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Inside the ‘contentious’ Toronto meeting as Jay Monahan faced players

Just moments after perhaps the biggest – and most contentious – player meeting in PGA Tour history on Tuesday afternoon in Toronto, Tour commissioner Jay Monahan filled the media in on the tenor of the gathering.

“I would describe the meeting as intense,” Monahan said. “Certainly heated.”

He wasn’t lying.

The 75-minute meeting took place Tuesday afternoon at Oakdale Golf and Country Club, site of this week’s RBC Canadian Open, as Monahan met with approximately 100 Tour members, most of them ranked outside the world’s top 50, just hours removed from his in-person CNBC interview alongside Yasir Al-Rumayyan, governor of Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, to announce a merger between the PGA Tour, DP World Tour and PIF, which backs LIV Golf. The deal between the entities, which Al-Rumayyan said on TV that he expects to be finalized “in a matter of weeks,” was reportedly done at the highest level, and in secret, with just Monahan and two PGA Tour board members, Jimmy Dunne and Ed Herlihy, representing the Tour in seven weeks’ worth of meetings around the world, from New York City to London to Venice, Italy.

Many players revealed they found out through an email sent by Monahan to membership on Tuesday morning. Others were first informed via the initial CNBC report or social media. Golf Channel’s Todd Lewis reported that Rory McIlroy also wasn’t told the shocking news until early Tuesday. Not even LIV’s commissioner, Greg Norman, was clued in until a phone call from Al-Rumayyan right before his live interview with Monahan.

Unsurprisingly, many of the players in attendance at the Oakdale meeting didn’t take kindly to Monahan and the shocking news, which left a lot of them feeling betrayed and all of them caught all off guard.

Johnson Wagner, a former PGA Tour player who now contributes to Golf Channel, had access to an audio stream of the player meeting. Wagner described the meeting as “contentious” and said that he felt like the negative/positive split of the room was “90/10.”

Wesley Bryan later responded on Twitter to Wagner’s estimate, “Way off.”

“Most of the players were very, very angry,” said one attendee, who asked not to be named. “The sentiment in the room was pretty somber, and Jay was definitely getting attacked. He handled it OK, but there were times where he could’ve been more accepting and put himself in our shoes more. He was like, ‘I’m doing this for the betterment of the Tour, guys, can’t you see this?’

“And a lot of guys were like, ‘We don’t trust you!’”

Monahan began the meeting, which required two men to stand guard outside the room, with an opening statement that touched on much of what he outlined in his memo to players. He talked about why the merger was necessary to end the lawsuits between the Tour and LIV. He also called the agreement merely a “framework” that still needed to be approved by the Tour’s policy board, addressed some of his past comments, and provided initial comment on whether LIV members would be allowed back on the PGA Tour – he had few details, saying that wouldn’t happen this year, but moving forward, whatever process for reinstatement would be determined fairly by the Tour.

“We didn’t learn that much other than there’s going to be an alliance and the business structure is going to change, and I don’t know if it’s all going to be happy families,” Geoff Ogilvy told Golf Channel and other reporters in Toronto. “But I think all these power brokers and check writers in golf are going to try and come together for the common good, and I’m sure there’s going to be a little bit of carnage, but I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt until I see the end result and see how it all turns out.”

Monahan then ceded the floor to the players for further questions.

About 30 guys spoke up, and according to one source, some of the more vocal members were Harry Higgs, Mac Hughes, Maverick McNealy, Brandt Snedeker, Ben Crane, Aaron Baddeley, Shane Lowry and Doc Redman, who apparently received a standing ovation after pointing out, among other things, that Monahan dropped this merger on them after previously saying the Tour was in a great spot.

McIlroy, who also attended, reportedly didn’t say much during the meeting, except for one brief exchange with Grayson Murray.

“He only responded to Grayson when Grayson was going off on tangents, outbursts, saying like, ‘We don’t trust you, Jay! You should resign right now! You lied to our face!’” said the anonymous player. “I forget exactly what led to this, but Rory goes, ‘Just play better, Grayson,’ and that got a bad response from the crowd.”

And according to two sources, Murray, a recent winner on the Korn Ferry Tour, responded to McIlroy by telling him to, “F--- off!”

Bryan later said on Twitter that Murray and McIlroy “were cordial and pleasant post-meeting” as McIlroy stuck around to provide some insight and answer questions. “We chatted as a group of players, and we were laughing about the comment,” Bryan said. “No beef or hard feelings either way.”

McNealy was talked about as being one of the more reasoned voices in the meeting.

“Mav McNealy is a very, very smart man,” Cameron Percy tweeted.

Added Bryan via a video he posted to Twitch: “Mav had some hard hitters. Those were the ones that Jay couldn’t answer very well.”

And they weren’t the only ones.

“Everyone was asking how much PIF was investing, and he wouldn’t give us an amount,” said the anonymous player. That player also said Monahan struck a nerve with the room after countless uses of the word “we.”

“We, we, we,” the player said. “And everybody’s like, ‘Jay, stop saying we! We don’t know s--- about what’s going on! You just dropped this on us!’”

“What’s the point of having a player advisory council?” the player continued. “The players just have no say really, even though Jay loves to say that we do have a say. It’s bulls---. … The players just want a voice and want transparency.”

Matt Kuchar apparently offered a different viewpoint, talking about how he always had a pipe dream for the PGA Tour to be a world tour. But Kuchar was one of the few positive voices.

There were plenty of players calling Monahan, whether directly or indirectly, a hypocrite. (Monahan later touched on that with the media: “I recognize that people are going to call me a hypocrite. Anytime I said anything, I said it based on the information I had at the moment, and based on someone trying to compete for the PGA Tour and our players. I accept those criticisms.”)

The subject of 9-11 came up, and one player asked if he was going to have to apologize now for playing on the PGA Tour.

Another pressed Monahan on if he had anything to hide, to which Monahan replied, “No.”

There were even talks of whether the Tour needed a leadership change.

“I’m glad I wasn’t Jay today,” Ogilvy said. “There’s some grumpy players in there. I feel a little bit sort of, I’m not lied to, but just that the Tour has sort of changed its position quickly and dropped it on us really fast. So, maybe there’s a feeling of a lack of trust a little bit in the leadership. ... It just feels like nobody really knows what’s happening and the players are out of the loop. But no one really ever likes being out of a loop. You know, everyone likes bit of information, and especially when it’s your livelihood and your job and the sport that you love.”

Ogilvy reckoned that some of the vitriol also stemmed from players wanting “the loyal players rewarded and not almost punished for staying.” But there seemed to be a multitude of other qualms, from the blindsiding to the lack of answers to the timing.

“People would be more open to it if it were this conversation two years ago before all the s--- started,” said the anonymous player. “The Tour messed up in the beginning and took such a hard stance. … To go back on his words literally a year later after making all these changes. Honestly, the PGA Tour is in a good spot with all the designated events and the changes. But I also think the litigation is the real reason [for the merger]. … I think LIV was going to be perfectly fine dragging out the court case. There’s a lot of stuff.”

And even after one of the spiciest player meetings in Tour history, there are still many questions.

Appearing later Tuesday night on a live stream hosted by Monday Q Info’s Ryan French, Bryan was asked by French if he felt any better after leaving the meeting.

“No,” Bryan answered, with little hesitation, “but there’s nobody in that situation – when you get completely blindsided by someone that’s been saying one thing for the last year and a half and all a sudden the script get 180 degrees flipped, there’s nobody that’s going to stand up in 45 minutes, or however long he spoke for, and is going to change anybody’s opinion on the matter.”

Wagner felt that Monahan “kept his calm and his cool,” with the commissioner even admitting at one point that he had not been transparent in this instance.

“If it’s possible, I gained even more respect for Jay because he was taking it from every single angle,” Wagner said. “Players were mad, players are calling for resignation, and Jay sat there and took it like a champ.”