It has never been a secret that the PGA Tour is driven by star power.
Unlike team sports where allegiances are built over time – and what Jerry Seinfeld says is we’re really cheering for laundry because we’re pulling for the uniform more than the people – golf is a singular sport.
Jack. Arnie. Tiger.
Stars drive the professional game.
Don’t believe it?
Check out the size of the galleries at PGA Tour events compared to Korn Ferry Tour events. The golf is great on both. But Dustin Johnson and Rickie Fowler are playing on one tour, they’re not playing the other.
When word got out earlier this week that the PGA Tour has created a $40 million bonus pool to be awarded to its top needle-movers – the PGA Tour Impact Program – it understandably turned heads including those of many players who weren’t aware of the program because, well, it’s not going to affect them.
This is about the PGA Tour both rewarding and leveraging its stars – Tiger, Phil, Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas, Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlroy, etc. – with the goal of them raising their profiles which, in turn, makes the already attractive tour look even more attractive.
“I’m just going to try and win as many tournaments and see how far up I can get on it.” – Patrick Cantlay
Is it a direct response to the continuing prospect of the Premier Golf League, which supposedly hasn’t fully surrendered its pursuit of many of the game’s top stars?
It is. But it’s not just that.
For more than a year, there has been talk of the tour doing more for its top players, a nod to the threat from the PGL. The strategic alliance struck between the PGA and European Tours helped solidify the foundation but – as the remarkably short-lived Super League soccer initiative demonstrated – money turns heads.
The Premier Golf League hasn’t gone away. As someone who has been involved in conversations with the PGL said recently, they have not abandoned their goal but, instead, they have sweetened the pot. When money is no object, offering top players in excess of $20 or $30 million to join a new tour sounds like serious business.
The tour’s new program is another way – like the FedEx Cup and the now-defunct and relatively unsuccessful Wyndham Rewards program – to incentivize players. The Wyndham Rewards program didn’t get the results it wanted despite a $10 million bonus pool and it will be interesting to see if paying the tour’s biggest stars up to $8 million will change what they do.
The initial reactions from some players suggested it won’t change what they’re doing.
“I’m just going to try and win as many tournaments and see how far up I can get on it,” Patrick Cantlay said.
Xander Schauffle said he had apparently been told about the program when it began in January but, if he was, it didn’t register with him. Apparently, an $8 million bonus doesn’t go as far as it once did.
“Wins and good golf take care of everything and the rest is secondary,” Schauffele said, reiterating a familiar refrain.
Since the subject is needle movers, Tiger Woods deserves most, if not all of the money even as he recovers from his horrific automobile accident. He has been and remains that influential.
On the basic level, determining the PGA Tour’s most influential players is fairly straightforward. We know who they are.
As I mentioned before, Tiger, Phil, DJ, Rory, JT, Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler, Bryson DeChambeau, Brooks Koepka and maybe Jon Rahm.
That leaves out Schauffele, Cantlay, Patrick Reed, Webb Simpson, Collin Morikawa, Tony Finau, Sergio García and Adam Scott, among others.
Fowler is an interesting case considering his recent on-course struggles. He remains one of the game’s most engaging and recognizable players who is certain to benefit from this program. Another player, such as Reed, may have a better record but not generate the response of a Fowler.
A popularity contest, which this sounds like in some respects, is tricky. The tour has created a series of measurables designed to turn this from a subjective pursuit to an objective one.
Will it significantly change the PGA Tour as we know it? No. Will the rich get richer? Yes.
A player’s impact will be based on Google searches, their Q-rating, Nielsen Brand Exposure ratings and something called Meltwater Mentions. In other words, a really clever television commercial could go a long way.
Here’s simpler way to gauge who matters the most:
Watch who the people are watching at tournaments. Listen to who they’re talking about.
The $40 million pool will be distributed like prize money to the players who rank first to 10th. This program has been under consideration for more than a year and it was reportedly intended to be announced at the Players Championship last March until the pandemic canceled the event.
Will it significantly change the PGA Tour as we know it?
Will the rich get richer?
Considering the money the tour has made on rights deals in recent years – approximately $2 billion from Discovery for rights outside the U.S. and approximately $700 million from various entities for U.S. rights – the revenue line is flush. Allowing the players most responsible for generating the interest to share in the success is another nod to their impact.
Could that $40 million be spent elsewhere, furthering social or developmental programs?
It could. But the tour continues to reach out in those areas as well.
When Julia Roberts or Dwayne Johnson make movies, their names sell. And they are compensated accordingly. That’s what the PGA Tour is intending to do with the new program – reward the players who attract the most attention with their golf and personalities.
Star power rules.
© 2021 Global Golf Post LLC
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