GOLF Monahan brings personal touch as commissioner
Not everyone in the golf world knew much about Jay Monahan except that he was anointed, and then appointed, the next PGA Tour commissioner.
Odds are that Monahan knew about them.
Monahan, who takes over on Jan. 1, brings a personal touch that was at times lacking from the three commissioners who preceded him. One example of that came on the practice range a few years ago during the Bridgestone Invitational.
Caddies were in the middle of a class-action lawsuit against the tour over their treatment. Tension and mistrust were running high, especially at the sight of Tim Finchem talking with players on the range that day. Along came Monahan, and one caddie was asked if he knew much about Finchem’s new deputy commissioner.
The caddie, his eyes narrowing as he looked Monahan’s way, said a player introduced them four or five years ago and while Monahan seemed like a decent guy, he would be just like the other suits at tour headquarters.
Moments later, Monahan saw a familiar face and stopped to chat. He first introduced himself to the caddie, calling him by his first name.
“I don’t know if you remember, but we met a few years ago,” Monahan told him.
The mood lightened. Judgment was reserved.
Another such moment was in March at the Valspar Championship, where Monahan was sent for an announcement that Valspar was extending its title sponsorship through 2020. These are important deals, though they typically are filled with sleep-inducing corporate lingo. Monahan found time to talk about his aunt, Sue Rooney, who used to work in caddie registration and pestered him during summer holidays about how the Tampa Bay tournament didn’t have a long-term sponsorship deal.
“She passed away in July,” Monahan said. “She’s looking down upon us all with a big smile today.”
Remembering names and personalizing moments only go so far when it comes to running an organization that brings in more than $1 billion in revenue, that is trying to figure out how fans will be watching golf 10 years from now when negotiating media deals and is charged with keeping 43 tournaments fully sponsored.
Given the rest of Monahan’s background, it won’t hurt.
Finchem, who is retiring after 22 years and monumental growth in exposure and prize money, saw enough in Monahan to hire him away from Fenway Sports Management in 2008, get him involved in every important aspect of the PGA Tour and appoint him as deputy commissioner in 2014.
Seth Waugh, the retired CEO of Deutsche Bank Americas, hired Monahan to run the Deutsche Bank Championship and then sent him Finchem’s way.
“I said to Tim when he was looking for someone to put in sales, ‘The best guy I’ve seen is Jay Monahan,’ who was with the Red Sox then,” Waugh said Tuesday. “But I said, ‘If you hire him, he’ll be your replacement.’ He laughed. But I meant it.
“Relative to tour standards, he’s had a meteoric rise,” Waugh said. “Tim recognized he had something different.”
Running the tour presents challenges large and small.
Finchem and Monahan already spent plenty of time in New York this summer with television executives, working on the next deal. FedEx is up for renewal after this year, which is key to the FedEx Cup that the tour has billed as the centerpiece to its wraparound season. Still to be navigated is a game that is global by nature but lacking in structure. And the job that never ends is keeping the tour fully sponsored.
Waugh often uses the word “balance” to describe Monahan, which starts with being a good listener.
“He tries to say ‘Yes’ instead of ‘No,’ and he figures out how to solve things,” Waugh said. “He does his work to figure out an opinion, and then he has an opinion. He’s not afraid to have an opinion, and he’s going to make you feel good about having your opinion. He’s balanced, fair. He has a client focus. He will bring a different approach to sponsors, which is sorely needed.”
In an interview with Golf Digest that was published Tuesday, Finchem praised Monahan for being able to see big instead of small, for looking forward instead of behind him, and for having a skill set and background in sports that was “superior to what I enjoyed” when Finchem was tapped for the job.
“I think he’s 10 percent more Irish than I am, but substantially more likable,” Finchem said. “If you talk about public speaking, I have a bit of an advantage over him because I’ve been doing it longer.
But he has a huge advantage over me because he really connects with people.
“He has this ability to say things that draw you in, in a meaningful way,” Finchem added. “If I tell a story, I give the overview. If he tells a story, he takes you there into the minutiae of what happens, and you really live through the moments of the story.”
That’s the personal touch Monahan brings. Starting in January, he’ll be measured by where it all leads.