If 2022 was the year of disruption in professional golf, 2023 will be the year when the aftereffects are felt.
It begins on the PGA Tour this week at the Sentry Tournament of Champions at Kapalua, a dreamy starting spot that always has promised the best of Maui’s many charms, with a guaranteed paycheck to go with the breaching whales, trade winds and sit-and-stare panoramas.
Always a reward for tournament winners (now including non-winners who reached the Tour Championship), the Sentry event has the distinction this year of being the first “elevated” event in the tour’s new scheduling model.
Of all the adjustments, reactions and changes that came out of the LIV Golf-induced restructuring that germinated last summer and fall, the creation of elevated events may be the most significant.
There will be 13 elevated events this year, and they come with two massive components: the money and the best players.
“If you said two years ago, ‘What’s the (PGA) Tour going to look like?’ nobody would have come up with this, what is proposed for the next few years. I think it’s all a work in progress. But the important thing is, the players got together and decided this is the direction we want to go.” – Davis Love III
At the centerpiece of a plan hatched by Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy, their managers and others including PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan, elevated events were created to both reward the tour’s top players (a direct counterpunch to LIV’s Saudi-funded big-money brashness) and to bring them together more often.
“If you said two years ago, ‘What’s the (PGA) Tour going to look like?’ nobody would have come up with this, what is proposed for the next few years,” Davis Love III said at the RSM Classic in November. “I think it’s all a work in progress. But the important thing is, the players got together and decided this is the direction we want to go.”
It’s not so much a question of whether LIV caused this but what it means to the PGA Tour going forward. This is the starting point. The structure and sites are likely to change in the coming years, but getting here was the first critical step.
Here’s how they work:
The players who finished in the top 20 in the tour’s Player Impact Program – which will divide $100 million among those 20 players this year – have committed to playing 12 of the 13 elevated events.
That means McIlroy, Justin Thomas, Scottie Scheffler, Jon Rahm, et al., will be in the same events potentially 17 times (including the four major championships).
Additionally, the top 20 players are required to play three more tour events, with starts in the fall of 2022 counting toward that number.
It was an idea developed during an August player meeting led by Woods and McIlroy, and it continues to evolve.
“There was a lot of talk of … ways in which we can increase purses, reward players that are more visible than others that drive the tour, reward them, and also give better access to the tour at different ages and in different ways than we ever have in the past,” Woods said at the Hero World Challenge.
“It was a long meeting, a lot of different options were put about, and we all had to think about it, sit back. Then we’ve had many subsequent meetings, FaceTime meetings trying to figure it out and make it better and also worked with the tour to try and make it better as well.”
After the $15 million Sentry Tournament of Champions, the other elevated events will have purses of at least $20 million, more than doubling the payout for some of those events. It’s possible, perhaps likely, that in 2024 and beyond the elevated events will feature limited fields, further enhancing the earning capacity of the top players.
The elevated events are:
- Sentry Tournament of Champions
- WM Phoenix Open
- Genesis Invitational
- Arnold Palmer Invitational
- Players Championship
- WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play Championship
- RBC Heritage
- Wells Fargo Championship
- Memorial Tournament
- Travelers Championship
- FedEx St. Jude Championship
- BMW Championship
- Tour Championship
One further tweak: the FedEx Cup playoffs will be limited to the top 70 players in the points race at the end of the so-called regular season, a reduction from 125 players in previous years. The moves have raised the question of whether the tour is creating a two-tier structure focusing on the top end.
“Every player that’s a member of the PGA Tour has the full capability of being a top player, and we create a competitive platform that allows them to do that. That is always going to be the case,” Monahan said at the Tour Championship in August.
“Additionally, I think the spirit of what is being talked about is that every single member of the PGA Tour is going to benefit from the changes that we’re going to be making. Rising tides…
“Our commitment is to grow earnings across the membership. There’s no doubt that earnings at the highest end of the membership have and will continue to grow at an accelerated level.”
The creation of the elevated events also changes the way top players will plot their schedule. From February through the playoff finale in late August, there will be at least two events each month featuring the top players.
Starting with the WM Phoenix Open, there will be four elevated events in five weeks. Extending that through the RBC Heritage, there will be seven elevated events or major championships in a 10-week window.
Throw in personal preferences and the scheduling matrix gets complicated. Scottie Scheffler and Jordan Spieth like to play their home-state events in Texas, which fit in the middle of the puzzle.
“That does put me and a few other people like Scottie, (Will) Zalatoris, some guys who like playing both the Dallas events in a situation where you’re looking at five in a row, which I’ve done once,” Spieth said. “I don’t particularly like doing more than four in a row, but I love my hometown events.”
It means more change in a year that may be full of changes.
Top: A whale breaches during the final round of the 2018 Sentry Tournament of Champions at Kapalua Golf Club. Photo: Sam Greenwood, Getty Images
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