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Monahan: Sentry TOC on solid footing

PGA Tour commissioner lauds title sponsor for commitment to tournament, community

Eventual winner Cameron Smith tees off on the Kapalua Plantation Course’s 14th hole on an epic day for views of Maui and neighboring island Molokai during the final round of the Sentry Tournament of Champions on Sunday. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photos

KAPALUA — Since taking over as PGA Tour commissioner five years ago, Jay Monahan has seen a parallel growth between his spot at the top of the game of golf and the resurgence of the Sentry Tournament of Champions.

The TOC was forced to use a back-up title sponsor in January 2017 when Monahan was brand new to his job as the fourth commissioner in Tour history, but since the announcement that Sentry Insurance had stepped up to become the title sponsor in 2018, the event has flourished.

“I think our history here is pretty remarkable,” Monahan said during a one-on-one interview with The Maui News on Saturday at the Kapalua Plantation Course. “And I think you go back to that point in time (2017) and we were looking at a following year where we did not have a secure title sponsor.

“I think the question was posed how concerned was I and I said ‘if I’m not concerned I don’t think anybody else should be concerned.’ And we ended up finding an incredible company, an incredible leader in (Sentry CEO) Pete McPartland and they’ve poured their heart and soul into the tournament and into the community. You can see it, you can feel it.”

Sentry is committed to being the title sponsor of the TOC through 2030.

PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan expresses thanks to the sponsors of the Sentry Tournament of Champions during Sunday afternoon’s trophy presentation for winner Cameron Smith (left) on the Kapalua Plantation Course’s 18th green.

“It’s something that allows us and allows (TOC executive director) Alex Urban to plan, to have that solid foundation, to continue to do more and more for this community,” Monahan said. “And what’s remarkable about this event — we had a dinner last night with a number of players — to be able to come out here, to win on the PGA Tour, it’s such an incredible accomplishment, it’s so difficult to do.

“To be in a field of 38 players all of whom won the previous year, you know, it’s a career accomplishment, it’s a career moment and there really is no better place to celebrate that than right here on Maui at Kapalua.”

Monahan paused, peered out over the Pailolo Channel to Molokai, and smiled.

“The minute you’re here you’re reminded of that every single year,” Monahan said. “It’s something that our players really appreciate — when you look at the number of family and friends that they’re bringing with them.

“It’s an opportunity to compete against the best players in the world on an incredible stage, but it’s also a chance to reflect on your success and use it as momentum coming into this year.”

Rolfing

Mark Rolfing — a Kapalua resident, analyst for The Golf Channel and NBC Sports, and the founder of the Kapalua International that preceded the Sentry in the 1990s — said the TOC has come full circle since its beginning here in 1999.

“In the beginning things were pretty good,” Rolfing said before his broadcast on Thursday. “And then 10 years later we had a valley that was so deep all I did was complain to you and I vented about the PGA Tour and I vented about the players that were skipping and I said we needed to consider some changes. We were changing sponsors, that’s the only thing that we were doing.

“And now this thing has totally turned the corner.”

A percentage-record 39 of 40 winners from 2021 committed to this year’s TOC — Cameron Champ had to withdraw after testing positive for COVID-19 at home in Houston. The event featured eight of the top 10 players in the world ranking, and Phil Mickelson came back to play here for the first time in 21 years, carrying the biggest galleries of the week that featured large crowds each day.

“To think that 40 players qualified and 39 accepted the invitation, it’s just remarkable and everybody is so happy,” Rolfing said. “One of the things that’s really changed is all the players are coming early, which they used to do for vacation, but now they’re coming early to practice. This place was loaded over the weekend with guys trying to figure things out.

Jon Rahm grimaces as his eagle try on No. 15 slides by the cup Sunday.

“This is all business now, this is a new breed of player.”

Monahan said that the calendar year starting in the 50th state with the TOC and Sony Open on Oahu this week is vital to the PGA Tour.

Television ratings were also solid all week long for the TOC.

“It’s foundational, we’ve been doing it for decades,” Monahan said of being in Hawaii for the first two tournaments of the year. “And to have the Sentry Tournament of Champions and follow that up with the Sony Open in Hawaii, to have this field, to have 144 next week, and to be here and to be able to showcase Hawaii to our fans around the world, to showcase its beauty, but it’s so aspirational.

“And I think it’s really important to us because (for) 50-plus years as an organization, to have great partners, to be welcomed into communities, to have impact on communities, to come back and continue to do more and more and more, is part of the soul of this organization and Hawaii has a big part of that soul. It has contributed to it vitally and we’d like to think that we’ve done the same for Hawaii.”

Phil Mickelson poses for a photo on his way to sign autographs after his round Sunday.

Once the golf started, it was a show like the PGA Tour has simply never seen before. The top three players — winner Cameron Smith (34 under), runner-up Jon Rahm (33 under) and third-place finisher Matt Jones (32 under) — all broke the PGA Tour scoring record to par of 31 under set by Ernie Els here in 2003.

Five of the top six scores to par of all time have been accomplished at the Plantation Course, including the top four — Jordan Spieth was 30 under here to win in 2016.

“The strength of this event is its field, it is a field of winners,” Monahan said. “It has been supported by the membership. I’m really proud of particularly the last six or seven years, the quality, not just the quality of the field, but the excitement to be here, the commitment to this tournament.”

The level of player that wants to be in this field is nothing short of the world’s best — Rahm is currently ranked No. 1 and Collin Morikawa, who has strong Maui family ties, is ranked No. 2. Patrick Cantlay, who finished fourth this year here, is ranked fourth and Justin Thomas, one of three players to card a new course record 61 here over the weekend, is ranked fifth and has won here twice.

Smith vaulted from 21st in the world before the win to 10th after it.

Cameron Smith holds up his trophy Sunday afternoon after winning.

Monahan said the support this event gets from the players is its biggest asset.

“To answer your question, it’s really important and we’re fortunate that we have that here,” Monahan said. “And it’s not something anybody takes for granted.”

The “Connected Community” initiative that has been formed between Stevens Point, Wis., and Maui County also makes Monahan smile. He credited McPartland for the idea that is highlighted by the exchange of college students and professors, and the sharing of agriculture science between the two regions.

“I mean, it’s going to impact lives, it’s going to impact lives here and impact lives back in Wisconsin,” Monahan said. “Anything that they (Sentry) do, they just keep getting better and better and better at it and pouring more and more into it. … I’m really excited about it and I’m not surprised because today’s day in age we’re all looking for organizations that can have purpose, that are committed to impact.

“I think stories like that during these times are really pertinent.”

* Robert Collias is at rcollias@mauinews.com.

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