PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan was full of praise for his PGA Tour ‘team’ when addressing the media ahead of this week’s Tour Championship in Atlanta.
As Monahan began, he pointed out it will be 174 days since the cancellation of the Players to the opening shot of the Tour Championship.
This journalist attended the Players Championship earlier this year on the occasion of the 32nd anniversary in attending my first PGA Tour event at the 1988 Players.
I was sitting in the conference room at TPC Sawgrass on the eve of the Players when a clearly worried Tour Commissioner spoke of his concern and nervousness in going ahead with the Players.
That all changed at around 9pm following the first round when the Tour’s showcase tournament was cancelled.
Monahan then returned to the Media Centre on the Friday morning and spoke of the uncertainty going forward, not knowing when or where golf on the world’s largest stage would resume.
Any how different is the Tour now nearly six months on from that Friday in March as Monahan explained:
“It’s been a long road. Hard to believe it was 174 days ago on March 12 when we were forced to cancel THE PLAYERS Championship due to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The next morning, many of us in this room gathered for a press conference at TPC Sawgrass as we further discussed the decision and its implications, which were mostly unknown at that point.
“As gut wrenching as that day and the weeks to follow were, as we ultimately canceled or postponed nearly 30 percent of our season, the adaptability, innovation, and collaboration that has brought us to this week is incredibly gratifying.
“It’s humbling to think about what has been accomplished with our successful return. Thanks to the cooperation and partnership with our players, sponsors, media partners, and tournament organisations. We can’t thank these groups enough for their loyalty and support through some very challenging times.
“As invited guests in each market, we stated at the outset that the health and well-being of all associated with our tournaments would be the number one priority as we returned to competition. At the Charles Schwab Challenge, we said we did not have all the answers. We would have to adjust as necessary, as we continued to take guidance from the CDC and medical experts.
“We also made a promise to be transparent with our health and safety plans, including our testing program.
“It hasn’t been perfect, and we’re not claiming victory by any stretch. In fact, we continue to learn and adapt. But I’m so proud of the team we put into place in March to help solve this giant jigsaw puzzle. I’m also very thankful for the collaboration with golf’s governing bodies, with our reimagined schedule that also includes events into the fall.
“An important piece has been the unprecedented collaboration and input we received from the PGA TOUR Player Advisory Council, chaired by Charley Hoffman and the player directors, as we’re still relying on their counsel today as we move forward.
“I’m also proud of our player membership for adapting quickly and successfully following the protocols. They have been vigilant personally, but also have looked out for each other and each other’s families in the communities in which we play. They’ve understood and been a big part of the changes we needed to make along the way as we’ve learned and adapted to this crisis.
“We will continue our adaptive work through the fall and into 2021 as we look toward reintroducing pro-ams, corporate partner activations, and spectators when we feel it is safe to do so.
“These will be critical as we look to maximize tournaments’ charitable contributions going forward. While we haven’t had spectators at our events, as you can see from this slide, we’ve had incredible support both domestically and internationally this summer across all platforms from our existing fans and new fans looking to engage with live sports.
“This also includes the early success of our official gaming operators that were extremely excited about helping build a new audience and drive deeper engagement.
“Given that golf lends itself naturally to social distancing, recreational play has seen a surge in recent months. As one of the few professional sports competing earlier this summer, I’m certain our tournaments and our players played a role in inspiring participation during the last few months, and we look forward to building on all this momentum as we head into the end of the year and into 2021.
“Now I know you in the media have faced many of these same challenges in the last six months and have been forced to adapt to the way you cover golf. You’ve been with us every step of the way and covering the TOUR through the pandemic. It certainly was easy to have doubts or questions as to whether or not we could accomplish our goals, especially with so many unknowns, and we’re most appreciative of the fact the asked questions were critical if necessary but most importantly remained objective throughout.
“As a sport, we have persevered through this pandemic and have found a way to keep our TOUR moving forward. Thank you for your coverage, your own adaptability, and all the personal sacrifices you’ve had to make.
“With all that said, we’re here finally in Atlanta, crossing a finishing line together, so to speak, for what really has been an extraordinary season. We’re thrilled to have the opportunity to showcase the PGA TOUR’s top 30 players to a global audience with Atlanta and historic East Lake Golf Club as a backdrop.
“In 1995, Tom and Ann Cousins made the groundwork for real and positive change with the creation of the East Lake Foundation. Three years later, East Lake Golf Club hosted the TOUR Championship for the first time, giving the world a window into the local success story that was created with this purpose-built community. This year’s TOUR Championship, on the leadership of executive director Allison Fillmore, is special in that it represents the 20th playing here at East Lake. The amazing progress we’ve seen is possible through the TOUR Championship’s two proud partners in Coca-Cola and Southern Company, as they continue to support the TOUR championship’s initiatives, East Lake Foundation, Purpose-Built Schools Atlanta, The Grove Park Foundation, and First Tee of Metro Atlanta.
“Today I’m proud to announce that despite a myriad of challenges the event has faced in 2020 – no spectators, no corporate hospitality, no pro-am experiences – the TOUR Championship, with the support of Coca-Cola and Southern Company, is projected to match or exceed last year’s record charitable impact of $3½ million. That’s true commitment towards the Atlanta community, and we congratulate all involved for this tremendous accomplishment.
“So while it’s not a traditional TOUR championship week and we will certainly miss hosting the tremendous crowds here on-site, we know the competition will be as compelling as ever for those watching around the world. This season has produced incredible moments and a premier list of winners, setting us up for a worthy finale as we crown the 14th FedExCup champion on Monday. Our thanks to our largest partner FedEx for their continued support of our season-long competition and what has become one of the pinnacle achievements of our sport, winning the FedExCup.
“Especially strong has been the competitive friction since the return to golf. Eight of the 13 winners have been inside the top 10 in the official world golf ranking. And that doesn’t include 23 year old Collin Morikawa, who is currently fifth in the FedExCup standings on the strength of two wins, including the PGA Championship. The future of the PGA TOUR is very bright.
“We are also looking forward to our second year of the FedExCup starting strokes format: one scoreboard, one championship, one trophy.
“Tonight is one of the very special evenings of the year as we’ll be presenting the Payne Stewart Award to Zach Johnson, thanks to the support of Southern Company and CEO Tom Fanning. Zach is the first winner of the event who didn’t know Payne personally, but they certainly have quite a bit in common: loyalty to their Midwest roots, fierce competitors in both individual and team competition, and a passion for family and impacting the lives of those in need.
“Like so many, I’m thrilled for Zach and know this means a lot to him, his family, and his many friends on TOUR. We continue to be inspired by the reach of Payne’s legacy, most beautifully lived out by Tracey Stewart and their children, Chelsea and Aaron.
“While the focus this week is on the season finale, I wanted to provide a few updates as we look forward to next season. We’re excited today to present the full 2020-2021 PGA TOUR schedule, a super season of 50 fully sponsored events and capped off by the 15th edition of the FedExCup Playoffs.
“If you’re a golf fan, this is a dream season with more significant events than ever before, including the Olympic Games. What more can you ask for?
“In closing, I wanted to end by revisiting an incredibly important topic. I touched earlier on what has been done in the Atlanta community to help those in need since 1995. While we are so proud of that impact and it’s at the heart of this event’s history, we’re also painfully aware there is much more to do.
“The many tragedies this summer have sparked much needed ongoing conversations about racial and social injustice, and with the passing of Georgia Congressman John Lewis, an American hero and a towering figure of the civil rights movement right here in Atlanta, we should all be further inspired to be part of the solution.
“Mr. Lewis’ words were simple but powerful. When we see something that’s not right, not fair, or not just, we have a moral obligation to speak up and speak out, to do something about it. The PGA TOUR’s Inclusion Leadership Council has been working to reimagine the TOUR’s role in leading diversity and inclusion efforts since 2014.
“In essence, how do we use the platform that we’ve established over the past 80 years to make deeper and more specific commitments around social justice efforts in our communities.
“There are specifics to come in this space, and the work may never be complete, but as we close out this season of change, I felt it important to reinforce our commitment. A significant part of that commitment has been through the leadership of Marsha Oliver, helping guide us through this process as our vice president for community and inclusion.
“Marsha’s thoughtfulness and perspective has already proven invaluable, and I look forward to working with her as she helps guide the PGA TOUR towards being part of the solution.”
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