CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Jay Monahan has never faced a more tumultuous time as PGA Tour commissioner.
More than two dozen PGA Tour members have defected to the LIV Golf circuit, which is being fronted by two-time Open Championship winner Greg Norman and funded by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund.
The PGA Tour is currently facing a federal antitrust lawsuit from LIV Golf and three of its players alleging it illegally suspended them for competing in LIV Golf events and is using its monopoly power to squash competition. The U.S. Department of Justice has also opened an investigation into allegations that the PGA Tour is a monopoly.
The PGA Tour responded to the threat by raising its purses for 12 elevated events, which will have average purses of $20 million, to go along with the $25 million Players Championship. The tour’s top players have committed to play in 20 events starting this season.
Monahan sat down with ESPN for an exclusive interview before last week’s Presidents Cup at Quail Hollow Club.
Some players have said that the tour and LIV need to come together. What is your opinion?
Monahan: Well, I think words and actions are important. I think it’s impractical when you look at the fact that certain players have sued the PGA Tour, their employer has sued the PGA Tour. It’s not in the cards. It hasn’t been in the cards and it’s not in the cards. I think we’ve been pretty consistent on that front.
Can the PGA Tour and LIV Golf coexist?
Monahan: I’d provide the same answer. The answer to that is they’ve gone down their path and I think we have been pretty consistent that we’re going down ours, and I don’t see that happening. Haven’t, and I don’t.
Where do you see men’s professional golf going from here in terms of the health of the sport?
Monahan: Well, I can speak to the PGA Tour and the changes that we’ve made. You go back over the last couple of years, and as we came into ’22, we came into a new rights cycle domestically. We were in a new rights cycle internationally with great media partners. And the way our business works, we generate our revenue from media rights, from sponsorships and from the way that we activate in each market with our host organizations. And we’ve looked at our schedule, we’ve made structural changes to our schedule.
We’re in an alliance with the DP World Tour, working more closely than we ever have before. I sit on the board of the DP World Tour. You look at the composition of our membership and the global nature of our membership, I think we’re just going to continue to lean into the changes that we’ve made.
Some of those changes being the elevated events, concentrating our schedule, making our product as strong as possible, the platform that we provide to our members. And it’s not just about media, our television distribution. You look today at Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram — on a weekly basis, we’re generating over 100 million video views and making certain that we’re continuing to provide not only the strongest competitive platform, but also the strongest brand platform for our players, given the values that we stand for as an organization, the impact we have. We’re going to focus on what we control and just keep getting better at it and stronger at it.
What did you make of LIV Golf CEO and commissioner Greg Norman’s recent visit to Capitol Hill?
Monahan: We’ve been going to Capitol Hill multiple times a year for well before I got to the PGA Tour, and I didn’t and I don’t make much of it. If you go back to July 2, 1974, when the PGA Tour was granted [nonprofit] status, it’s something that we take great pride in. If you look back since that point in time, we’ve raised over $3.3 billion for charities, and we have promoted the values of the game, the competitive spirit of the game, and every constituency, every market here across all of our tours has benefited from that [nonprofit] status. We feel very strongly and we take very seriously, that responsibility.
So anybody that wants to attack it, we’re very comfortable to tell our story and not only our story today, but the continued incredible work that we’re going to do to benefit people and communities going forward.
What are you telling players to persuade them to remain with the PGA Tour?
Monahan: I focus on where we are and where we’re going. And I focus on two things: What your possibility is from an income standpoint on the PGA Tour, [and] from a competitive standpoint on the PGA Tour, because ultimately what I tell someone depends on what their purpose is. What do you want to accomplish? Everything starts with that. And then you respond to it. To me, if you want to achieve at the highest level of the game and you want to win the biggest championships in the game, then we have an incredible story to tell on that front.
And then, you really talk about the model and make certain that a player fully understands what it means to have your independence, to be able to pick and choose your schedule, to be able to identify the companies and the people that you want to partner with, and to think about how your life is going to evolve as a PGA Tour member.
You might be a young player today. You may get married in the future and have kids, and as you become a superstar and as more responsibility comes up, that’s a really important element to what it takes to achieve at the very highest level. That’s something that has been a constant on the PGA Tour and is a really important element to success out here.
I also am quick to say: Make certain that you’re talking to other people. I’m only one voice, and granted, I’m honored to be able to lead this organization, but I think when you’re making choices like this, you need to know with certainty what you’re getting into. And so I try and provide that certainty on our side and make certain that players understand it as they think about anything that might change.
What did you make of Tiger’s meeting in Wilmington, Delaware, before the BMW Championship in August?
Monahan: It was Tiger and Rory’s meeting and nothing gave me more pride because we’ve been battling for a long period of time here, and that meeting was a culmination of a lot of discussions and exchanges of ideas over the past several months. When you take two icons of the game and they’re taking responsibility for bringing the guys together and continuing to think of ways to improve the PGA Tour, make it stronger and make commitments that have never been made before, it was a really important moment in time. People talk about 1968 [when the tour spun off into an organization for professional players], people talk about when the PGA Tour was formed and people talk about 1994 [when the PGA Tour rebuffed Norman’s plans for a breakaway World Golf Tour]. And I think that was kind of that moment here.
At the end of the day for me, and I feel like I’m getting blue in the face on this, but the competitive framework here and the integrity of that is so important. And that’s what those players are trying to protect. And so to me, understand, respecting history, respecting tradition, honoring it at the same time, figuring out how we can evolve in a way that actually improves upon that is the absolute right way of going about things. And to me, it’s not like that was. … That was part of a process, but it was a really important part of the process, if you know what I mean.
How important has Tiger’s leadership been to the tour?
Monahan: It’s extremely important. I’ve said that publicly and I’ll continue to say it: You win 82 times out here, you win 15 major championships, you are the host of the Genesis Invitational and you look at his TGR Foundation. You look at the fact that every player out here and you’ve asked them the question, virtually every player out here, and one of the reasons they’re out here is because they idolized and looked at him. His on-course presence is matched by his voice or his off-course presence. And so, not only do they look at him, I think his peers look at him as a leader, the leader on the golf course, but also a leader off of it.
Again, a really important voice. So it always has been really important and it always will be. I mean, I think you look at Mr. [Jack] Nicklaus is here [at the Presidents Cup]. He’s going to be on the first tee for the Presidents Cup. He’s captained four teams. He hosted the event in 2013, and Jack’s presence and his voice continues to be a really important part of this game. When Tiger’s that age, it’ll be the same way. That’s what’s unique about our sport.
I guess the big part of LIV has been the changing the game, its newness. What can you guys do? I mean, competitive golf is competitive golf, but what can you do to make the fan experience different or have new and exciting things for fans?
Monahan: To me, change comes from two standpoints. One’s the player and one’s the fan. You and I have talked about the changes that we’re making on the competitive side of things. We’re going to continue to lean into that. And to me, that benefits the fan because knowing at the beginning of the year where the best players in the PGA Tour are going to play and knowing that you’re going to continue to have more stars, more storylines, more breakthroughs as we go through what is now a truncated season. I think we’ll create even greater interest, particularly when you look at the tentpole big moments in our game. And then, you look at the presentation of our product.
We’re on ESPN+ now, 4,300 hours, more than 50% of those individuals [watching] are under the age of 35. We are investing in all of our platforms to help build the brand and profile of our players. We’re making investments and we’re partnering in concepts like Tomorrow Golf [with Woods and McIlroy], which are certainly going to appeal to a younger audience and are going to serve a platform for innovation that will be a huge part of what we do over the next 10 years. What we started with will not be where we end up. I think you’ll see a lot of progress on that front. I think you look at our alliance with the DP World Tour and you think about the game from a global basis. We’ve been in a number of markets outside the U.S., as we reset the schedule.
Is there more that we can do beyond what we’ve already done? I think last year was a really good start with the Genesis Scottish Open, the Barracuda, the Barbasol, gaming NFTs, First Tee. Getting more young people into the game and connecting them on a life cycle, creating more diversity in our game. You look at the totality of the things that we’re doing, that we’ve done and that we’re going to continue to do, I think that’s going to lead to us continuing to reach a broader and younger demographic.
Interestingly, one of the things that’s being said about us is that we reach an older demographic. We do, but we reach an older demographic through television. And if you look at television generally, over the last 20 years the general population has aged an average of 10%. OK? So too has the PGA Tour audience. You look at other sports, those audiences have aged greater than 20%. So continuing, the more you broaden the pipes, the more you’re going to capture the entire spectrum, from the young all the way to the older demographic.
Why will the PGA Tour outlast LIV Golf?
Monahan: Because the game, at the highest level, is about aspiration. It’s about context. And any young kid today, any kid that’s going to be playing the game going forward, ultimately is going to want to win the biggest championships, the biggest tournaments, and put themselves in a position and on a path over the course of their golf journey to get to the PGA Tour and to again, achieve at the highest level. We are going to continue to evolve and get stronger in every single area of that spectrum or of that journey.
And the game itself will continue to evolve from an entertainment standpoint, but it isn’t going to be solely about entertainment. It’s going to be about how do I achieve what Tiger Woods has achieved, or Jordan Spieth or Jon Rahm or Collin Morikawa or Patrick Cantlay or Xander Schauffele? I can go on and on and on. And the players that are right now in the Korn Ferry Tour, who are going to be here in two years, who are going to be top five or top 10 in the world.
I think that’s what this organization has always stood for and has always tried to get stronger and better at. And then I also think that there’s an important element here of purpose. And we talked about it earlier, but what is your purpose in playing the game? What do you want to achieve? But also, where do you want to align from a purpose standpoint? And the world needs more purpose.
The PGA Tour is an incredible platform that does so much good for every community where we play. We leave it better than we found it. We do so much good for so many people. We invest back in the game through First Tee and other programs. And we see through partnerships like the DP World Tour and through an even stronger global presence and partnership with other tours, as a system that’s only going to get stronger.
How can you make the Presidents Cup more competitive going forward?
Monahan: We invested in the Junior Presidents Cup back in 2017. I was out there on Tuesday, and the internationals were three ahead going into singles and the U.S. team came back and won. But that was as close as it could possibly be and I think that bodes very well for the future of the Presidents Cup itself.
And talk about exciting, at 550,000 square feet to build out [in Charlotte]. The closest thing that we have is the Players Championship, which is over 400,000. You have 40,000 people a day. The events sold out [on] Friday, Saturday, Sunday. The staging to me is exceptional. We’re playing a golf course that I think is going to create a lot of drama and excitement. And you’ve got more international fans coming in than we’ve had in the past to support the event. I think we’re on a really good path and a really good trajectory. The embrace that we’re getting and the interest that we have in this property are extremely strong and competitive.