PONTE VEDRA, Fla. — Jay Monahan, the PGA Tour commissioner, sat at a podium at noon Tuesday, and he looked like a guy who could not wait for the proceedings to begin.
This was two days before the Players Championship opening round at TPC Sawgrass, the annual time for the commissioner to deliver his state of the Tour address before its flagship tournament.
In recent months, talk of the Premier Golf League, a new golf tour with a team-league concept and crazy money being thrown around to lure the game’s top players, has threatened to rattle the PGA Tour, which is the game’s so-called establishment.
During that time, Monahan has remained rather quiet.
In his 45-minute Tuesday state-of-the-union, though, a day after the Tour’s new long-term network television contract agreement was announced, Monahan used what felt like a velvet hammer to slam back at the Premier Golf League.
He got some recent help from the best player in the game, Rory McIlroy, ranked No. 1 in the world. McIlroy denounced the PGL, citing that he didn’t like where the league’s financial backing was coming from, reportedly from Saudi Arabia interests.
And then on Tuesday, shortly after Monahan spoke, Golf Channel analyst Brandel Chamblee applauded McIlroy for taking a leadership role among the players in this PGL issue — and lashed out at the reported Saudi money that’s the supposed backbone of the new golf league.
Chamblee likened the PGL with its Saudi money as “not unlike a drug cartel.’’
“You’re talking about the most egregious acts against humanity,’’ Chamblee said. “These people put homosexuals in bags and throw them off buildings for sport. They chop up journalists. So, every morning [players would] have to look in the mirror and go, ‘Do I really like where this money is coming from? Am I not somewhat complicit? Am I not being a ventriloquist [dummy]? Am I not sort of being a part of the euphemizing of these atrocities, and you’ve got one guy to stand out and say these are the problems here?’
“Yeah, there’s a lot of money, but there’s a lot of existential baggage that comes with that. [McIlroy] thought it through. Somebody comes to you and says, ‘I’m going to pay you 10 times the money you’re making to do the exact same job, but with it comes a little baggage,’ and then we all sort of hedge a little bit here and a little bit here, and the next thing you know, you don’t care if they’re throwing homosexuals off of buildings for sport, chopping people up and killing them because they changed their religion.
“I applaud the man. What he does on the golf course is one thing, but what he did in the media center, that’s rarer than the athletic skill that he has.’ ’’
Monahan sounded buoyed by the responses he’s gotten from players, most notably McIlroy.
“We’re encouraged by the response that our players have had in our discussions,” Monahan said. “I think that the value that we provide to our players, to our tournaments, to our fans, the strength and security and foundation of this Tour has never been stronger, so that’s what we’re focused on.”
About McIlroy’s public offering, Monahan said, “I was certainly proud and pleased on that given day, and candidly, as I’ve talked to a lot of top players in my one-on-one conversations, I’ve heard a lot of the same. But I thought that [McIlroy’s stance] was a moment of leadership, and that was a special time, special day.’’
While Monahan declined to offer financial details of the new TV deals, he did reference $12 billion in revenue through 2030 and even speculated $25 million purses in the not too distant future.
“I think that it’s flattering when any entity is looking at what’s happening on the PGA Tour, and they see growth, they see momentum, they see a broadening reach to a larger fan base domestically and internationally, and it’s no surprise that someone is coming to try and take a piece of that,” Monahan said. “That’s the nature of business.’’
Monahan, with the new TV contract in place, sounded borderline cocksure that the PGL was of zero threat to the PGA Tour.
“The value that we provide to our players, to our tournaments, to our fans, the news that we’ve just talked about, securing $12 billion in revenue through 2030, the strength and security and foundation of this Tour has never been stronger,’’ he said. “This is a player-led organization, 51 years running. Our governance system has been driven by our players and our board, and we have regulations in place that allow us to protect the interests of our media partners, our sponsors and all of our constituents, and if we got to that point in time, we would take measures to vigilantly protect this business model.’’