As a young athlete growing up in Belmont, Jay Monahan was known more for his hockey than his golf, playing with enough tenacity and toughness on the ice to eventually enjoy a successful college career at Trinity.
Golf would emerge to lay Monahan’s professional path, however, and in January of 2017, he ascended to one of the most powerful positions in the game as commissioner of the PGA Tour.
Monahan might want to lean on those hockey roots right now. After making one of the most consequential and controversial decisions in the history of golf — a union with the once-reviled LIV tour and a partnership with the sportswashing expert Saudi Arabian Public Investment Fund — he is taking hits from all sides.
And he deserves them all.
Monahan’s stunning flip-flop regarding a previously stated moral aversion to accepting money from the Saudi fund, his complete 180 on never again welcoming the LIV golfers he held responsible for the rift that has torn golf apart for the past year, his blatant sellout of his own PGA Tour loyalists who repeatedly fought his PR fight in the public forum, how does he come back from any of it?
For a man who built his career on interpersonal relationships and consensus building, it’s hard to imagine him remaining the long-term leader of the PGA Tour, maintaining the trust and confidence of the players who are supposed to carry the weight of influence in a player-led sport. Not after he double-crossed them, embarrassed them, used them to fight his campaign for public opinion, and worse, had some of them doing it after they personally turned down LIV money — as much as a reported billion dollars in the case of Tiger Woods.
He turned his back on them and got into bed with LIV, the Saudis, the PIF, and the DP World Tour.
“I said it to Jay yesterday, you’ve galvanized everyone against something and that thing that you galvanized everyone against you’ve now partnered with,” Rory McIlroy said Wednesday.
McIlroy has been the most public face of PGA loyalty, consistently defending the tour as the place for legacy building, elite competition, and the only true aspirational arena for the world’s best players. Now he’s left to accept a betrayal that even Monahan himself knows is distasteful.
“I recognize that people are going to call me a hypocrite,” Monahan said in a conference call Tuesday night, shortly after an admittedly “heated” meeting with players who’d been blindsided by the morning’s news. “Anytime I said anything, I said it with the information I had in the moment, and I said it based on someone that’s trying to compete for the PGA Tour and our players.”
According to a Sports Illustrated report, Monahan was called out at that meeting as a hypocrite by at least one golfer and was subject to an embarrassing standing ovation when another called for a change in leadership.
“It was a tough meeting for both sides,” Geoff Ogilvy told SI. “He didn’t really talk specifics ... Nobody really knows what this is going to look like in the end. We didn’t learn that much apart from there’s going to be an alliance and the business structure’s going to change.
“There’s some grumpy players in there. Feel a little bit sort of ... not lied to, but that the tour sort of changed its position kind of quickly. Maybe there’s a feeling of a little bit of a lack of trust in the leadership.”
Clearly, Monahan has an awful lot of repair work to do, and not only with golfers, but with the families of 9/11 victims who came out so forcefully against LIV from its inception, and who spoke up against this union Tuesday night.
“PGA Commissioner Jay Monahan co-opted the 9/11 community last year in the PGA’s unequivocal agreement that the Saudi LIV project was nothing more than sportswashing of Saudi Arabia’s reputation,” read a statement from 9/11 Families United chair Terry Strada, who lost her husband in the attack on the World Trade Center.”
“But now the PGA and Monahan appear to have become just more paid Saudi shills, taking billions of dollars to cleanse the Saudi reputation so that Americans and the world will forget how the Kingdom spent their billions of dollars before 9/11 to fund terrorism, spread their vitriolic hatred of Americans, and finance al Qaeda and the murder of our loved ones. Make no mistake — we will never forget.”
Monahan continued his personal spin cycle in an interview on Golf Channel Wednesday, apologizing to those survivors, but not so much for brokering this agreement, instead for the confidentiality of the negotiations.
“I obviously acknowledge her loss and respect her position,” Monahan said. “I think about the fact that I allowed confidentiality to prevail here, and in allowing confidentiality to prevail, I did not communicate to very important constituents, including the families of 9/11, and I regret that, I really do.”
I was thinking back to one of my first interactions with Monahan, when the PGA Tour event at TPC Boston ended its run as we knew it in 2018. I asked him what his proudest accomplishment was to date.
He spoke of the players, saying, “The way they compete, the values they convey, the same values that drive this game, honesty, integrity, respect, the way that they relate to fans, the way they’ve opened themselves up and are keenly interested in not just driving the tour but in driving this game forward, how involved they are in our business.
“Those are things I take great pride in, because that’s what enables our success. You’ve got to have that in this business. And it’s not administrators who do that, it’s the athletes, those out front.”
Now we can’t help but wonder, how do “those out front” ever trust him again?