HOYLAKE – Walking through glass doors, up a flight of stairs and turning left into the office of the PGA Tour commissioner was always going to be a lot easier for Jay Monahan than walking onto the range and facing players who feel betrayed.
At least he has time on his side.
The players whose opinions matter the most are across the Atlantic Ocean from PGA Tour headquarters in Florida. And while questions (without answers) persist about a proposed partnership (without details) with the Saudi backers of LIV Golf, all anyone really cares about at the British Open is whose name gets engraved on that silver claret jug.
The PGA Tour is likely to announce its 2024 schedule sometime next week. A few weeks later is the start of the FedEx Cup playoffs.
“I will plan to join you in person at a tournament as soon as possible and address any and all questions you may have,” Monahan said in a letter sent to the players last week in announcing his return.
Oh, there will be questions.
Since the PGA Tour's version of D-Day — maybe the “D” stands for disillusionment — on June 6 when the shocking about-face deal with the Saudis was announced:
— Monahan faced a heated player meeting in Canada that included suggestions he be replaced.
— He stepped away for five weeks because of a “medical situation.”
— A federal judge dismissed antitrust litigation.
— Tom Watson issued a letter to Monahan wanting to know if a deal with the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia was the only way forward.
— Former AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson resigned from the PGA Tour board out of protest.
— The U.S. Senate released 275 pages of emails, texts and other documents related to the deal.
— Ron Price, the tour's chief operating officer, and board member Jimmy Dunne, who spearheaded the deal, appeared before a Senate hearing on the agreement.
And where did all that lead?
“Honestly, we've very much in the dark about it,” Jordan Spieth said after the hearing.
And this from Scottie Scheffler, the No. 1 player in the world:
“As a player on tour, we still don’t really have a lot of clarity as to what’s going on, and that’s a bit worrisome. They keep saying it’s a player-run organization, and we don’t really have the information that we need.”
The clock is ticking for Monahan in more ways than one.
According to the framework agreement, the sides have until Dec. 31 to work out the details (although they can agree to an extension). That becomes a priority for Monahan, and this time he has to include more than two board members.
Any definitive agreement, if it gets that far, must be approved by the board.
The other question: How can Monahan survive this?
With few exceptions, players typically don't care about much else beyond their pro-am times and whether their courtesy cars have a full tank of gas. But this one stings, because so many players chose to turn down free money (LIV Golf) for a tour built on meritocracy.
That's where the betrayal comes in.
“If you want to call it one of the rockier times on tour, the guy who was supposed to be there for us wasn’t,” Xander Schauffele said. "Obviously he had some health issues. I’m glad that he said he’s feeling much better. But yeah, I’d say he has a lot of tough questions to answer in his return.
“I don’t trust people easily. He had my trust and he has a lot less of it now,” Schauffele said. “So I don’t stand alone when I say that.”
Jon Rahm preached patience. He said Tuesday he thought Monahan was doing a “fantastic” job for the tour and the players. And even after he mentioned the surprise U-turn in dealing with the tour's Saudi rivals, he downgraded Monahan's job rating only from “fantastic” to “great.”
“And right now after that happened, I only think it’s fair to give them the right time to work things out,” Rahm said. “I still think they have the best interest of the players at heart. All we have right now, it’s a framework agreement. It’s an agreement to have an agreement. We really don’t have anything right now to be able to say or judge what they’ve done.”
The shock of the announcement, and the feeling that members had no voice in a members organization, will wear off soon enough.
Getting rid of the lawsuits was critical — not only for the tour and its legal fees but for the Saudis, who already were digging in against having to be deposed. The seemingly endless supply of PIF money meant LIV Golf wasn't going anywhere, and neither was the temptation for more players to defect. A deal felt inevitable no matter how hard a line Monahan toed.
But there's that issue of trust. Monahan had said he was prepared for criticism that he was a hypocrite. The feeling of betrayal is tougher to overcome.
“There's an issue at the tour with trust. It's obvious why,” said Adam Scott, who as Player Advisory Council chairman will join the board next year. “We did a complete about-face on everything we've said. There are still tons of questions. We haven't had any answers. Jay has not been here for a while. Hopefully when he returns comes more answers, and people can find whether that's palatable or not.”
But first he has to look them in the eye.
Only then will he begin to know whether they find answers palatable, and whether they are palatable coming from Monahan.
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