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PGA Tour commish Jay Monahan returns to Players after ‘gut-wrenching’ 2020 decision

PGA Tour commish Jay Monahan returns to Players after ‘gut-wrenching’ 2020 decision

PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan started a personal tradition when he became executive director of The Players Championship in 2008 of watching the first tee shot in the first round every year.

He continued that as he was promoted up the line to senior vice president of business development and executive vice president and chief marketing officer, then ascending to commissioner in 2017.

Monahan missed last year’s first tee shots but like everything else about the 2020 Players, it was an aberration.

Not only does he plan on watching the first shots of this year’s tournament on Thursday, but he will cherish the moment, for certain.

“I’m going to be excited,” he said on Tuesday during his annual State of the PGA Tour news conference at The Players Championship media center. “I’ve always made it … and that’s a special moment for our tournament chair, all the Red Coats [past chairmen], all the volunteers and all of our staff, because at that point in time the show is on. Last year, for obvious reasons, we were up at TPC Sawgrass in the boardroom where we spent the entire day. It was the one time I wasn’t there for it.”

PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan is broadcast on a screen on the 18th green, during the first round of The Players Championship on March 12, 2020, in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

Those meetings were marathon discussions that eventually led to The Player being canceled because of the looming COVID-19 pandemic. Only one round was played and the Tour went on a three-month hiatus.

Since the Tour returned in June, it hasn’t missed a single tournament — 36 and counting. The Tour proved it can conduct tournaments safely during a pandemic and one year later, its Gold Standard event will be completed, from first shot to last.

“Just proud, most importantly, to be back here a year later, proud of our players, proud of all the caddies, everybody that has worked so hard to get us back to this point in time, and, candidly, to do so in a really inspiring way,” he said. “I think this is an important week for us every single year but particularly so this year.”

Monahan called the decision to cancel the 2020 players, “gut-wrenching,” but pointed out that it was insignificant with what has happened since the pandemic broke out.

“It goes without saying that what we experienced that day would pale in comparison to what our world would experience in the coming days, weeks and months,” he said.

Monahan said he is especially thankful for the First Coast constituency that looks forward to the Players every year — and also depends on it for economic and charitable reasons.

“Northeast Florida is our home,” he said of the PGA Tour — which recently moved into its new headquarters. “We live here, we work here, and our kids go to school here. And as an organization with more than 1,000 employees, we contribute to the social, charitable and economic impact. Each one of us is proud to make our community stronger.”

Despite being able to stage the Players Championship this year, Monahan said now isn’t the time for letting down the Tour’s guard.

If anyone was thinking that, there were two cold slaps on Tuesday: just before Monahan took the podium at the media center, the Tour released the news that the RBC Canadian Open would be canceled for the second year in a row because of continuing health and safety issues in Canada; and later in the day, 2015 Masters champion Danny Willett was forced to withdraw because he tested positive for COVID-19.

While states such as Florida are opening up businesses and relaxing mask mandates, Monahan said the Tour will continue its current set of protocols, which is to admit a limited number of fans, requiring masks of all fans, volunteers and Tour staff — even outdoors and testing players and caddies every week.

“We see some light at the end of the tunnel, with the COVID-19 vaccine being accessible on a widespread basis over the coming weeks and months,” he said. “But until the pandemic is in our rearview mirror, our commitment to health and safety continues at The Players.”

Zach Johnson

Zach Johnson addresses the media after the cancellation of the 2020 Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass. Photo by Adam Hagy/USA TODAY Sports

Monahan said the Tour will continue testing players, caddies and tournament staff and will consult the CDC and health officials in tournament markets. He said the Tour can start “to pull back,” when he knows a high percentage of his players have been vaccinated but he is not ready to require it.

“It’s hard to determine when that will be, but clearly we see light at the end of the tunnel,” he said. “I think players are eager to get vaccinated and are certainly studying this.

He said there is no timetable for allowing full attendance at a Tour event.

“I think that hopefully, we’re getting to a point sooner rather than later,” he said.


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