Embattled PGA Tour commissioner makes first remarks since return from medical leave

AP file photo by Seth Wenig / PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan returned to work in mid-July after six weeks of medical leave that came on the heels of a stunning announcement regarding his organization and the rival LIV Golf League. Monahan made his first public remarks since returning when he spoke to members of the media on Wednesday.

MEMPHIS — PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan said he is fully healthy again, and he believes the organization is on the right path to finalize a deal with the Saudi backers of LIV Golf.

Whether he's the best person to lead the tour will be measured by results of the surprise agreement.

"I am confident when we complete this process, this will be a rewarding result for PGA Tour players and the fans," Monahan said Wednesday during a roundtable discussion with members of the media.

He spoke publicly for the first time since returning to work July 17, having stepped away for five weeks with what had been described only as a "medical situation." Monahan said it was anxiety that had built up for two years, and there were no guarantees when he stepped away on June 14 that he would make it back.

The task ahead is just as big. The agreement for a new commercial venture with Saudi Arabia's national wealth fund and the Europe-based DP World Tour is to be finalized by Dec. 31 — that includes the future of LIV Golf — and all the while Monahan is faced with regaining trust from golfers who felt betrayed about the PGA Tour's about-face deal with the Saudis.

He said his only regret about the deal was keeping players in the dark.

"I put players on their back foot," he said. "That's something I regret and will not do again."

Asked if he was the right person for the job, Monahan said: "I understand the position I'm in in the short term. But I think the real answer to that question is where are we at the end of this year. And I think where we're going to be ... is going to be a very positive place."

Monahan offered few details on the negotiations with Saudia Arabia's Public Investment Fund with the media — or with players Tuesday afternoon in his first formal meeting with them since returning — because negotiations are ongoing. Tour officials met with PIF representatives last weekend, and Monahan was bullish a deal would get done by the end of the year, adding the PGA Tour is not considering any outside investors at the moment.

"Our focus is on conversations with PIF," he said, adding later that he was "determined to get this right." He said a definitive agreement by the end of the year "is the target, and that is realistic."

"There is the short term and there is the long term," Monahan said. "Looking out over the horizon, we feel like this is the right move for the PGA Tour to create a new commercial model that allows PIF to invest ... and to be able to grow the PGA Tour that will reward players and fans.

"That's what we think is the right path forward."

The commercial venture has been referred to as "NewCo" in documents — typical in business transactions. The actual working title is PGA Tour Enterprises, a for-profit company that operates separately from PGA Tour Inc., which has 501-(c)-6 tax-exempt status.

Monahan said the Saudi deal contributed to his anxiety, though it had been building up over time and reached a point that he had to step away to continue.

"The reality for me was that I was dealing with anxiety, which created physical and mental health issues and challenges for me," Monahan said. "I needed to step away and deal with that."

The timing was difficult. The agreement was announced June 6, and Monahan met with players at the Canadian Open later that afternoon. He described the meeting as "intense," with some players wanting him to resign.

A week later he announced he was taking a leave.

"My nature is to always ... run into a fight or a conflict, not run away from it," he said. "To step away at that point in time was very difficult for me, but I needed to take care of myself for my family, for myself, and ultimately to come back here stronger than I've ever been to lead the PGA Tour forward."

Emotions have cooled over the last two months. Monahan described the Tuesday afternoon meeting attended by 25 players as "productive" and said he is "entirely determined" to regain the players' trust, adding he sees "a clear path to doing that, as difficult as that might seem right now to some."

He did express regret regarding how the deal was announced. Monahan said he was impatient on the eve of the announcement, and if he had a mulligan he would have flown to Canada to tell the players privately before anything was disclosed in public.

Players were to get a memo roughly a half-hour before Monahan and Yasir al-Rumayyan, governor of the PIF, went on CNBC, but when an embargo was broken, some players only read on social media about a merger with LIV before seeing the memo.

"Ultimately, the rollout on June 6 was ineffective," Monahan said. "And as a result there was a lot of misinformation, and I think any time you have misinformation, that can lead to mistrust. That's my responsibility — that's me and me alone.

"I apologize for putting players on their back foot, but ultimately the move that we made is the right move for the PGA Tour. I firmly believe that. As we go forward, time will bear that out."