Jay Monahan, a 1993 graduate of Trinity College with a bachelor’s degree in history, is in his first year as PGA Tour commissioner. Monahan, a native of Belmont, Mass., played golf and hockey at Trinity and was an Academic-All American in his senior season.
The tour makes its first stop of the season in New England this week in the $ 6.8 million Travelers Championship at TPC River Highlands. Monahan answered questions by email.
Q: Growing up in Massachusetts and being a fan of the Red Sox, what record in major league baseball do you think is comparable to Jim Furyk’s tour record 58 that he shot in the final round of last year’s Travelers Championship?
Monahan: Knowing Jim didn’t birdie the par-5 13th or the short, par-4 15th, I’ve considered many times how close he was to shooting 57 and how fans were glued to his every swing early on a Sunday morning. I find that exciting and appreciate that as these athletes in all sports become even more dedicated to their professions, possibilities are endless. OK, maybe not Cy Young‘s 511 career wins. I’d call that an unbreakable record. But Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak resonates like shooting lower than 58, the new benchmark on the PGA Tour.”
Q:The Travelers Championship lost a great advocate for the tournament and the Connecticut community with the passing of Travelers Cos. Inc. executive chairman Jay S. Fishman shortly after last year’s tournament. What did he mean to the tour and the Travelers Championship?
Monahan: I’ve said before that the Travelers Championship is the essence of what the PGA Tour and its tournaments are all about, and Jay Fishman was the essence of Travelers. ALS is an insidious disease, but it was no match for Jay’s character. In the fall of 2015, nine months before he died, Jay spoke at our PGA Tour employee meeting. He was courageous, he was inspiring. We know Jay was committed to improving the tournament every year and to being diligent with charitable causes. Those are cornerstones to the PGA Tour, and we’re determined to help the Travelers Championship continue to be everything Jay Fishman would be proud of.”
Q: What has been the most rewarding thing the tour has done during your first few months as commissioner?
Monahan: It’s been a tremendous start to the season, with our largest partner, FedEx, extending its relationship for 10 years. It was a historic day for the PGA Tour and since the announcement was made on the eve of The Players Championship, many of our players and employees were at ‘our home,’ and could share a communal sense of pride. But, for me personally, it has been most rewarding to see the way the PGA Tour team has worked tirelessly to make for such a comfortable transition into this job, ensuring we don’t miss a step as we work toward growing the Tour and the game overall.”
Q: Where would you like to see the tour improve and why?
Monahan: I’ll work from the green and go back toward the tee on this one. My goal for 2017 is for us to be able to look to heaven on December 31 and nod to Mr. Arnold Palmer and feel good about how our season went. Mr. Palmer was our greatest ambassador, and he cherished being called ‘a caretaker’ of the game, because he felt we are all caretakers. So, if on December 31 we feel that we made him proud, that we engaged our fans, provided riveting competition and great character, and helped grow the game with a ‘caretaker’ mentality; then by extension we would have improved the PGA Tour. Make Mr. Palmer proud. That’s the goal.”
Q:What’s your opinion of the two-man team event at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans, which received compliments from players and fans? And what are your thoughts of the tour having another such event or something else maybe outside the box, such as a 54-hole tournament or like the European Tour, six-hole matches and “closest to the pin” tiebreaker on a 100-yard shot?
Monahan: Players delivered positive feedback on the team event in New Orleans, and we applaud Zurich for being so engaged. Our partners at Dell Technologies were similarly supportive in putting a different and exciting look on the World Golf Championships Match Play. We’re fortunate to have partners who have a passion for the game and we’re going to continue to work together to grow and present compelling competition to our fans. We’ve entered a strategic partnership with the LPGA and we’d love to get the men and women inside the same field of play, perhaps at the Tournament of Champions. It remains our mission to explore all options, but we remain sensitive to being true to the integrity of competition.
Q: Childhood, high school, college and beyond, what was your most memorable golf shot?
Monahan: It’s all about the setting, right? Well, this summer day in 2008 had everything that is important to me in life – family, friends, golf, childhood course, favorite tournament. I had decided to accept a job with the PGA Tour and was moving from Boston, but not before playing with my father in the annual Winchester Father-Son Tournament, which dates back nearly 100 years. I didn’t know my family had organized a surprise party, so when I came up the 18th fairway and saw dozens of people surrounding the green, it hit me. It was alternate-shot, so my father played my drive and missed the green short right, leaving me a fairly straight-forward uphill pitch shot. But with so many family members and friends standing there, the emotions amped up and I got misty-eyed. Somehow, I hit a pretty good shot and dad made the 2 ½-footer to give us a share of the title.
Q:What would be the plusses for the tour if its FedEx Cup championship ended at or before Labor Day before the NFL and college football seasons really get going?
Monahan: It has been written about and talked about, and we’ve been told that if we ended the FedExCup playoffs before the NFL season began, it would give us ownership of August with season-ending big events. There’s merit to that, but people have to respect how much shifting that would require and how it takes time. We just haven’t made a decision yet.
Q: In January you were quoted as saying about the possibility of the PGA Championship moving from August to May, “That’s certainly something that we would like to see happen.” How would that benefit the tour and what is the latest update on the subject of a possible new date for that major?
Monahan: As we are always analyzing our schedule, so, too are [Chief Executive Officer of the PGA of America] Pete Bevacqua and the PGA of America going to assess their schedule. We all have a responsibility to work closely; this has got to work for everyone, including our media partners and tournaments. The PGA Championship in May or August is for Pete and the PGA of America to answer. The debate for March or May for The Players is an interesting one, but we shouldn’t lose sight of this: It performed well in March, and it has performed well in May because it’s the best field in golf and a tremendous tournament that gets better every year.
Q:With golf being more and more a global game, how important are Asia and Latin America to the tour and is it considering adding more tournaments there?
Monahan: Huge, which is why we’re invested with the PGA Tour LatinoAmerica and PGA Tour China and why we are firmly behind Olympic golf, which was in Rio de Janeiro in 2016 and will be in Japan in 2020. Our Presidents Cup was a rousing success in South Korea in 2015, and now we have an official PGA Tour event on the schedule in Korea, the CJ CUP @ NINE BRIDGES; and the tournament we hold in Malaysia, the CIMB Classic, has become very popular with our players and the fans in Southeast Asia. We now have two tournaments in Mexico, so we feel that we’re doing our due diligence and we accept that we have a responsibility to be part of the industry commitment to growing the game in these markets. But adding tournaments at a time when our schedule is already filled isn’t our focus right now.
Q: What values did you learn and continue to use from being on the Trinity College golf team and what impact did coach Bill Detrick have on you?
Monahan: Coach Detrick would always tell us, ‘Represent your family name that’s on your back well each and every day.’ So, we lost a tough match one day, and my brother Brendan and I were beating ourselves up when coach reminded us about the name on the back and that we had represented the family well and people had seen that. It had an impact on me. I’ve tried to adhere to his words every day, only now my family extends beyond the Monahans and Trinity to PGA Tour members and employees.