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Jay Monahan: PGA Tour commissioner's future leaves membership divided ahead of The Players Championship

PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan's position has been under scrutiny from the playing membership following the surprise announcement of last June's framework agreement with LIV Golf's backers PIF; watch the 2024 Players Championship live on Sky Sports Golf

"I am the right person to lead us forward. I know that. I believe that in my heart, and I'm determined to do exactly that."

The words of PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan as he addressed the media ahead of the 50th edition of The Players Championship. There are some members of the Tour who do not believe he should still be in that role by the time No 51 rolls around, though.

The announcement on June 6 last year of a framework agreement being reached between the PGA Tour and the rebel LIV Golf series' financial backers from Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund (PIF) without input from the players rocked the golfing world.

Such was the surprise nature of the agreement that some players only found out about it via social media, and the way they were blindsided by it has led to an air of mistrust towards Monahan growing in some quarters.

Despite what he admits has been some "good, spirited debate" among the PGA Tour's policy board members, the 53-year-old insists he has their full backing. Among the wider playing membership though, opinions remain divided eight months on.

'Look at what Jay has done since he took over'

One player who is firmly behind Monahan continuing his stewardship of the Tour, which now includes being chief executive of PGA Tour Enterprises, the for-profit entity created to oversee the commercial side of the North American circuit, is Rory McIlroy.

The world No 2 was arguably the most prominent defender of the PGA Tour when LIV's emergence in 2022 split the men's professional game and conceded those upset about what transpired last June had justification to feel that way.

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Rory McIlroy discusses how he believes Jay Monahan has impacted the PGA Tour and how he will approach The Players Championship

Nevertheless, McIlroy, who served as a member of the Tour's policy board until resigning last November, believes Monahan should be judged on what he has done throughout his tenure since he officially succeeded Tim Finchem as commissioner in January 2017.

"You look at what Jay has done since he took over," McIlroy said. "The media rights deal, navigating us through Covid, the strategic alliance with the DP World Tour; I would say creating PGA Tour Enterprises, we were just able to accept $1.5bn [from investors Strategic Sports Group] in the business.

"People can nit-pick and say he didn't do this right or didn't do that right, but if you actually step back and look at the bigger picture, I think the PGA Tour is in a far stronger position than when Jay took over.

"I think some of the reaction to June 6 was warranted, but I think at this point it's eight months ago, and we all need to move on. We all need to sort of move forward and try to bring the game back together."

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Rory McIlroy says players need to 'move on' following discussions of whether PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan has the support to move the deal between the PGA Tour and LIV golf forward

Patrick Cantlay, one of the six player directors on the policy board since January last year, came out publicly in support of Monahan in his pre-tournament press conference at TPC Sawgrass on Tuesday as well.

With negotiations with PIF still ongoing and "accelerating", according to Monahan, eight-time winner on the PGA Tour Cantlay insists it is important that everyone remains on the same page.

"I think it's really important that we're all rowing in the same direction," Cantlay said. "I think with this PGA Tour Enterprises board, I think it's really exciting that we do have a chance to kind of start with something new and all move together in the right direction.

"Right now, he's definitely our leader, and so it's important that we're all doing our best, and like I said, rowing in the right direction to do what's best for the membership and the Tour."

Justin Thomas gestures during a news conference before a practice round for The Players Championship golf tournament Wednesday, March 13, 2024, in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)
Image: Justin Thomas believes negotiations over the future of the PGA Tour are bigger than just Jay Monahan's role

Justin Thomas, meanwhile, saw Monahan's role as only one small part of the negotiations with PIF and securing the long-term future of the PGA Tour.

"It's just way bigger than Jay," Thomas said. "I think Jay's just a part of the huge group of people that has been pushing for all the changes and progress that the Tour been making.

"So I've been pleased with all the latest stuff that's been happening and been going on, and Jay's been a part of that group, so I think this is a lot bigger than one person sitting there and making all the decisions. Understanding he has his role, but there's a really, really big group of people and players that are involved now that I think are making a whole sum decision for all of us.

'A long way to go to gain trust of membership'

Not everyone is toeing the party line though, and Xander Schauffele had no compunction about reiterating his views on Monahan still having a lot of fences to mend among the wider membership.

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Xander Schauffele explains why it will take some time for players to trust and believe in the PGA Tour leadership of Jay Monahan

"Trust is something that's pretty tender, so words are words, and I would say in my book he's got a long way to go," Schauffele said, responding to Monahan's press conference.

"He could be the guy, but in my book, he's got a long way to go to gain the trust of the membership.

"I'm sure he's got the support of the board, since they were with him making some of those decisions, but for me personally he's got quite a way to go."

Vikor Hovland, meanwhile, believes Monahan needs to take ownership of some of his previous actions and feels there have been too many instances of mistakes not being addressed sufficiently.

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Eamon Lynch says Jay Monahan was far from expansive in his press conference discussing some of the issues regarding the PGA tour

"I don't know exactly what should have been done because at the end of the day I don't have all the information," Hovland said. "I can't just say, 'okay, this is what exactly needs to be done or should have been done', but at the same time, there were some things that were said that has been walked back on and then things have been very contradictory.

"As a leader of an organization, I will want a person like that to take some ownership and say, 'hey, we made a couple of mistakes, but this is how we're going to rectify it', instead of kind of sweeping it under the rug, which I felt like has been done to a certain degree.

"So I don't mind people making mistakes - we all make mistakes. But I think when you make a mistake you've got to own up to it and say, 'hey, we're trying to do better here, and this is how we're going to do it'."

Even those who Monahan retains the backing of admit there is a significant groundswell against the commissioner.

ORLANDO, FL - MARCH 10: PGA golfer Viktor Hovland hits his tee shot on the 10th hole during the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by MasterCard at the Arnold Palmer's Bay Hill Club & Lodge on March 10, 2024, in Orlando, Florida. (Photo by Brian Spurlock/Icon Sportswire) (Icon Sportswire via AP Images)
Image: Viktor Hovland believes there are a number of mistakes made by Monahan which have not yet been addressed

Billy Horschel, who lives near the PGA Tour's headquarters in Ponte Vedra Beach and has come to know Monahan on a personal level, is optimistic that most of the players are behind him, yet knows there are plenty who do not share such positive views.

"I don't think he does [have the backing of the entire membership], and it's unfortunate because I trust Jay tremendously," Horschel told Sky Sports News. "I know who Jay is as a person, I know what he had in his heart and how much he cares for the PGA Tour and everyone who falls under it.

"I've always supported Jay, even after last year's deal. Was I upset with the way everything went down? Yeah, I was upset - but I don't fault him for trying to make the PGA Tour better and strong.

"Unfortunately, I don't think he has the full support of the entire membership, but I'm hopeful the majority of the PGA Tour membership support him."

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