Monahan says Tournament of Champions ‘in a great spot’

Jay Monahan

KAPALUA — There is little question that the Sentry Tournament of Champions is on firm footing — perhaps the strongest outlook the event has ever enjoyed in its 21-year history at the Kapalua Plantation Course.

There are several factors for that, including the current title sponsorship of the Stevens Point, Wis., business insurance company that has embraced the role it took on short notice just a few months before last year’s event.

There is also no doubt that PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan likes what he sees from the winners-only event.

Two years ago, when Monahan was only days into his tenure as commissioner, he said “if I’m not worried about it, you shouldn’t be worried about” when asked about the future of the event, specifically at Kapalua.

Saturday in a roundtable with golf print media, he said, “I don’t know if anything’s changed since I’ve had my new role. I think the thing that you have to look at is the younger players and the way that they embrace and love being here. That has played out for the world to see.

“I just spent a couple hours in players dining and there’s a happy group of winners here. I also think that winning on the PGA Tour is so hard to do, but it’s not just what I think. (The players) think it and they know it.”

Monahan pointed to the fact that 34 of 37 winners on tour last year are here. One of the players who is not here is Tiger Woods, who was eligible for the first time in five years — the 14-time major champion seriously considered playing in this event for the first time since 2005.

Charles Howell III is back at Kapalua for the first time since 2008.

“So when you win, and you haven’t won in 3,000 or 4,000 days, and you come back here and you’re with your peers, and you’re being recognized as a winner on the greatest tour in the world, that’s what this event really is all about,” Monahan said. “So I just think that in terms of where it is, I think that’s a really important position to have. That’s what every player — you have 156 that are typically showing up on a given week, that’s what they’re trying to do. It doesn’t happen that often.

“This is the one place where they step back and say, ‘OK, you did it and now you have a chance to compete with your peers, the ones who won last year.’ I think that’s where it is and it’s in a great spot.”

The Plantation Course, which opened on 1991, is scheduled to close for 10 months, beginning Feb. 11, to undergo major renovations that will reportedly cost more than $10 million. Course architect Bill Coore addressed the Tour’s role in those renovations at a press conference on Friday.

“We have consulted with the PGA Tour, I talked this week two or three times actually with Steve Wenzloff, who is the architect for the Tour, who works with the Tour officials and we have all the scans of the slopes of the greens,” Coore said. “Slopes that were acceptable in ’91 are no longer usable for pin-able areas today. So even though the greens may not look much different when you come back next year, we will work on softening some slopes.”

Monahan noted that the improvements are a necessity with the way the world of golf is moving forward.

“Every tournament has to compete, and I think it’s wonderful the work that’s going to be done here,” Monahan said. “It just puts this tournament in a better (place) moving forward.”

The PGA Tour schedule has changed dramatically this season, but Monahan said he is not worried that the 2020 event here begins with the pro-am on Jan. 1. The 2019 Presidents Cup ends in Australia on Dec. 15 and comes on the heels of the Hero World Challenge, which is hosted by Woods, in the Bahamas.

“If you win you get the opportunity to come here and compete (against) a small field of winners for a sizeable purse,” Monahan said. “And to come here over New Year’s and the holidays, yeah, you’re coming back from Australia is one way to look at it. It’s also two weeks removed. Look at some of the travel schedules that these guys have in and of itself. They’ll be prepared for it, they have the time to prepare for it.

“We as a tournament determined that our staff, everyone who’s involved with it, like every other tournament, we have to compete. We have to make sure that we do all the things that we’re going to do to put it in the right place, so that it’s a spot the players don’t want to miss next year.”

* Robert Collias is at rcollias@mauinews.com

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