Tiger Woods reacts as he wins the Masters golf tournament in Augusta, Ga. File photo by THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

PGA Tour dealing with more attention off the course

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. — Such is the clamour around the PGA Tour that Commissioner Jay Monahan spoke for 45 minutes Tuesday before anyone mentioned Tiger Woods.

If it’s not the proposed Premier Golf League, promising riches to top players willing to leave the tour, then it’s whether the Dell Match Play in Texas will still be played in two weeks because of the coronavirus outbreak, and what that means for the rest of the season.

Patrick Reed can’t seem to make it through a tournament without someone heckling him over his sand-scraping incident in the Bahamas. Another player, Scott Piercy, lost two contract endorsements last week for a social media post mocking Pete Buttiegieg’s sexual orientation.

Those were among the topics in a week that began with the tour announcing a new nine-year media rights deal said to be worth just over $7 billion and ends with the winner of The Players Championship getting a record $2.7 million.

As for Woods? He’s not playing this week — the fourth straight week he is sitting out — which raises a mixture of mystery and concern over the status of his health.

Monahan already has enough on his plate.

Perhaps it’s no small wonder he began his news conference by referencing his first year as commissioner in 2017 and the questions he faced that ranged from the next television deal to the lucrative FedEx Cup to pace of play.

So much of it emanated from the rights deal, which gives the tour four major companies in CBS, NBC, ESPN (streaming) and Discovery (direct-to-consumer for international markets) and raises the revenue from such a deal by some 70%.

That eventually trickles down to the players. How much remains to be seen, though Monahan referenced the $15 million purse at The Players — the richest in golf history — and said, “I see us getting to $25 million, and I see that certainly through the term (of the rights deal), if not earlier in the term.”

He also suggested the $70 million bonus structure — $60 million from the FedEx Cup post-season, $10 million from the Wyndham Rewards for the regular season — could top $100 million.

That would seem to counter the Premier Golf League, though not entirely, because the proposed league with significant Saudi funding is geared toward guaranteed money regardless of how a player performs. Even if the league doesn’t get off the ground — and there doesn’t appear to be much momentum — the chatter now is how the tour can look after its stars.

Monahan said he was “encouraged by the response that our players have had in our discussions.”

He was equally vague on the other seven questions related to the league, including whether players who joined would no longer be part of the PGA Tour. “If we got to that point in time, we would take measures to vigilantly protect this business model,” he said.

Monahan had a brusque ending to a CNBC interview on Monday when he was grilled on hypothetical situations involving the coronavirus. He quickly shifted back to the media rights deal and thanked the hosts for having him on.

The immediate future of golf and the virus is complicated because the PGA Tour runs six circuits — three based in the U.S., one each in Canada, Latin America and China — and thus it becomes a “market-to-market” situation.

The China tour already has postponed the start of its season.

The World Golf Championships event in Austin, Texas, is in two weeks. And while the South by Southwest film festival has been cancelled, the Dell Match Play attendance is much smaller, spread out over an entire golf course and “we feel like we have support to continue to move forward with the event,” Monahan said.

Golf was far less complicated just three months ago.

The tour had reached broad agreements on a big chunk of the media negotiations. The Presidents Cup was about to begin in Australia. Woods was the playing captain, coming off a record-tying 82nd career PGA Tour victory, and he played great at Royal Melbourne.

Finally, a question about Woods.

A large photo of him was on a wall to the right of where Monahan spoke, and he was asked how dependent the tour was on him playing.

That was one of the easier questions.

“Not only does it make an impact on golf fans, it reaches all tentacles of the sports marketplace worldwide,” Monahan said.

It was a big deal when Woods said his back was not quite ready because he has only played twice this year, and Woods has been saying that he’ll be playing less instead of more. Monahan shared a story from Ben Crane, who once said Woods inspired kids who were involved in other sports to switch to golf.

And now Woods is effectively competing against the athletes he created.

“So his presence is here, literally, even if he’s not here playing the tournament,” he said. “And the way I look at Tiger is that will always be the case. His legacy is something that will always be celebrated the next 30, 40, 50 years, or in perpetuity.”

And 50 years from now, other problems will arise. Those will be someone else’s headaches.

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