Jay Monahan talks at the Travelers Championship, reveals little about PIF/LIV negotiations

CROMWELL, Conn. — Two years ago at the Travelers Championship, PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan sat behind an elevated desk and tried to project strength and resolve. He talked for roughly 40 minutes that day about a reworked, calendar-based schedule for the tour, massive purse increases at Signature Events and how challenging it is for players to earn a spot on the PGA Tour. With Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) poaching stars and signing them to compete in LIV Golf, Monahan was trying to keep more of the PGA Tour’s stars from defecting and the rank-and-file golfers happy.

Wednesday morning, Monahan stood in front of the same desk instead of sitting behind it. Air-conditioning protected everyone from the sweltering conditions outside at TPC River Highlands. Reporters, holding audio recorders, encircled him.

Monahan spoke in a low, conversational voice. He was measured and controlled, and he stayed on brand. For just under 15 minutes, the head of the PGA Tour talked about the state of the PGA Tour. However, at the end of his chat with reporters, there were only a few things that we learned, and if golf fans were dreaming that rumors of a deal between the PGA Tour and LIV Golf announcing a deal soon could be true, Monahan did nothing to make that dream feel like a reality.

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Here are the most significant takeaways.

1. Negotiations with PIF are continuing in the background, not through the media

“I know (the media) are eager to know more,” Monahan said. “But I will go back to the meeting that we had just two Fridays ago in New York, when our entire transaction committee, including Tiger Woods and Adam Scott being in person and Rory dialing in from the Memorial Tourmament, alongside Yasir Al Rumyan, the governor of the PIF, and representatives of the PIF … it was a very productive discussion. As we said, progress was made and we continue to be in regular dialog. I had a 10 o’clock call this morning with the PIF and we’re doing that multiple times a week.”

Rumors that were floated last week on social media that a deal between the PGA Tour and PIF would be announced here this week proved false, and Monahan is clearly not going to talk about the specifics of the negotiations outside closed-door meetings.

“I’d like to give you more, but I would say to you that there are a lot of important aspects that we talked about in that meeting, aspects that will be important towards the final agreement that we got consensus on, and then there were a number of areas that we recognized that we weren’t going to, but identified them and that’s what we’re focused on.”

2. The ‘Framework’ is not being used

On June 6, 2023, the PGA Tour and PIF announced that a framework had been reached, ending the litigation between the two groups. It was not a takeover or merger agreement, but in the words of the PGA Tour was, “a set of requirements and safeguards that guide our work toward a definitive agreement.”

Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and every other PGA Tour player was shocked by the announcement and caught off guard. However, a year later, that agreement has lost most of its value.

“I would say that the framework agreement is still relevant, there are aspects of it that still continue to be in play, but I would put it that we’ve all stepped back and we’ve started anew,” Monahan said. “Particularly with the introduction of our transaction committee, our players’ involvement … I would say that the vast majority of what we’re talking about, we’re building from the ground up.”

3. With complexity comes opportunity

Between the interests and concerns of the PGA Tour, PIF, players, the Department of Justice and fans, the negotiations taking place to unify men’s professional golf are complicated. Very complicated.

When Monahan was asked whether members of the media and fans fully understand how nuanced and intricate the discussions are, he said when business heavyweights like John Henry (the principal owner of the Boston Red, Pittsburgh Penguins, Liverpool Football Club, and the Boston Globe), Sam Kennedy (Red Sox president), Arthur Blank and others say this is one of the most complex scenarios they have ever seen, it’s hard to think anyone on the outside of the talks could fully grasp them.

“So as it relates to whether or not the complexity is being underestimated, I think that it is only fair to say that unless you have a full context for everything that is being discussed, it would be unreasonable for anyone to think that you would fully understand the complexity,” Monahan said.

At that point, Monahan uttered a phrase that would make any optimist proud: “With complexity comes opportunity.”

4. Tiger’s exemption

Following Tuesday evening’s PGA Tour policy board meeting, the tour announced that Woods had been given a special exemption into all future Signature Events. Right now, these events are contested by golfers who finished in the top 50 of the prior season’s FedExCup, players who win PGA Tour events, golfers who are ranked in the top 30 on the Official World Golf Ranking and other elite-player rankings.

“It is something that was important to our membership, it was something we talked about with the PAC (Player’s Advisory Council), it was important to our player directors, it’s important to our board,” Monahan said.

“It’s important to me because, as the exemption says, the man has won more than 80 events and I think being able to give him the opportunity to compete in these events … any event he’s ever played in, he’s made it bigger, he’s made it better and he’s drawn more eyeballs to it.”

Story originally appeared on GolfWeek