; you know, guys who are individual sports guys. So yeah, I don’t really have anything to add to that, either. I think that’s more ask the players, you know. …
“So yeah, as it relates to Jay, no comment. As it relates to what the Tour is doing, I just really focus on my guys and don’t pay attention to the rest of what’s going on around me. But I see all the fans week to week. Seems like people enjoy it. I think you got between Scheffler and Schauffele, you got so many great players right now. I think the Tour is only as good as the players.”
I asked Jon Rahm the question in his press conference. His answer, he wishes there were more port-a-johns on the course. That was … a request.
“Well, he’s probably made some bogies having to take a p**s. I mean, if you ever had to play golf and you really have to take a p**s, it’s pretty tricky, right? Yeah, port-a-john, that’s pretty funny. Nah, as it relates to me, I don’t need to eat in player dining. I just need a place to go inside when it gets nasty outside, you know.”
With today’s players meeting, do you think Jay Monahan should keep his job? I know it’s an out-of-the-blue, extreme question.
“Yeah, there’s a lot of things going on that I still don’t know about and understand completely,” said Russell Henley, while walking to the practice green. “I don’t really know if I’m qualified to answer right now.”
If there were a question that you could ask, what would that be?
“How can we get everybody on the same page?”
If you could make one change or one request, what would that be?
“Get everybody on the same page.”
Do you think Monahan should keep his job?
“I haven’t really gotten into much of this, and again, I feel like there’s more people who are more qualified and looked at all this stuff to make these decisions,” said Sahith Theegala, after a session on the driving range. “It would be nice to have a lot more communication, I suppose. But again, I’m new on Tour and just kind of go with the flow, but I think he’s done so much good for the Tour that he definitely needs a chance — I’m not saying he did something wrong, but clearly there’s a little bit of disconnect. I think he’s done so much great for the Tour that — I think Jon Rahm actually mentioned that it’s easy to forget all the good things he’s done because of what has happened just recently. The hope is that he earns the trust back of a lot of guys that maybe have lost a little bit of that. But I think he’s done such a good job in the past that there’s no reason he can’t do a job moving forward. I’ll be interested to what other people have to say because Jay’s been great to me and been great to the players and I know there’s so much stuff circulating about being selfish or looking out for himself, but I really think his best interests are the players. I just hope that’s being conveyed a little bit better.”
How do you think he earns back trust? I know that’s a complicated question.
“Again, I don’t know all the business stuff, what goes on, like why decisions were made. There’s for sure reasons and I think there’s just a lot of speculation and there might always be speculation. I don’t really know.”
What would be a change that you would make, like if you were in that position to say, let’s do this; something is lacking right now?
“Again, it’s so easy to — like, I’ve only been on Tour for two years — this is my second year — so I just know what I’ve dealt with and now what other people have dealt with. And as far as I’m concerned, things have been really great. There’s more flexibility in the schedule, there’s more money being pumped in the purses. There’s more direct interaction between players and fans. I think there’s a lot of really good stuff. Obviously there’s never going to be a perfect product — it just doesn’t exist. Look at every sports league in the world — there’s not a perfect product. I think as long as we’re making progress towards acknowledging what players feel like are shortcomings of the Tour — the schedule, or week-to-week basis, or day-to-day basis, whatever.”
With today’s player meeting with Jay …
“I’m not going,” Jason Day said, while walking to the 1st tee.
Could I ask another question on that topic: Do you think Jay should keep his job?
“Oh, that’s not my decision. I have opinions, but I’m not going to get into that just because like — I definitely have opinions about it, but I’d rather not say something that’s out in the open and potentially down the road could lead to some scrutiny. And then obviously down the road you’re walking back your comments, so I would just rather stay quiet on it and let some of the other guys be more vocal about it. And to be honest, all I want to do is try and win tournaments. I think that at the end of the day, like if I can win tournaments, like I just have to get involved in my own little world. Because it is a distraction.”
Do you think that is kind of weird now with some of the off-the-course stuff when you guys are here to do the job?
“I think for some guys it could potentially be more of a distraction than some other guys. Like some other guys actually are on the board and have the insight of what’s going on. And then there’s some guys that are more vocal. And rightfully so. With what’s transpired, I feel for obviously the guys on both sides, as well. I think for us to be talking about it when my say is very small, and although I feel like everyone’s say is very, very valuable out here — and you got to understand that I was under the rule of Tim Finchem and it is was more of like, hey, this is what we’re doing as a Tour instead of like listening to the players, and now I think Jay is more of a listen to the players and get them more involved. I really kind of stayed out of it. I really haven’t paid too much attention to it, even though I kind of hear the rumblings of it all.”
Do you think he should keep his job based on what’s happened over the past couple of months.
“Oh, I don’t want to talk about that stuff,” said Boyd Summerhays, Tony Finau’s coach, after a range session. “I’d ask the players on that. I’d just rather stay out of that. Ask him [Finau]. I think the top players’ comments say it all, you know what I mean. … If someone is going to say it, I think it needs to be these guys.”
With seemingly everything on the table, would there be something from a coaching standpoint that could change or is lacking or is missing? If you were Tour commissioner, what would be something you might want to fix, or change or adjust?
“Oh, I think the coaches get treated good. … I would say there’s no Tour coaches without Tour pros so I’ve always felt like I’ve been treated good. But you get some guys that don’t feel that way, which kind of surprises me because we’re eating right down there; I mean, we parked right down next to the clubhouse. I feel like as far as a coach situation that they take good care of us. I know the players expect a lot because hey, they’re the talent and all that. But the coaches aren’t the talent. So when a coach doesn’t feel about it, they may be coming from a different space. I’ve only coached for nine years. Some of the other coaches probably have seen the changes over the years. … I think from a coaching and caddie perspective, I would be surprised if there would be complaining, but people always do. But I feel like they do a really good job, I really do.”
With all that’s gone on over the past two months, do you think he should keep his job?
“I think me or the players shouldn’t be in that position to force whether he should or whether he shouldn’t,” Aaron Rai said ahead of a range session. “I think our job is to play golf and do the best we can on the golf course. He has that position. He’s more than qualified in that position. And we all make great calls and we all make calls that might not seem right, but they might turn out in the future to be great. And I think it’s too early to say right now whether this is the right thing or whether it’s not. No one can say that, because there’s so much yet to be finalized the way things are going, so I think it’s premature either way to make any knee-jerk reactions on whether Jay should be here, whether Jay shouldn’t. I think he’s done amazingly through his whole tenure of being here. That should always count for something. And like I said, I think it’s too early to know how things are going to play out. Yeah, that’s not something I would push for in any way.”
If you were PGA Tour commissioner, what would be one thing you would change?
“That’s a tough question.”
So I asked Jon Rahm that earlier today, he said he would like to see a port-a-john on every hole.
“I’ll second that actually. That’s a very good suggestion.
“I think that — I don’t know what this would look like; just kind of thinking out loud here — but we see where professional golf and prize money is a part of tournaments and part of the reason we’re here, but I think in recent years, it’s gone down the route of more money and more focus on funds and so forth and so forth, and that’s an important part; I’m not saying it’s not. But I think more focus on golf, more focus on the stories, more focus on the players, more focus on the inspiration that is out here. Everyone here on this driving range and everyone out here this week and everyone part of the PGA Tour, everyone has a unique story, everyone has a background. There’s a lot of motivation that can be found that can be found in all those things. So I think if some of those things were highlighted more, I think you could have a bigger affect on the impact of golf, both inside the game and outside the game, as opposed to maybe more of the shift being on money, funds and business structure, which again is part of the reason for this merger.
“So I’m not saying that’s right or that is wrong, but I think more focus on all the stories that are out here, which would be amazing, rather than the things that are highlighted in the media.”