By Jim McCabe
When family and friends in the summer of 2008 decided to throw a surprise goodbye party for Jay Monahan — a Boston boy who had decided to move to Florida and work for the PGA Tour — the backdrop said everything about the guest of honor. It was at his father’s house adjacent to a golf course to which four generations of Monahans have belonged, and on the final day of a father-son tournament that is as precious to the family as the Masters is to Phil Mickelson.
“With Jay, it all starts with his family,” said Seth Waugh, the former chief executive officer of Deutsche Bank Americas.
But what probably ranks a close second with Monahan is golf. “It is in his DNA,” said close friend Sam Kennedy, the president of the Boston Red Sox.
It’s conjecture to suggest that had Monahan chosen to remain in Boston with Fenway Sports Management eight years ago and not become executive director of The Players Championship, he today would be far up the Red Sox’s leadership ladder.
Instead, he is the new commissioner of the PGA Tour.
File it under “Boston kid chooses golf over Red Sox,” a sort of man-bites-dog news event. It’s a massive stroke of good fortune for the PGA Tour that Monahan followed his passion.
As golf’s largest tour heads into a new era — with media changing rapidly and global opportunities exploding — it couldn’t have a better commissioner than Monahan, 46, whose greatest strength might be his deep-rooted love of the game. That was never at the forefront of predecessor Tim Finchem’s resume. Although it didn’t preclude Finchem from being a commissioner who fostered tremendous financial gains for the Tour during his 22-year tenure, it was not part of his legacy.
Even Finchem, who led the Tour into uncharted waters (World Golf Championships, FedEx Cup playoffs) with uncanny success, concedes that his successor brings a different perspective to the job than he did when thrust into command in mid-1994. Already, players have noticed Monahan out walking to follow the golf, extending his hand to introduce himself or stopping to listen to what they have to say.
“He has an opinion, but he listens, which is a unique balance,” said Waugh, who hired Monahan as tournament director of the Deutsche Bank Championship in 2003. “He’s not afraid to say ‘no,’ but he tries to say ‘yes.’ ”
Monahan can take advantage of the foundation that Finchem poured, but he is undaunted by the TV deals, media advances, global pressures and scheduling dynamics that await.
“They are not challenges; they are opportunities,” said the buoyant Monahan, who already has visited Silicon Valley to get a better feel for how the Tour can connect to a wider fan base.
PGA Tour enterprises will benefit from Monahan’s business savvy and people skills, but the health of the game will prosper thanks to his passion.
Jim McCabe has covered golf for the Boston Globe and Golfweek.