LAHAINA, HAWAII | From where PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan stood inside the open-air clubhouse at Kapalua’s spellbinding Plantation Course last Saturday morning, the view seemed almost limitless.
And the scenery wasn’t bad either.
As 2019 comes to life and Monahan begins his third year as Tour boss, there is a sense of both renewal and freshness. The schedule has been condensed and reshuffled with the FedEx Cup season set to end one month earlier and before football’s takeover of the sports landscape at Labor Day.
Tiger Woods is healthy, Rory McIlroy has committed himself full time to the PGA Tour and it feels as if the Tour’s furniture has been rearranged.
“I think it’s going to be a phenomenal year coming off a phenomenal year,” Monahan said, talking with a small group of reporters in what has become an annual January roundtable question-and-answer session.
Monahan didn’t drop any unexpected news – he began by announcing the Tour donated $190 million to charity in 2018 – and his focus was clearly on the future. Amid the lingering tingle from Woods’ season-ending victory at the Tour Championship last September, Monahan sees his responsibility as positioning the Tour to be proactive in a changing sports environment.
There are no big headaches at the moment.
Negotiations on new television deals (the current ones expire in 2021) have not begun, the expanding legalization of sports betting in the United States is still in its infancy and it’s a Presidents Cup year, which is always important to the PGA Tour.
Looking for a resolution to an unresolved question? How about whether world ranking points will be awarded to players at the Tour Championship, where the field will be seeded with the points leader starting ahead of everyone else.
“I can imagine that … If I imagine that then generally I think it will come to that,” Monahan said, chuckling at his not-so-subtle hint dropping.
Not exactly bombshell material.
How does Monahan feel about other subjects?
Here’s an abridged summary:
The condensed PGA Tour schedule:
“I was with a top player that had just set down with his team several months ago, going through the (2018-19) schedule. They went event to event and at the end of it he said that’s it. The player had picked 37 tournaments. His team said there’s no way you can play 37 tournaments. … What it tells you is there really are no weaknesses to the schedule.”
Expanding new media opportunities including the use of augmented reality and virtual reality:
“Think of where we were three years ago and think of where we are today and it’s going to continue to evolve …
“Every business is in the business of growing and our No. 1 priority is growing and diversifying our fan base. In order to do that, you have to have the right product but you also have to be able to get it into the right platforms and present it the right way.”
“I think one day you’re going to be able to watch whatever player you want to watch at whatever point in time. I think that is down the road. Those are the kind of opportunities you have …
“We get fans that are more engaged in our product and what’s happening week to week because they have changed their consumption habits. Part of the experience they want to have is almost (to) be in (the players’) shoes and have data and information that’s being provided to them.
“For us, we’re early-stage on it. We’re the first league to test AR. We were one of the first on Facebook Oculus. We’re not there because there are massive amounts of people there now. We’re there because that has the potential to change the way people consume content.”
The potential for variations of the Tiger Woods-Phil Mickelson match to continue:
“You look at the Shell’s Wonderful World of Golf, you look at the Skins Game, you look at that point in time in our sport and to have Phil and Tiger work on this and talk about it for the amount of time they did early in the year and then to have the year develop the way it did and to have this on Friday of Thanksgiving, a time when the PGA Tour and the game of golf doesn’t get a whole lot of visibility and to have millions of people engaged in the sport for 30 days and sometime afterward debating the good and the bad, I think for a first-year event that’s extremely positive.
“Do you want to see it evolve? Absolutely. I think any time you do something you hope it’s going to be longstanding and I think it certainly has the potential to evolve over a long period of time.”
The possibility of on-site betting at Tour events in the future:
“I don’t know if I see that. … So much of how we consume is through our phone and our mobile devices. At some point in time given our fans having phones on property when (gambling) becomes legalized from a mobile standpoint in that state and it’s legalized in that state then you’re going to see it happening in real time.
“Does it make sense in some instances that there would be someplace you go to place a bet or a wager? Potentially but we’re just not far enough along in our conversations to say that I see it.”
The rise in average driving distance by more than three yards in 2018:
“Here’s the way I look at: Players are getting younger. They’re getting more athletic. You look at those two things and you look at technology and data and players can optimize their swings, they can optimize their clubs and that trend continues in terms of distance and technology and data. You look at course conditioning and weather. I’m not surprised at all by it. … It’s hard to argue that you should be changing anything right now.”
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