Who will replace Tim Finchem?

So many aspects of their jobs were new that they would have had reason to be frightened – except that they were so caught up in the excitement of making it work that they actually were enjoying the learn-as-they-go process.

But a new tournament (2003 Deutsche Bank Championship) at a new venue (TPC Boston) with a new twist (Monday finish, not Sunday) posed challenges. Seth Waugh, chief executive of Deutsche Bank Americas, knew how to run a bank but not a golf tournament. Eric Baldwin, brought in by IMG to help create the DBC, knew how to run golf tournaments but didn’t know Boston. Jay Monahan knew Boston, but his experience at running PGA Tour stops was equal to Waugh’s.

Then there was the backdrop. In Boston, history is embraced to such an extent that the city’s Brahmin business leaders tend to like things as they have been since their forefathers disembarked the Mayflower. Labor Day? Red Sox fans cried “wait till next year,” and shutters went up on the Cape house. It wasn’t golf.

That was the gist of the message delivered privately by a longtime Boston businessman to Baldwin and Monahan. “No way you’ll sell this tournament,” Baldwin recalled. “He went on and on, and he was a tough guy, had been around for years and I’m thinking, ‘Wow, what are we doing?’ ”

Finally, a pause, and Monahan spoke. “He just calmly listened, then he said, ‘EMC is in, Bank of America is in, Fidelity is in, and we’re feeling pretty good about the tournament. We’d like you to be in, too,’ ” Baldwin said.

Baldwin recalled the meeting, 11 winters ago, as it relates to current events. That Boston businessman, who runs one of the country’s largest limited partnerships, did jump into the DBC sponsorship mix – still is, in fact – and Baldwin considers that sale to be “classic Jay,” the core of the man who on March 18 was named deputy commissioner of the PGA Tour, effective April 1.

“He has an incredible way to connect with people; he’s the quintessential relationship person,” Baldwin said. “He’s selling, yes, but with Jay, everyone feels good about things.”

History suggests that Monahan, promoted from chief marketing officer, is at the head of the line to replace Tim Finchem as commissioner. Finchem himself was the Tour’s last deputy, named by Deane Beman in the early 1990s, before succeeding Beman in 1994. Finchem’s tenure – punctuated by the Tour’s massive financial and global growth – is expected to end in June 2016.

When time comes to name the next commissioner, it will be the responsibility of the PGA Tour Policy Board and Finchem will not have a vote. All of this, of course, is speculation that doesn’t interest Monahan, 43.

He can cite impressive numbers – that PGA Tour players in 1995, Finchem’s first full year on the job, competed for $62.9 million and this year have $298 million up for grabs – to support his claim, but Monahan is adamant. To him, what the promotion means is, “I’ll work even more closely with and learn even more from the greatest commissioner in sports.”

Judging from his business history, Monahan appears to be a quick learner. Hired by IMG to be director of the Deutsche Bank Championship in fall 2002 (he also managed some IMG clients, such as Brad Faxon and Brett Quigley), Monahan stayed there through 2005 when he became an executive vice president with Fenway Sports Group, the Red Sox’s parent company. Born in suburban Belmont, Monahan seemed to have a Boston boy’s dream job, given that the Sox in 2004 had won their first World Series since 1918 and would win another in ’07.

“But the thing is, Jay loved golf. He grew up with the game. His family ties to the game are enormous,” said Faxon, who wasn’t surprised when Monahan in 2008 took the job as director of The Players Championship. “Jay is a golfer – and that was something that had been missing (high up) in our organization for a long time.”

If Monahan indeed becomes the next PGA Tour commissioner, it will make Waugh somewhat of a prophet. When he recommended Monahan to Finchem in 2008, Waugh had a ringing endorsement: “You’ve just hired your next commissioner.” The PGA Tour seemingly has come to see in Monahan what Waugh always did, because his star has risen steadily, from running The Players, to assisting chief marketing officer Tom Wade, to taking over as CMO, to being named the Tour’s first deputy commissioner in two decades.

None of which has surprised the two mentors on whom he has leaned heavily: Waugh and Paul Spengler, the longtime director of operations at Pebble Beach.

“Jay has opinions,” Waugh said, “but he doesn’t say yes blindly. He’ll say yes to something, then figure out how to make it work.”

Added Spengler: “It’s been a great rise to success, but it’s well-deserved. He’s honest and trustworthy.”

They are qualities that could serve the PGA Tour well because as profitable as business has been, it hasn’t been satisfying for everyone. Said one PGA Tour tournament official who has worked with Monahan and endorses him: “I could give you a list of tournaments that have been treated poorly or been abandoned by some in the PGA Tour. Jay does what he says he’s going to do every time. He will restore some of the faith in the Tour that has been lost.”

Faxon agrees. “I’ve never been around a guy who when the pressure is on doesn’t let it get to him. He smiles, laughs, puts people at ease.”

Which isn’t to say Monahan hasn’t earned respect as a guy who can get a deal done. “He’s got a lot of that Boston grit in him,” Baldwin said. “He can get real serious, real quick.”

Anyone who knows Monahan will tell you that he’s serious about golf. For years, he and his brothers, Brendan and Justin, have played in the oldest fatherson tournament of its kind at their home club, Winchester Country Club, northwest of Boston. Joe Monahan, a lawyer affectionately known as “Joe the Pro,” has won the championship at various times with all three of his sons, just as he won it with his father, Joe “The Judge” Monahan, who was a probate judge. A former New England Senior Amateur champion, “Joe the Pro” passed his love of golf on to his three sons as he had shared it with his late wife, Joanne, an avid golfer.

Jay Monahan played golf at Trinity College in Hartford, Conn., and got a taste of the golf business while working in global sponsorships at EMC, which title-sponsored the World Cup of Golf, a then-World Golf Championship. That positive experience persuaded Monahan to accept the IMG offer to run the Deutsche Bank event, and a steady succession of doors have opened ever since.

Whether one leads to the job of PGA Tour commissioner remains to be seen, but it’s safe to say he’s in the correct corridor.

Editor’s note: This feature first ran in Golfweek magazine that hit doorsteps on March 28, 2014. If you’d like to subscribe, click here.

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