In a performance that was alternately confident and cautious, PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan spoke in front of the gathered media for the first time since last August at the Tour Championship. In the ensuing seven months, the tour’s framework agreement with the PIF has blazed past its deadline with negotiations ongoing but no deal in sight. Meanwhile, the tour has partnered with the Strategic Sports Group to form PGA Tour Enterprises (of which Monahan is the new chief executive), and LIV Golf continues as a rival, one that poached notable players present (Jon Rahm) and past (Anthony Kim) from the PGA Tour ranks.

Over the course of an hour, Monahan fielded a variety of questions in generally good spirits, albeit with the occasional tense exchange. With many questions regarding discussions with the PIF, he reverted to a statement he made early on: “you can’t negotiate a deal like this in public”. In other words, no comment.

Still, there was information to be mined to a careful listener. What follows are the 10 most eye-opening statements Monahan made in his hour on the podium.

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“I recently met with the governor of the PIF, Yasir Al-Rumayyan [below], and our negotiations are accelerating as we spend time together. 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.”

The significance: Quite simply, Monahan sounded more optimistic than anyone might have guessed about the prospects of an eventual deal with PIF. This quote above was offered in his opening statement, not under questioning from the media, which can be viewed as him having time to prepare the exact wording. The fact that he used the terms “accelerating” and “shared vision” seems hopeful for reconciliation. In the absence of any other information, that’s the most we can go on.

Photo: Luke Walker/WME IMG

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“I do believe that negotiating a deal with PIF is the best outcomeI think an ultimate deal would be in the best interest of the game and ultimately would be in the best interest of the tour.”

The significance: Here again, in an otherwise cautious ‘presser’, Monahan telegraphs that he seems to want a deal, rather than a continuation of the painful status quo. He offered plenty of caveats – “obviously it has to be the right deal for both sides” and “if it can be done” – but to admit that he wants that resolution might be a slight tipping of his hand.

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“They [the fans] also want to know how we’re planning to make the sport more entertaining and easier for them to watch and follow. Our fans are also telling us what an even more compelling product could look like. On our broadcast platforms it’s more golf shots featuring more players, more data and analytics and more insight through innovations like mic’d up segments.”

The significance: It can be difficult to know to what extent leaders such as Monahan are concerning themselves with the kind of discussion we see on social media every week about the tournament broadcasts – specifically too many commercials, not enough shots. The fact that he brought this up in his introduction shows that either improving the televised product is a true priority, or he is aware enough of the criticism that he wants it to be perceived as a true priority. Either outcome feels positive for fans, though obviously the former is preferable to the latter.

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“I think that in any negotiation, both sides have to work together to reach that successful outcome. And if we can’t, I’ll continue my focus on all the areas I just outlined, and 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.”

The significance: Monahan was reluctant to answer hypothetical questions about what the future would look like if a deal with PIF/LIV Golf isn’t reached, but here he gave the clearest of a few unclear answers. It’s not as revelatory as it could be, but it does show that he’s thought about what it would entail (of course), and that it’s not an overt disaster if no truce can be bridged.

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“If we don’t negotiate a deal, then I think ultimately we’re back in the same posture that we’re in, and we haven’t unified our game and taken advantage of this unique point in time.”

The significance: This response came after he lightly chided a reporter by saying, “It’s the same question asked a different way, right?” However, this felt like a slightly different answer, or at least an answer with a noteworthy addition, which is that he would see it as a missed opportunity to have missed the moment for reunification. Compared to quotes we’ve seen in recent months, like Jordan Spieth implying that they didn’t really need a deal with LIV, it makes the whole prospect of finishing the job set out by the framework agreement far more urgent to Monahan.

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“I did not have direct conversations with Anthony [Kim]. Members of our team did, and they very clearly laid out what it would take for him to earn his way back to the PGA Tour. I’m glad that Anthony is healthy and well, and we wish him well… I would have liked to see him compete to make his way back to the tour. But that’s a decision he didn’t, you know… obviously he made a different decision.”

The significance: Pretty obvious here – Monahan is essentially saying that they weren’t going to give Kim a free pass to appear in tour events, and while they would have liked him to follow a certain path to regain tour status (and would have perhaps aided the path with certain exemptions), they were never going to be able to compete with whatever guaranteed money and starts LIV was offering. Nor did he want to spend much time on Kim – he cut off a follow-up question quickly.

Photo: Eurasia Sport Images

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I do think there’s some truth to that, and I do believe that. I think that in order to understand that, you’ve got to take a long-term perspective, and we’re in a short-term worldthat’s certainly one of the things that I focus on and I will continue to focus on.”

The significance: This came in response to a question asked by Golf Digest about whether the tour’s ability to create new stars, and to grow the profile of current players, insulates or even protects the tour from player defections to LIV. In other words, if it’s really not as big a deal as it seems when someone like Rahm is poached. Monahan endorsed the idea, at least partially, and added that tournament legacy and tradition, along with the uniqueness of a new weekly champion, are unique qualities to the tour that don’t depend on a single person. And as the quote indicates, he responded in the affirmative to the idea that a part of his job is to convince other parties of the limited long-term impact of the defections.

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“I just answered your question about what my focus is.”

The significance: This was the tensest moment of the presser, and it came after a reporter asked if Monahan was concerned about players continuing to be poached by LIV even as negotiations with the PIF proceed. He answered that question by saying that he was focused on aspects of the tour he could control, but when the follow-up came, he seemed irritated as he gave the quote above. Whether this means that it’s an ongoing concern or just that he was sick of fielding the questions is not clear, but it was definitely a sore point in an otherwise polite back-and-forth. The reporter then tried to follow up again, but the moderator turned to another question.

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“There are a lot of things that we’re talking about, team golf being one of them, but it’s just… I’m not at liberty to talk about the specifics. I just don’t think that’s helpful for what we’re trying to accomplish together. But I do appreciate the question.”

The significance: Hmmmm, team golf after a deal with PIF? Maybe? But does anyone actually want that? Regardless, you can infer here that it’s definitely on the table to some degree.

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“I think you all know Tiger well enough to know that he wants to earn his way into all of… into every competition. That’s his make-up. But I think as you go forward and as you evolve as an organisation and you think about how do you serve and satisfy a rabid fan base, those discussions more broadly would likely be held at the Policy Board meeting, and I’m sure we would have that discussion. But he would be the hardest one to convince.”

Photo: Ronald Martinez

The significance: If it wasn’t already obvious, Monahan seems to be telegraphing here that if Tiger Woods wanted to play in a tournament like the Players Championship, they would find a way. The obstacle isn’t the tour; it’s Tiger himself, who believes in the tour’s meritocracy and doesn’t seem to want a free pass.