Column: Rory McIlroy & Jay Monahan Have Trust Issues

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. (AP) — The obnoxious money ruining golf was sure to create trust issues with the leadership, and that lingers even as PGA Tour Enterprises is now flush with cash from its new minority investor.

Now it might be a question of who has lost the locker room: Jay Monahan or Rory McIlroy?

How much Monahan has fallen out of favor as commissioner depends on who gets asked. The Associated Press spoke with 22 players during the Hawaii swing and their opinions were as varied as their status on tour.

Most — not all — said the outcome of any deal probably would affect how they felt about Monahan staying in his job.

The first part of the deal — maybe the only part if the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia loses interest — was announced last Wednesday, worth up to $3 billion. Half of that is geared toward equity ownership for the players.

Still to come are the details.

Keep in mind, players are still reeling from Monahan’s secret deal with PIF — the financial lifeline of LIV Golf — that was announced June 6 and floored them after so much anti-LIV rhetoric. Word is it even left Jordan Spieth speechless.

That was followed by six months of players feeling they were left in the dark on the negotiations with PIF and private equity groups.

“If the deal comes through and people are happy, there will be probably more grace for what happened,” Nick Taylor said. “But for what happened (secret negotiations with PIF), it’s going to take a lot to forget about that. Maybe not forget, but forgive.”

Brian Harman felt Monahan deserved a long rope because of how expertly he guided the PGA Tour in its return from the COVID-19 pandemic. “I have a lot of confidence in Jay. This has been an incredibly difficult hand he’s been dealt,” Harman said. “I don’t envy his position.”

Xander Schauffele thinks it’s time for new leadership, and he was hopeful the new investor (Strategic Sports Group) would feel the same way.

“They have to show the players change is coming for the better, and not this sort of stale sandwich we’ve been eating for quite some time,” Schauffele said.

McIlroy, for years the loudest critic, is increasingly hard to figure. He is as good a speaker as he is a listener. But his views on LIV have been such a U-turn that Rickie Fowler jokingly referred to him as “pulling a PGA Tour.” Double ouch.

McIlroy began to soften his views when Masters champion Jon Rahm — key to European success in the Ryder Cup — bolted to LIV in December. And then to start the year, McIlroy appeared on a popular U.K. soccer podcast and said he has been too judgmental on players going to LIV, and that he was instrumental in getting PGA Tour leadership to meet with the Saudis. He said he accepted LIV as “part of our sport now.”

But it was at Pebble Beach that McIlroy really raised eyebrows.

It’s clear he wants the fractured landscape put back together as quickly as possible. That remains the biggest sticking point in any deal with PIF and its governor, Yasir Al-Rumayyan, who has referred to LIV Golf as his “baby.”

McIlroy said he sees no reason for defectors to LIV to be punished. If they’re eligible for the PGA Tour, they should be allowed to play. “Let them come back,” he said.

There remains strong feelings about LIV players taking guaranteed cash, costing the PGA Tour what amounts to market shares by their absence and then returning. Fowler was diplomatic when he said he was “probably not in the same spot” as McIlroy on the issue.

“Maybe we started in a similar area, but I think there’s been a little roller coaster ride on his part,” Fowler said. “As far as decisions to go elsewhere and just, ‘Welcome back,’ I don’t think it’s a direct road. There has to be something for it.”

Adam Scott, the lone international voice among the six players on the PGA Tour board, said he hasn’t given deep thought to reunification except the notion of players returning without consequences was “probably not where I’d be starting.”

McIlroy left the PGA Tour board in November and Spieth, a former player director, was chosen to replace him. They are not on the same page on all matters PIF.

Spieth was asked why the tour needs a deal with PIF now that it has a minority investor. “I don’t think it’s needed. I think the positive (of a PIF deal) would be a unification,” he said.

Spieth told Sports Illustrated he called McIlroy last Wednesday, mainly to ask why McIlroy had dropped out of a group text among top players. McIlroy confirmed the hourlong phone call and said while they agree on a lot, he felt PIF with its endless money must be part of any deal if golf is to be pieced back together.

He felt for Spieth to say publicly that PIF was not needed would not have gone down well with the Saudis, who still have unmatchable money.

Saudi money is the source of divide. McIlroy sees it as the only way to unify.

Once the strongest critic, he now appears to be in PIF’s corner, even as his hope is for the sport to be whole. It’s a mess, and odds are it won’t be sorted out any time soon even if the tour brings PIF on board in the new enterprise.

“It’s no secret that the idea is to try and somehow unify the game,” Scott said. “I think I’ve heard that used a lot over the last seven or eight months. And that was being used when the framework agreement was originally talked about. And I don’t know how realistic that really is at the moment.”

Monahan was at Pebble Beach and plans to be at every PGA Tour event for the next month or more. That will be important for players like Lucas Glover.

“He has to regain everyone’s trust,” Glover said. “The outcome … there’s going to be people who hate it and those who like it. I don’t see how the PGA Tour benefits outside of money. I don’t see how they benefit in any of these situations. Yeah, more money. Does that make it better? Is the tour only about making players more wealthy? I don’t know the answer.”