After absorbing the public-relations impact of LIV Golf luring Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson, Bryson DeChambeau and Brooks Koepka away in its bid to become professional golf’s most desired destination, the PGA Tour began punching back Wednesday afternoon.
In short, the tour’s response was:
More big-money events for the top players;
The return to a calendar season in 2024;
And, a significant restructuring to how the tour schedule will operate, including the FedEx Cup playoffs.
It was the PGA Tour’s way of protecting and strengthening its assets, a major move designed to go on offense after weeks of playing defense against the LIV Golf initiative.
“I am not naive. If this is an arms race and if the only weapons here are dollar bills, the PGA Tour can’t compete. The PGA Tour, an American institution, can’t compete with a foreign monarchy that is spending billions of dollars in an attempt to buy the game of golf.” – Jay Monahan
Will it be enough to stop top players from jumping to the Greg Norman-led, Saudi-funded series that will play its second event next week in Portland, Oregon?
It was a necessary step, for sure.
“I am not naive. If this is an arms race and if the only weapons here are dollar bills, the PGA Tour can’t compete,” commissioner Jay Monahan said at the Travelers Championship in Cromwell, Connecticut. “The PGA Tour, an American institution, can’t compete with a foreign monarchy that is spending billions of dollars in an attempt to buy the game of golf.
“We welcome good, healthy competition. The LIV Saudi golf league is not that. It’s an irrational threat, one not concerned with the return on investment or true growth of the game.”
LIV Golf said in a statement that the PGA Tour “has made the case for LIV Golf. They have underpaid players for years, failed to innovate and today confirmed that LIV’s format is better. We welcome the announcement, which proves competition can grow the game and benefit golfers, all the while improving the experience for fans — which is exactly what LIV is doing. Instead of banning players, the tour should now work on coexisting with us. After all, we’re just getting started.”
While a number of the game’s best and most popular players have pledged their allegiance to the PGA Tour – Rory McIlroy, Collin Morikawa, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm and Jordan Spieth among them – the tour needed to do something to push back against the Saudi-backed new league.
Some players – Johnson and Koepka, in particular – had said they would remain on the PGA Tour, only to change their minds. Koepka’s announcement was timed for release at 1 p.m. Wednesday, just as Monahan was announcing the tour’s new plans.
“I’m disappointed that Brooks Koepka has left and joined the LIV Golf series,” Monahan said, adding he had not spoken directly to Koepka about the move.
The tour is essentially doubling down on its strengths while making its schedule more attractive to top players. While players still will be able to choose where they play – LIV Golf requires players to compete in all of its eight scheduled events – it appears more likely that most of them will play similar schedules because of the money being offered.
If there is a danger to the financial expansion, it’s the potential of creating what appears to be a two-tiered tour, one for the stars and another for the rank and file. Also, how will sponsors of long-standing tournaments react to other events receiving more money and, consequently, better fields?
Starting next year, eight events will offer substantially increased purses, all but one of them at $20 million or higher.
“This is something that we’re doing to respond on behalf of our members to the current environment that we’re in.” – Jay Monahan
The Sentry Tournament of Champions, which typically has a field of about 30 players, will increase from $8.2 million this year to $15 million next year.
The Genesis Invitational, the Arnold Palmer Invitational, the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, the Memorial Tournament, the FedEx St. Jude Championship and the BMW Championship will offer $20 million purses next year. The Players Championship will increase its purse to $25 million.
Additionally, three events in the fall – after the FedEx Cup season ends in August – are expected to be added with purses of at least $20 million apiece and perhaps limited to the top 50 players in the FedEx Cup race.
Monahan said it’s an increase of $45 million in purses, and though there were long-term plans to raise prize funds, the moment pushed the tour into action.
“This is something that we’re doing to respond on behalf of our members to the current environment that we’re in,” Monahan said.
It’s possible the fields at some events, including the Genesis Invitational, the API and the Memorial, could be significantly reduced with opposite-field events being played for those who don’t qualify.
The purse increases will be funded by sponsor support and supplemented by the tour’s operating reserves, according to a story on the tour’s website.
“There is more work to be done and details to confirm, but implementing substantial changes to our schedule gives us the best opportunity to not only drive earnings to our players, but also improve our product and create a platform for continued growth in the future,” Monahan said.
The FedEx Cup playoffs also will be restructured, with only the top 70 points earners advancing to the three-tournament finals rather than the top 125. Those outside the top 70 will be left to secure their spot among the top 125 at the end of the calendar through a series of fall events.
Is it enough?
It’s unclear how much more the tour can do. Though Monahan spoke in general terms about enhancing the tour’s strategic alliance with the DP World Tour, it remains unclear whether CEO Keith Pelley will go along with that as he is reportedly considering a working agreement with LIV Golf.
The R&A confirmed earlier Wednesday that LIV Golf members would be allowed to play in the Open Championship next month, having qualified under the existing regulations. The USGA made a similar decision regarding its recent U.S. Open. Whether the majors adjust to prohibit LIV players remains to be seen.
“They have made a decision about their 2022 championships. How they’re going to continue to look at this current situation, the current environment, that’s up to them,” Monahan said.
“We’re excited about what we’ve announced today. And there’s more exciting news to come.” – Jay Monahan
Monahan and the tour have known this threat was coming for a while. The Premier Golf League’s Andy Gardiner and LIV Golf, led by Norman, sought meetings with Monahan, but he did not respond to either.
Some players privately have expressed frustration that Monahan did not at least listen to what those groups were pitching, but the commissioner defended his approach.
“We’re going down our path. We’re going to continue to go down our path,” Monahan said.
“We’re excited about what we’ve announced today. And there’s more exciting news to come. And we’re going to do it as a tour, as a collective, and with a group of members that are squarely behind their tour.”
Top: PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan addresses the media Wednesday prior to the Travelers Championship at TPC River Highlands. Photo: Michael Reaves, Getty Images
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