Joseph W. “Jay” Monahan IV didn’t set out with ambition of being one of the most powerful figures in golf, but that is exactly what the former member at Winchester Country Club is today.
In January, the 46-year-old graduate of Belmont High School, where he played hockey and golf, became the PGA Tour’s fourth commissioner, following the departure of Tim Finchem after 22 years. After spending the past four years as apprentice to Finchem, Monahan assumes the high-profile role of commissioner of the PGA Tour, a multibillion-dollar enterprise, which is facing challenging times.
How daunting are the challenges? Let’s look at the numbers: Tim Finchem, although not an engaging, charismatic personality, has legendary accomplishments. When Finchem’s tenure began in 1994, PGA Tour purses were at $56.4 million; the Presidents Cup was making its debut; there were no World Golf Championships, no FedEx Cup playoffs, no Golf Channel, no International Golf Federation and no Olympic golf. As he leaves, purses for 2017 total $338.8 million and all those other components are done deals. How does anyone come close to that stellar success?
“Jay is absolutely the right guy to deal with all that,” said Finchem, 69, a lawyer whose background before golf included politics and lobbyist. “I have the highest regard for Jay and have total confidence in his ability to lead the PGA Tour well into the future. He has been a key member of the executive committee team since joining the Tour and has worked closely with me on all business matters since becoming deputy commissioner. Also, Jay is well respected throughout the golf industry. I know he will do a tremendous job for the players and all constituents of the PGA Tour.”
Jay Monahan burst onto the national golf scene when he was named tournament director for the first Deutsche Bank Championship at TPC Norton in 2003. He then served short stints as executive director at IMG Worldwide and vice president at Fenway Sports Group, directing sponsorship sales operations for the Boston Red Sox, NASCAR’s Roush Fenway Racing and Boston College athletics.
From Fenway Sports Group, he went to the PGA Tour in June 2008, first as executive director of The Players Championship. In 2010, he was named the Tour’s senior vice president for business development, and in March 2013 was promoted to executive vice president and chief marketing officer.
“I am greatly honored by the trust the Policy Board has shown in me to succeed Tim Finchem as commissioner,” Monahan said in a statement. “Under Tim’s leadership, the PGA Tour has made remarkable progress, even in the most difficult economic times. We are now entering a very important time in our organization’s history, and I know our executive team and I will draw upon, and be inspired by, the invaluable experience of working with Tim as we take advantage of the extraordinary opportunities, as well as face the challenges that are ahead for our Tour.”
The Monahan resume is indeed impressive with deep Bay State roots. He grew up in Belmont in a large, close-knit Irish Catholic family, the oldest of three brothers, and the descendant of three previous generations of prominent Boston attorneys. Monahan attended Trinity College in Hartford, where he played hockey and golf and was a Division III Academic All-American. He holds a UMass Amherst master’s degree in sports management. He has won, with his dad Joe, Winchester Country Club’s Father and Son Championship four times and maintains a 3.9 handicap index at TPC Sawgrass, in Ponte Vedra (Fla.) where he lives with his wife, Susan, and daughters, Sophie, 13, and Phoebe, 10.
“You meet Jay, and it’s as if you’ve known the guy forever,” said 26-year veteran PGA Tour and Champions Tour player Brad Faxon, from Barrington, Rhode Island, a longtime friend who has joined Monahan on family vacations. “Every single progression in his life has been a stepping stone where the next one was better than the last. Ask anyone about Jay Monahan, and a smile instantly comes to that person’s face. He’s one of the greatest salesmen I’ve ever met. He can make anybody say yes.”
Clearly, the powers-that-be in the golf world, like Seth Waugh, former Deutsche Bank CEO, Paul Spengler, vice president of Pebble Beach Company, and Mark Steinberg, Tiger Woods agent, are in near unanimous support that Jay Monahan is the best man for the job of leading the PGA Tour in the right direction in the next few years. Six months into the job and the big obstacles for Monahan are sagging TV ratings, what TV contracts will be extended, a full explanation of the FedEx Cup contract, and FedEx Cup schedule changes including possibility that Dell Technology Championship at TPC Norton will be vanished in 2018. Also retaining existing corporate sponsors after Barclay’s, Cadillac, Deutsche Bank and Chrysler bolted PGA Tour partnerships, and the threat of decreased tournament purses. The added burden is that the sport is losing its allure and millennial have little interest in golf.
It’s hard to find anyone to say a negative word about Jay Monahan. The kudos say that he is upbeat, energetic and a relationship builder, and, more importantly, that he co-founded a charity, with friend and former colleague Brain Oates, a sales director for the New England Patriots. In 2003, Monahan and Oates formed a 501(c) (3) called Golf Fights Cancer claiming to be crushed when IMG colleague Rob Stevens died and left a wife and three children. They both raised money running the Boston Marathon, and through other golf events, the charity thrives today and has donated nearly $5 million to fight cancer.
“Jay’s a Type A person people like to be around,” said Oates. “It’s why he’s got a million friends. It’s doesn’t matter if you’re a CEO or a caddy. He listens. You’ve never heard of anyone who knows Jay who doesn’t like him. The Tour is in great stead with him.”
Material from the PGA Tour and several golf publications were used as sources for this article. Tom Gorman, a Boston-based golf writer for 24 years, can be reached at email@example.com.