It was a few weeks ago when two friends with ties to the inner workings of the PGA Tour got together for lunch, and the conversation turned to a possible successor to commissioner Tim Finchem. One of them, a former Tour vice president, asked, “When are they going to make the move? What’s taking them so long?”
The query was relative to making public who was being groomed for the post. Almost as if that former vice president were prescient, that answer was revealed Tuesday morning when Jay Monahan, 43, was promoted to deputy commissioner of the PGA Tour.
“This step is being taken to further strengthen our organizational structure, enhance our management coordination and ultimately to continue to deliver on three key pieces of our core business: driving benefits to our players, growing the charity support in the communities where we play and doing our part in golf to help grow and protect this great game,” Finchem said in a statement.
“Jay’s new role in this key leadership position will help continue our momentum.”
That delivers the fancy business explanation, but if you peel away the words, here’s the side of the story that will appeal to players: It answers the question of who is next in line when Finchem, 66, decides to step down. Finchem’s contract was extended in 2012 to run through 2016, and he has indicated several times that he does not think he will stay beyond that. With TV deals with NBC, CBS and Golf Channel locked up for years, with golf having been approved for the Olympics, and with a high success rate of re-signing title sponsors, the prevailing thought has been that Finchem could enjoy the last few years of his reign and groom a successor.
But until Monahan was named to his new post, the identity of that man was up for debate. Ty Votaw, executive vice president and chief global communications officer for the PGA Tour, and David Pillsbury, executive vice president of championship management, were often suggested, but it appears that Finchem has settled on Monahan. Ultimately, that decision would rest with members of the PGA Tour’s Policy Board. Finchem wouldn’t have a vote, though his recommendation would carry weight.
To connect the dots from “deputy commissioner” to “next commissioner” might seem presumptuous, but there is history here. The last deputy commissioner of the PGA Tour was . . . Finchem. He left the world of Washington politics in 1987 to join the PGA Tour and within a short time he was named Deane Beman’s deputy. Clearly groomed for the job, Finchem took over as commissioner when Beman retired in 1994. For years, Finchem hasn’t felt the need to have a deputy commissioner, but it’s been no secret that he has relied upon three key men: Ed Moorhouse, Charlie Zink and Tom Wade.
Each of those men offered Finchem expertise in legal matters, corporate dealings and marketing philosophies, but never was there any doubt as to who was behind the wheel. So tied to Finchem were these three, that it never seemed realistic that one of them would succeed him as commissioner, which only prompted the question: “Then, who?”
Seth Waugh, for one, is not surprised.
“I told Tim, ‘You’ve just hired your next commissioner,’ “ said the former CEO of Deutsche Bank Americas of a conversation in 2008 with Finchem. Having known Monahan since 2002 when they were brought together to create the Deutsche Bank Championship – Waugh as the driving force behind the title sponsorship, Monahan as championship director – Waugh had a quick answer when Finchem called to ask about possible hires that the PGA Tour could make to run The Players Championship, succeeding Henry Hughes.
“Jay Monahan,” Waugh said.
Having left his Deutsche Bank Championship post in 2006, Monahan was an executive vice president with Fenway Sports Group, the parent company of the Boston Red Sox. Seemingly on a fast track to be wholly engrained in the Red Sox, who had won the 2004 World Series, Monahan – who grew up in Belmont, in suburban Boston – was living out every Boston boy’s dream, working on a daily basis in the shadows of Fenway Park. When he fielded the job offer from Finchem, he was asked by a golf writer, how could he give up such a lucrative job with the Red Sox?
“There’s only one thing I could leave the Red Sox for,” he said. “And that’s golf.”
Indeed, Monahan has a long and rich love affair with the game. He and his brothers, Brendan and Justin, have piled up a string of victories in what is billed as the country’s oldest father-son tournament. Held annually at Winchester (Mass.) Country Club, just north of Boston, the tournament is a celebration each year for the Monahan family. Joe Monahan, affectionately known as “Joe the Pro,” has won the tournament with Jay, his oldest son, but also with Brendan and Justin.
Joe, a lawyer, won the tournament with his father, the late Joe “The Judge” Monahan, a probate-court judge, decades earlier. Jay Monahan’s mother, Joanne, was an avid golfer before her death in 2007, as was his grandmother, and when the news broke that Jay was leaving the Fenway Sports Group in 2008 to join the PGA Tour, dozens of friends attended a surprise party at Winchester CC. No surprise, but it coincided with Jay’s round of golf with “Joe the Pro” in the annual father-son, Jay not realizing the surprise was on him till he came over the hill toward the 18th green.
“That was the cool thing about Jay, which I discovered right away,” Waugh said. “Everybody I met would say, ‘I’m Jay’s best friend.’ I used to think, ‘Nobody can have that many best friends,’ but in a way they all were. Jay cares about people, and it showed.”
Together with Waugh and his director of operations, Eric Baldwin, Monahan drew high praise for the way in which the Deutsche Bank Championship grew from a raw, first-year tournament in 2003 into a tournament “that set the standards,” said Paul Spengler, the longtime director of operations at Pebble Beach. So when after a proactive two-year run with the Fenway Sports Group – a time during which the Red Sox won a second World Series and ventured into the world of NASCAR and poured the foundation for other initiatives such as the Premier League’s Liverpool team – Monahan left for the PGA Tour, his mentor (Waugh) and his so-called godfather (Spengler) didn’t expect it to be long before he showed his talents to PGA Tour leaders.
“It took six months,” laughed Spengler, and indeed, Monahan was quickly promoted from tournament director of The Players Championship to working directly with Wade, the chief marketing officer. When Wade last year was named global commercial officer for the PGA Tour, Monahan seamlessly took over as chief marketing officer and again, Waugh is not surprised that the next step has been made official.
“From the beginning he impressed Tim and everyone else,” said Waugh, who started his Tuesday morning by fielding a phone call from Monahan.
When they were brought together in the fall of 2002 to build the Deutsche Bank Championship, Waugh and Monahan were new to the ways of the PGA Tour. Though Monahan had worked in global sponsorship for EMC and thus was tied to the company’s sponsorship of the World Cup of Golf, when he was hired by IMG to run the Deutsche Bank Championship, he knew he would have to grow into the job. So, too, did Waugh.
“We put together a good team,” Waugh said. “Paul (Spengler) was a like a godfather to both of us, and Jay had a cool way about him. He would always say yes, then he’d figure out how to get it done.”
A graduate of Belmont High School, where he played hockey and golf, Monahan got his undergraduate degree at Trinity College in Hartford, Conn., where he continued to play golf, and a master’s in sports management at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. While he worked for IMG to help build the Deutsche Bank Championship, Monahan also managed PGA Tour player Brad Faxon. In 2003, Monahan co-founded – along with good friend Brian Oates – the nonprofit group Golf Fights Cancer, which has raised more than $3 million.
“I’ve been around him a little bit,” said PGA Tour veteran Paul Goydos, a member of the policy board. “He seems very intelligent, very bright, knows what he’s talking about. More importantly, he seems to have the confidence of the people who work with him on a daily basis.”
If many of Goydos’ colleagues don’t know Monahan, that’s probably a tribute to the effectiveness of his job, which for the past few years has been to re-sign existing sponsors and cultivate new ones.
“He has done his job quietly and methodically, and he’s let (this promotion) come to him,” Waugh said. “What Jay brings with him is a level of trust. He says what he’s going to do, and he does that every time.”