Last week amid the drooping Spanish moss and sand-framed golf sculpture at Congaree Golf Club, Rory McIlroy put what felt like a time stamp on the PGA Tour’s stressful 2022 schedule.
Like the diminishing daylight this time of the year, the tour’s schedule has reached its long-shadow stage with four remaining events that are for the proletariat to bolster their bank accounts and long-term tour status while the stars go their own way, some of them showing up for the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai next month.
Having 15 of the top 20 in the world ranking together at Congaree was a refreshing reminder of what it’s like when the leaderboard is speckled with the names that drive the game.
The CJ Cup also had the double-edged effect of hinting at next year with the designation of 12 elevated events while raising a question of what happens to the PGA Tour once the FedEx Cup playoffs conclude in late August.
Let’s start with the big-bang events now that the tour has added the WM Phoenix Open, RBC Heritage, Wells Fargo Championship and Travelers Championship to the eight previously announced elevated events which will feature purses of at least $20 million.
It may seem like getting to 12 was easy with some obvious choices to join the Sentry Tournament of Champions, Genesis Invitational, Arnold Palmer Invitational, WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, Memorial Tournament and the three playoff events, but it took some negotiation to get there.
Bumping a purse from $9 million to $20 million is a big ask. While the tour hoped some sponsors would be willing, it became more of a shared proposition, getting closer to a 50-50 split between sponsors and the tour on the additional costs.
According to multiple people involved in discussions, getting the elevated events – which have commitments from the top 20 players in the Player Impact Program – set for 2023 was a short-term goal. In effect, next year serves as a bridge to 2024 when the tour returns to a full calendar-year schedule and the four recently announced elevated events aren’t assured of maintaining that status beyond this season.
With the 12 elevated events, the four majors and the Players Championship, that’s 17 built-in events for the top players who have agreed to play at least 20 events. For those who played the CJ Cup last week, that checks the box on one of the three additional events the top players must add.
“The way the world is going, we need to make the tour as competitive as possible, and I’m talking about getting the top players playing together more often because that’s ultimately what people want to watch. It’s what the players want. It’s what the sponsors want.” – Rory McIlroy
With the elevated events expected to have limited fields in the future, the fast-approaching format changes have raised questions about what could feel like a two-tiered PGA Tour. What becomes of the Valspar Championship or the AT&T Byron Nelson if landing their share of the stars has become even harder?
McIlroy, who has been instrumental in redesigning the PGA Tour model, said last week that more changes are coming but it will be early next year before details are finalized.
“It’s hard to share details when nothing is finalized yet. But people will realize this will actually create a more competitive product. It creates more opportunities for not just the marquee guys to play in these big events,” McIlroy said.
“The way the world is going, we need to make the tour as competitive as possible, and I’m talking about getting the top players playing together more often because that’s ultimately what people want to watch. It’s what the players want. It’s what the sponsors want.
“It’s up to the players to get themselves into those tournaments and play good enough to be in there. I feel like the tour has catered to guys like No. 75 to 125 a lot over the years with playing opportunities and all that. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, but the tour needs to be more competitive to put the best forward product possible.”
Jon Rahm initially questioned the idea of committing to 20 PGA Tour events because the Spaniard wants to remain active on the DP World Tour. He and Northern Ireland’s McIlroy, among others, are hopeful a handful of those events would satisfy the 20-event requirement from the PGA Tour.
And what if a top player decides he doesn’t want to play every one of the elevated events? In Jordan Spieth’s case, he will play five weeks in a row next spring to accommodate the big events and his support of the Nelson and Charles Schwab Challenge near his Dallas home.
Not playing all of the elevated events would mean sacrificing money earned from the Player Impact Program. The top 20 players in the PIP, based on several factors, will share in a $100 million bonus fund.
“It’s a tough discussion because, what’s the monetary value of the other thing that you want to do that week?” Scottie Scheffler said. “Let’s say my sister was getting married or I’m having a baby, like whatever monetary value I’m giving up to watch that happen, that’s what I’m going to do. It doesn’t matter the money amount.
“So, I think that’s going to be a tough balance for guys, whether it’s a vacation or just time off or whatever it is. That will be a little bit of a tough decision. But I’m sure guys will be willing to give that up. I mean, it’s like, what’s it worth to you to be able to live your life the way you want to live it?”
“I think we need to get to the place where it’s not over-saturated. I would love us to come back in January and people will have missed watching competitive golf. I don’t think that happens right now because there’s 47 events a year.” – Rory McIlroy
As for what the PGA Tour schedule will look like this time next year, that remains an unanswered question. There will be tournaments but perhaps not as many as this fall, and their impact on the FedEx Cup points race will be minimal.
It’s conceivable some sponsors may decide it’s not worth their money to continue during the fall. Weeks like the CJ Cup are the autumn exception rather than the rule. The Butterfield Bermuda Championship this week features just one top-50 player (No. 48 Seamus Power) in the field.
Asked last week where the focus should be in the fall, McIlroy had a direct answer.
“Football,” he said.
“I think we need to get to the place where it’s not over-saturated. I would love us to come back in January and people will have missed watching competitive golf. I don’t think that happens right now because there’s 47 events a year.
“And I’m not saying we’re not going to play any golf in the fall, but the fall is maybe more of an international flavor. It’s an opportunity for guys to travel the world a little bit, grow their brands in different countries. But the real competitive golf season is January to August.”
Rory McIlroy celebrates Sunday after winning the CJ Cup. Photo: Kevin C. Cox, Getty Images
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