ATLANTA – Change typically occurs slowly on the PGA Tour, due to the various levels of bureaucracy associated with the player organization.
That’s why there was considerable surprise at the swiftness with which commissioner Jay Monahan announced significant changes to the schedule, beginning in 2023.
Not all of what Monahan announced Wednesday at East Lake Golf Club was completely mapped out. He admitted the Tour has to still work through some of the details.
But clearly there was urgency to get these changes to the membership as well as the public. The LIV Golf Invitational Series, which launched this year and will convert to the LIV Golf League next year, has caused considerable disruption and plenty of angst.
The perception was that the Tour needed to do something—beyond simply suspending those who left—to push back against LIV. And that is what has occurred. It’s not going to stop LIV but it might cause some players to think twice about leaving the PGA Tour.
In the meantime, we are left to figure out what it all means, with some answers still to come. Here are the biggest takeaways from what is a significant change to the PGA Tour’s makeup.
This is a huge change to the PGA Tour ethos. For years, the Tour has required a minimum of 15 events for membership. You were free to play when and where you wanted, and no event was required. Recently it’s been the standard pushback against the LIV model, which will requires its plays to compete in all 14 of its tournaments.
Now, those who are deemed a “top player’’ are required to commit to at least 20 events—assuming they qualify.
The 20 events will include 17 that are the same in an effort to bring all of the top players together more often.
Those 17 will consist of 12 elevated events, eight of which have been announced: the Sentry Tournament of Champions ($15 million), Genesis Invitational ($20 million), Arnold Palmer Invitational ($20 million), WGC-Dell Match Play ($20 million), Memorial Tournament $20 million), FedEx St. Jude Championship ($20 million), BMW Championship ($20 million), Tour Championship/FedEx Cup ($75 million bonus pool).
Five of the tournaments come from the Masters, PGA Championship, U.S. Open, British Open and Players Championship.
There will be four more elevated events with purses of $20 million each to be announced within the next two months.
And then there are three regular events from which players can choose to enter, bringing their total to 20.
A player must compete in all of these events—or ones he is eligible to compete in—in order to qualify for the Player Impact Program (PIP).
The bottom line: we will know where and when the top players will be competing.
“When I tune into a Tampa Bay Buccaneers game I expect to see Tom Brady throw a football,’’ said Rory McIlroy, who was part of a player meeting with Tiger Woods that went over many of the plans announced. “When I tune into a Formula 1 race I expect to see Lewis Hamilton in a car. Sometimes what’s happened on the PGA Tour is we all act independently and we sort of have our own schedules, and that means that we never really get together all that often.
“I think what came out of the meeting last week and what Jay just was up here announcing is the fact that we’ve all made a commitment to get together more often to make the product more compelling.”
For the 2022-23 season, the Tour said a “top player’’ will be defined as someone who finished in the top 20 under the current Player Impact Program (PIP) and players who finished in the top 20 under the revised PIP criteria.
It is a program that was quietly instituted last year that the PGA Tour at first attempted to keep secret. It was a $40 million bonus pool that rewarded players based on things beyond results, mostly popularity criteria such as Google searches and social media activity. Without hitting a single shot in official competition, Tiger Woods won the $8 million first prize. Phil Mickelson was second with $6 million. Five of the top 10—Mickelson, Dustin Johnson, Bryson DeChambeau, Brooks Koepka and Bubba Watson—have defected for LIV.
The Tour announced Wednesday that the program would be upgraded immediately to include 20 players and would pay out $100 million, with $15 million going to the winner.
Among the factors to be considered will be internet searches, general awareness, golf fan awareness, media mentions and broadcast exposure. The social media component is being eliminated.
Because those 20 players will now make up what the Tour is calling its “top player’’ category. They will be required to enter the 20 tournaments. But it’s not a free pass into tournaments. Rickie Fowler, who is well outside the top 100 in the world and barely finished among the top 125 in FedEx Cup points this year, would be someone who might register in the PIP standings. If he does, he’d only get into the tournaments for which he is eligible.
Rickie Fowler's popularity will likely earn him a spot on the PIP standings, but that in itself won't make him eligible for elevated events.
Kyle Robertson/Columbus Dispatch/USA Today
The key is that the players who make up the PIP are required to enter all of elevated events. If they don’t, they will not be eligible for the PIP at the end of 2023.
Some will, but not all. But it could change. The invitationals—the Genesis, Arnold Palmer and Memorial—will not change for now. “There will be a cut at those events in 2023,’’ Monahan said. For now, the fields are 120 players. There has been some rumbling that they might go to 78 players and no cut starting in 2024. That’s great for the top players, not so great for everyone else.
The Sentry Tournament of Champions, WGC-Match Play and three playoff events already are played without a cut, which is guaranteed pay for those who qualify.
The four elevated events to be determined are likely to have cuts. For example, if next year’s Farmers Insurance Open is designated as an elevated event, it is difficult to see its format over two courses with 156 players changed. The top 20 in the PIP would be required to enter but the rest of the field would be filled via the traditional qualifying criteria.
And Monahan said eligibility for the unnamed events is to be determined.
“We haven’t identified the eligibility criteria yet for those events, but we’re not going to change the criteria for the other events,’’ Monahan said. “That’s our plan at this point.’’
If left as-is, you’d have the Sentry Tournament of Champions, the WGC-Dell Match Play, the FedEx St. Jude, BMW and Tour Championship as no-cut events. The Genesis, Arnold Palmer and Memorial would all have cuts, as would the four majors and the Players. In theory, so would the four elevated events to be named. It certainly gives the PGA Tour the latitude to reduce the fields at the Genesis, Palmer and Memorial, but those tournaments already have reduced fields.
Once the PGA Tour reverts to a calendar-year schedule starting in 2024, there will be 34 full-points events from January through August, starting with the Sentry Tournament of Champions and ending with the Tour Championship.
If the “top’’ players all play the same 17 tournaments, that leaves 17 potentially without them—they will also be required to play three others. How will that play out?
“We can’t panic,’’ said Tracy West, tournament director for the Valspar Championship. “We have to see how this shakes out. The top 20 have to play three others and maybe they pick us. They have to play three non-elevated events. And we’ll definitely have to put our best recruitment hat on.’’
The Valspar is in a tough spot. It follows the Arnold Palmer and the Players and precedes the Match Play. Three of the four events surrounding it are must-plays for the top 20. Four weeks prior is the Genesis. Three weeks later is the Masters.
Something long talked about is some sort of stipend for exempt players. This falls short of that but is a solid compromise. While no player is getting “up-front money,’’ so to speak, all exempt players—which numbers in the 220-player range—are assured of getting $500,000. Consider it a draw on commission. If you earn that much or more, the Tour pays you nothing. If you earn less, the Tour makes up the difference. The entire program is likely to cost the Tour less than $3 million, Monahan said.
“You plan for a season knowing the monies you have to invest to compete at the highest level, there’s significant cost,’’ Monahan said. “So if you’re not able to play for whatever reason, you have that as a backstop. You know that’s there for you.
“For rookies coming out here and knowing that’s payable on Day 1 we think will help put those rookies in a better position to compete because they can invest in the infrastructure they need to succeed.’’
Tour detractors have wondered why something like this could not have occurred sooner. They wondered if the Tour has been sitting on funds that could potentially have been going to the players. The issue is complicated. First, the Tour announced purse increases for this year and the coming years, due mostly due its new television rights deal that went into effect this year. The FedEx Cup bonus pool was increased, so was the PIP and purses across the board.
But to help fund all these extra tournaments—some will be getting $12 million boosts in prize money, and not all can be passed onto the title sponsors—the Tour had to dig deep.
“The Tour through the years has been very prudent in managing its finances and building reserves and being in a position to be able to invest in programs that are going to help the Tour grow,’’ Monahan said. “That’s what they’re there for, and that’s what we’ll continue to use them for.’’
You can expect title sponsors to be leaned on as well.
The Tour has to determine the four elevated events not announced. It has to decide how—if at all—to change eligibility criteria for those tournaments. You wonder how the DP World Tour and its alliance with the PGA Tour is impacted, if at all. Will the Global Series of events slated to begin next fall still happen? They seem less important and necessary now. Does this have any impact on the Korn Ferry Tour, Q-School? Lots to consider, not much time to make it all happen. But all of this happened very fast, unusually so.
Bob Harig is a golf writer for SI.com and the author of the book “Tiger and Phil: Golf’s Most Fascinating Rivalry,’’ which was published in April 2022 and can be ordered here.
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