PGA Tour’s Monahan broadening his game
Jay Monahan leans forward in his chair, his eyes projecting a piercing intensity.
Monahan often signs off on emails with “Keep attacking,” and sitting across the table, it’s easy to see why.
Monahan, the PGA Tour’s deputy commissioner and the man being groomed to succeed Tim Finchem, is described as a grinder among his friends. Intense. Driven.
But they also unanimously think of him as a relationship guy, a label he’s earned from working the past decade in the sponsorship world, first on the agency side, then on the property side at the PGA Tour. He almost always asks about the individual across the table before the conversation turns to business.
By the end of 2016, Monahan, now 44, very likely will be commissioner of the PGA Tour. After five years in sponsorship sales and a year as the tour’s chief marketing officer, Monahan was elevated to deputy commissioner on April 1, putting him squarely in line to succeed Finchem as commissioner. Finchem, 67, has hinted that his current contract, which runs through 2016, might be his last.
|Monahan, with Rory McIlroy after the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, has been interacting more with players since his promotion to PGA Tour deputy commissioner in April.
But looking ahead isn’t something Monahan spends much time on.
“The job I have is the job I have, and I’ve got to do this job very well,” he said, “so that’s where I tend to focus my energy.”
During a 30-minute interview last week at East Lake Golf Club, site of the Tour Championship, Monahan, wearing a navy jacket over a light lavender shirt, took a brief respite from the series of meetings he had with the tour’s corporate partners, many of whom annually head to Atlanta to celebrate the season finale with PGA Tour executives.
In the six months since becoming deputy commissioner, Monahan said he’s spent less time on the sponsorship side of the tour’s business and more time learning about areas that he doesn’t know as well. Chief among the items on his to-do list is to get better acquainted with the players.
“I’m definitely spending more of my time outside of the sponsorship realm,” said Monahan, a Boston native who surprised his friends at Fenway Sports Group in 2008 when he left FSG for the PGA Tour. “We’ve got an extremely strong team working on that and I want to be knowledgeable, but I’ll only get involved if there’s something I can do to help. Now, it’s about spending more time in areas that I haven’t been as exposed to in the past — agronomy, international business, our media businesses, the list goes on. I’m trying to gain as much knowledge as I can in those other areas.”
Tour veteran Jim Furyk, for one, has noticed Monahan’s increased presence in recent months, whether it’s in the locker room or the driving range, mingling with players. That aspect of the job seems to come naturally for Monahan, an accomplished golfer who still takes lessons and works on his game as much as time allows.
“He’s smart and he’s a really good guy,” said Furyk, who lives near the PGA Tour’s Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., headquarters. “I live in Jacksonville, so we seem to have a lot of mutual friends, and they all say the same thing.
“You definitely see him interacting more with the players now. I hope he gets it. I hope he’s the guy.”
When Finchem announced that Monahan would become deputy commissioner, he said only that this was a way for the tour to “strengthen our organizational structure and enhance our management coordination.”
But it was clear that the grooming process had begun. Internally, any communications that would have been sent to Finchem in the past now are sent to Finchem and Monahan. Spending more time by the commissioner’s side already has provided Monahan with an appreciation for the leadership required across all aspects of the tour’s business.
“I keep my eye on everything he does as commissioner,” Monahan said. “He’s been in this role for over 20 years. He’s a phenomenal leader. I’m spending my time with him watching and listening, and there’s no shortage of things I’m exposed to as a result. It’s a learning experience.
“We have a lot of discussions about situations, about trying to learn from each situation. Clearly, that’s a focus of mine, to learn as much from Tim as I can.”
Others, like PGA of America CEO Pete Bevacqua, say Monahan’s role has expanded in his conversations with the PGA Tour.
“We’ve noticed in very high-level conversations that Jay is a constant presence,” Bevacqua said. “It’s great how the tour has handled the succession planning. Jay is sort of being introduced, so if this is how it turns out, he’s going to go into it knowing as many people as possible and very, very prepared.”
Bevacqua, 43 and in his second year at the PGA, added, “You might be seeing a bit of a youth movement in golf, a changing of generations. You never look too far ahead, but it’s a comforting idea to know that we could be working with Jay into the future.”
Out of respect for Finchem, who has driven tour prize money up from $56 million in 1994 to $300 million this year, and overseen an unprecedented surge in sponsorship revenue and stability, not many executives in the golf industry are publicly projecting ahead to a Monahan commissionership.
Clearly, though, those on the brand and agency side anticipate a sponsor-friendly Monahan administration.
In his agency days at Fenway Sports Group from 2005 to 2008, Monahan developed a reputation for being innovative. He did much of the heavy lifting on the groundbreaking merger between the Boston Red Sox and Roush Fenway Racing in 2007.
During a stint as tournament director at the Deutsche Bank Championship from 2003 to 2005, Monahan earned praise from sponsors and the local Boston community for his emphasis on partnership and a fan-friendly environment. Those are traits that could help define him as a commissioner.
“It’s a reasonable bet that he’ll be sponsor-focused,” said Mike Dee, the San Diego Padres’ president and CEO who hired Monahan at Fenway Sports. “That’s the world he came from, that’s the way he thinks. He’s very creative in that world.
“If I’m looking ahead to a future Commissioner Monahan, it’ll be a good blend of respecting the traditions of the game and innovation with that ‘Keep attacking’ style. … Knowing his passion for golf, he was put on this planet to do what he’s doing.”