ATLANTA, GEORGIA | This week at the Tour Championship at East Lake isn’t just the culmination of another PGA Tour season. It’s a point of delineation as the tour announced substantial changes Wednesday to its basic structure when the new season begins next month.
After weeks of speculation about what changes are coming to the tour as it grapples with the heavy-handed impact of LIV Golf’s arrival, commissioner Jay Monahan outlined a sweeping series of changes that assure the top players will tee it up at least 20 times each season while playing for bigger purses.
While changes have been discussed for weeks, the announcement that the tour schedule will feature 12 “elevated events” next season and beyond while also guaranteeing every exempt player a minimum of $500,000 annually is new. It is an outgrowth of a private meeting of 22 top players led by Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy last week in Delaware.
“Our top players are firmly behind the tour, helping us deliver an unmatched product to our fans, who will be all but guaranteed to see the best players competing against each other in 20 events or more throughout the season,” Monahan said. “This is an extraordinary and unprecedented commitment, a testament to who these guys are and what they believe in.”
Under the new model, top players (those who rank in the top 20 in the current Player Impact Program rankings and under revised criteria going forward) will commit to playing the 12 elevated events (four of which will be announced in the coming weeks), the Players Championship, the four majors (Masters, PGA Championship, U.S. Open and Open Championship) and at least three other PGA Tour events.
Is it a direct reaction to LIV Golf, which has pulled away five of the top 10 players in the PIP program last season and is expected to announce more new members next week? Absolutely.
The elevated events are the three FedEx Cup playoff events, the Sentry Tournament of Champions, the Genesis Invitational, the Arnold Palmer Invitational, the Memorial Tournament and the WGC-Dell Match Play Championship, seven of which have $20 million purses.
Aside from the Sentry event and the 64-player match-play event, the elevated tournaments will have full fields with cuts this year. It is unclear whether their field size will change in 2024 (when the tour returns to a calendar schedule) and beyond.
The new structure is designed to get the top players together more often.
“I saw a stat yesterday that apart from the major championships and maybe the Players, the top 10 players, top 20 players in the world get together to play against each other one other time during the year, and that just doesn’t – I think if you’re trying to sell a product to TV and to sponsors and to try to get as many eyeballs on professional golf as possible, you need to at least let people know what they’re tuning in for,” McIlroy said.
“When I tune in to a Tampa Bay Buccaneers game, I expect to see Tom Brady throw a football. When I tune in to 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.”
Is it a direct reaction to LIV Golf, which has pulled away five of the top 10 players in the PIP program last season and is expected to announce more new members next week?
Asked whether players who have signed with LIV Golf would be allowed to return to the tour now, Monahan had a simple answer:
“No,” he said.
“As I’ve been clear throughout, every player has a choice, and I respect their choice, but they’ve made it. We’ve made ours. We’re going to continue to focus on the things that we control and get stronger and stronger. I think they understand that.”
Finding more ways to reward players and to get them together more often are at the heart of the changes. The Player Impact Program bonus money has been increased to $100 million this year and beyond, with the winner receiving $15 million. To participate in the payout, players are required to play the 13 elevated events plus three other tour events.
The revised criteria for the PIP will have five categories: internet searches, general awareness, golf-fan awareness, media mentions and broadcast exposure, eliminating a social-media component.
Also, every fully exempt player will be paid a $500,000 minimum as part of what is being called the earnings assurance program. It’s especially valuable to rookies and will work like an advance against earnings. Should a player not make $500,000, the tour will cover the difference. This year, 163 players made at least $500,000 on tour, and Monahan said this program will cost the tour $2 million to $3 million annually.
Monahan said the additional money to fund these changes comes from three areas: the tour is having its strongest financial year ever, and it’s ahead of budget; tour reserves that have been built for such a moment; and partners and sponsors.
Additionally, the tour will partner with Woods and McIlroy in their new TMRW enterprise, which Wednesday unveiled plans for a six-team, 18-player series of team matches in a technology-driven stadium setting and will air on Monday nights beginning in early 2024.
“This is a remarkable time for the tour,” Monahan said. “We have and always will be the ultimate platform for a player who wants to compete for the trophies and the titles that matter most.
“To now have our top players rally around this organization and commit to a portfolio of tournaments like never before, I think our fans, our partners, our players are going to love it. I promise you, there’s more to come.”
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