Jay Monahan faced the media for the PGA Tour Commissioner’s traditional press conference ahead of The Players Championship, the Tour’s flagship event at TPC Sawgrass near Tour HQ.
For more than an hour, Monahan addressed the press, first delivering a prepared monologue before fielding questions and unsurprisingly, queries surrounding the ongoing battle with LIV Golf, the recently announced 2024 PGA Tour schedule, and the strategic alliance with the DP World Tour featured heavily from the floor.
Rumours have arisen in recent weeks that certain players who jumped ship to join LIV may be regretting their decision, and upon being asked if there was any potential way that they’d be welcomed back to the PGA Tour, Monahan reiterated his stance that it wouldn’t be feasible.
“Yeah, for some reason I’ve been hearing that a lot lately,” he said referencing recent speculation, “and I’m not certain where that’s coming from. I mean, players that have, the players that are playing on that TOUR are contractually obligated to play on that TOUR. So any hypotheticals at this point really aren’t relevant, and I think you know me well enough to know I’m not a big fan of hypotheticals. But our position, to answer your question directly, has not changed.”
The Players Championship will go ahead without a defending champion in the field after Cameron Smith was one of the players to join the Saudi-backed breakaway Tour, and he admitted that it had been awkward to navigate circumstances that saw the 2022 winner excluded from the field, especially given that Smith is a resident of the area.
“Listen, Cam Smith had a great performance in 2022. He was a deserved champion. I think as I look to this week and I look at the field that we have here and the strength from top to bottom, I think when we leave here on Sunday night we’re going to crown another deserving champion.
“To answer your question directly, yes, it’s awkward. But you know, ultimately that’s a decision he made, and we’ve got an unbelievable field here this week and a history and tradition that one of these 144 is going to go seek to get.”
When the Tour’s plans to make many designated events reduced fields with no cuts from 2024 onwards, there was widespread criticism from many media outlets, leading to comparisons with LIV’s own events and to allegations that it was a vehicle for the wellbeing of players and sponsors at the expense of the fans.
Monahan refuted the idea that mid-tournament cuts were something that made professional golf a better entertainment product, and insisted that cuts would remain, just in a different guise to previous.
“I think fans like seeing the best players competing together more often and being there on the weekend. And I think in a — listen, 75 percent of our events don’t have cuts. I would say to our fans that this is just a different form or flavor of a cut. Because as I was alluding to earlier, if you’re coming into the Wyndham Championship and trying to get into the top 70 in the FedExCup, you are putting yourself in a position to get to BMW, and once we finish in Memphis, 20 of those players are going home and are not eligible for these designated events. To me that’s a cut, okay.
“Then we move our way through the TOUR Championship and ultimately we crown our FedExCup champ. You get to the fall, you’re going to have seven or eight events. The top 10 performers from that fall period are going to qualify, so there’s a cut because there’s players that aren’t going to qualify.
“Then you get into the first three swing events, and the top-5 performers from those events are going to make their way into the designated events. So there are cuts along the way.
“As I said earlier, what we’re considering here is to have players, having 70 to 78-player field sizes, recognizing the depth of that field and depth of any field in the PGA, but those players can come back and put themselves in a top-10 position.”
Few will be convinced by the assertion that a ‘cut’ the previous season is comparable to a mid-tournament cut, but fewer still will be convinced by Monahan’s response when queried about how the changes may be beneficial to its strategic partner, the DP World Tour.
“Well I think when you look at, you know, both organizations — Keith Pelley has been here, he and his team, the last three or four days. We’re spending a lot of time looking at the DP World Tour schedule and opportunities that we have going forward. I’m not going to comment on those today, but when you look at what has happened over the last couple of years, when you look at this year, you know, the DP World Tour is playing for $141 million in prize funds, which we are underpinning. We have made a $100 million investment in European Tour Productions.
“We as a team are rolling up our sleeves and working with Keith and his team every single day on that important part of the DP World Tour’s business.
“I think what we’ve done from a co-sanctioning standpoint at Genesis, the two crossover opportunities we have with Barbasol, Barracuda, if you look at their — if you look at the portfolio of sponsors and you look at those that share a relationship with the PGA TOUR and DP World Tour, our sponsors are interested in partnering with the DP World Tour.
“You’ve seen some of that. I think you’ll continue to see more of it. Ultimately as we go forward, you’ll hear about the benefit of more opportunities because we are — again, I’m on that board; that’s a commitment this organization has made to the DP World Tour and to its members, and it’s very important to me that we continue to deliver on that. I think the early signs are that we’re on a really good path.”
Perhaps a more accurate description of where the strategic alliance actually ranks in Monahan and the PGA Tour’s priorities could be found in a later answer when Monahan was asked about what he felt that the schism in professional golf was counter-productive to the rhetoric about growing the game.
“There’s no question that there’s been more attention to not only the men’s professional game but to our sport over the last year, year and a half. As it relates to growing the game, the expression you’re using, I’ll leave that for you guys to answer. We’re growing the PGA TOUR. We’re growing the PGA TOUR in the ways that I’ve outlined, and that’s the result of, again, the great members we have and the great support we have from our corporate partners and our media partners.”