Monahan confident in his job and hopeful PGA Tour can strike a deal with Saudis

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PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. — PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan was short on details but overflowing with confidence Tuesday about the future of the PGA Tour, repairing the fractured landscape of golf and his ability to lead the way.

“I am the right person to lead us forward. I know that,” Monahan said at The Players Championship. “I believe that in my heart, and I’m determined to do exactly that.”

Where it leads remains a mystery. Monahan said at the onset of his news conference — his first in nearly seven months — that while negotiations with the Saudi backers of LIV Golf are “accelerating,” they had to remain private.

“While we have several key issues that we still need to work through, we have a shared vision to quiet the noise and unlock golf’s worldwide potential,” he said.

What he offered was hope for a successful outcome with the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia, which announced an agreement on June 6 to partner with the PGA Tour in a commercial investment venture eventually called PGA Tour Enterprises.

Now the only minority investor is Strategic Sports Group, a consortium of U.S. sports owner that agreed in January to pump up to $3 billion into golf. The initial investment of $1.5 billion includes a player-equity program to compensate players and give them ownership.

Monahan said SSG joined him on a January trip to Saudi Arabia to meet with with PIF leader Yasir Al-Rumayyan. PIF is funding LIV Golf, which lured away Masters champion Jon Rahm in December to join a roster that includes major champions Brooks Koepka, Dustin Johnson, Cameron Smith and Bryson DeChambeau.

“I do believe that negotiating a deal with PIF is the best outcome,” Monahan said. “Obviously it has to be the right deal for both sides, like any situation or negotiation.”

Among the sticking points, which Monahan declined to discuss, is how to bring the players back together when so many of them defected from the PGA Tour to sign lucrative signing bonuses with a league that offers $20 million purses with no cut over 54 holes.

Most players believe LIV players should not be allowed back without some penalty. Rory McIlroy said last month there should be no punishment.

“However we end up, I think that we’re not going to be able to satisfy everyone, and that goes for both sides,” Monahan said. “But what we’re trying to do is to get to the best possible outcome again for the tour and for the game, and I do think that that’s achievable.”

Also left unsaid was how to integrate team golf that LIV promotes with the PGA Tour, one of the directives in the original June 6 agreement with the Saudis.

Meanwhile, golf marches on with divided tours.

“When you step back from it and you just look at where we are … with the game booming, becoming cooler, becoming more mainstream, it’s truly global,” Monahan said. “There are a finite number of athletes, and this is a unique point in time where unification ultimately puts the sport in the best possible position to take advantage of this growth on a go-forward basis.”

Adding to the drama was Monahan taking a leave of absence in June, right after the Saudi deal was announced, because of a medical situation related to anxiety and lack of sleep. Because of the surprise nature of the deal — some players learned about it from social media — he spoke last summer about having to regain trust of the players.

When asked if anyone on the board — six player-directors, including Tiger Woods, or the independent directors — had asked for his resignation, Monahan said only there has been “good, spirited debate” among the board.

“But we are a united front,” he said.

Monahan now has a vote on the board, and he is the CEO of PGA Tour Enterprises, which is a for-profit company that gives the tour a chance to invest in ways they never could under the tax-exempt model of PGA Tour Inc., which now runs the competition side of the tour.

Woods was appointed vice chairman of PGA Tour Enterprises. Under the June 6 agreement, Al-Rumayyan was to be the chairman. But that starts with a deal.

Monahan would not speculate on how important it was to do a deal with PIF and its seemingly endless supply of money to spend on LIV Golf. Nor would he contemplate how golf would look if a deal with PIF doesn’t get done.

“I’m focused on moving the tour forward, moving our discussions forward, and I’m hopeful that we’ll reach a successful outcome,” he said. “Both sides have to work together to reach that successful outcome, and if we can’t … we’ll continue to compete and be as strong a tour as we can possibly be, with a great new investor in SSG, with a lot of opportunity for that growth.”

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AP golf: https://apnews.com/hub/golf

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