‘We have a commissioner who is a chicken s—‘: How the rank-and-file feel about signature events

Not everyone is fond of the signature event structure that was implemented this season on the PGA Tour. Just ask veteran pro Nate Lashley, who pointed the blame directly at Commissioner Jay Monahan.

“Our No. 1 event is the Players and it’s a 144-man field. If that’s the best field all year, then why are these signature events that are supposed to be so good 70 (man fields)? It makes no sense. Look at how good the Players was this year. When you have more competition, things stay tighter, more compact. When you’ve got fields with no cuts it spreads things out. But we have a commissioner who is a chicken shit and won’t stand up to a handful of guys, that’s what happens,” Lashley said at the RBC Canadian Open last Saturday after making the cut. “You can’t tell me finishing top 10 in a limited field is similar to a 144- or 156-man field. It’s not even close. There’s no comparison. This is way harder.”

The series of eight Sig events was instituted to encourage the best players in the world to gather more often and play against each other for purses of at least $20 million against mostly limited fields, for jacked-up points and, more often than not, no-cut affairs. This week’s Memorial Tournament marks the seventh Sig event – this one does have a cut – with the Travelers Championship the finale of the Sig events in two weeks.

Count Mark Hubbard among the pros frustrated with the way the signature events are set up.

“It’s obviously set up to let in as few people as possible,” he argued. “They made the AON 10 and Swing 5 categories seem so dreamy but they didn’t tell us that the winner’s category was behind it and the world top 30 category was behind it. I think eight of the 10 (into the Memorial) would otherwise be exempt.” Lashley said he thought he should’ve been in the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, the first signature event that the lists were used for, off of his good play but was surprised to find that Matthieu Pavon, the winner of the Farmers Insurance Open, was counted in the Aon 5 and bounced him out of the field.

Hubbard said his biggest bone of contention is with the sponsor exemptions.

“Not even saying that I deserve one, but there are so many guys. I love Brandt Snedeker (who was given an invite this week at Jack’s Place along with Matt Kuchar) and he’s had an amazing career but he hasn’t played well in a long time. I don’t think he brings a lot to the tournament. He’s a great dude but Joel (Dahmen) is like the fourth-most famous guy in golf and he’s playing well again. Min Woo Lee, at Waste Management he had 2,000 people walking around dressed like him. The whole point of these changes was to make a better product and to make the sponsors happier. I’m sorry but Kuch and Sneds are not making (Memorial) a better product. Playing with 68 guys is not a better product,” Hubbard said. “I’m not saying I deserve a sponsor invite but if we’re already going to take those categories that were supposed to be the play-your-way-in category and put them at a disadvantage, you have to give sponsor invites to guys who are playing well and deserve it and are going to make the field better.”

He also expressed concern that the limited-field events make it difficult for new stars and unique characters to emerge.

“I know we are trying to keep the top guys here and we had to do something but to shrink the game the way they have, it’s tough because there are 70 guys on the Korn Ferry Tour that could come out and win tomorrow and I think we have just lost sight of that,” he said. “There are just so many people playing really good golf right now and the world has no idea who they are because the Tour has chosen to make it that way. I’m not talking about fringe players, I’m talking about guys that are super good.”

Hubbard understands that the Tour was forced to respond to the challenge of the upstart LIV Golf, but pointed out that there are some unforeseen consequences that need to be resolved.

“Everything we have done has been very reactionary. We didn’t have foresight and take the meetings 5-6 years ago (with the Saudis). So we had to be reactionary and when you are reactionary there are kinks that don’t get worked out. I think they will make the changes, some changes for next year, but who knows. The way it is now, they will reassess. Maybe they do what they did with Pebble Beach and say every field is 80. I’m overall fine with the smaller fields, I’m overall fine with the higher points – I think they might be too high but I know we had to do something, I know they had their metrics, which whatever. The not filling the field part really irks me. It goes against everything I believe this game is about.”

2024 Cognizant Classic in The Palm Beaches
2024 Cognizant Classic in The Palm Beaches

Kevin Streelman hits his tee shot on the ninth hole during the first round of the 2024 Cognizant Classic in The Palm Beaches. (Photo: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports)

Kevin Streelman, a member of the Player Advisory Council, didn’t disagree with Hubbard and Lashley’s assessment of the field size for the signature events needing to be revisited.

“It’s the stupidest thing we’ve ever done,” said Streelman of 70-man fields with no cut or a limited one at three of the events. He’s of the belief that 120-man fields are the right size for these elevated events.

“I’d say we’re diligently working to try to appease the top players, our marketing partners, our fans and the integrity of the Tour and their competitions to deliver the greatest product and highlight the best players week after week. I don’t love the way it looks right now but that doesn’t mean much anyway since I’m not an elected board member. If our fans love 70-player signature events 8-10 times a year, then have at it,” he said.

Lanto Griffin, another PAC member, said productive discussions have been held to address inadequacies in field size.

“It makes no sense to have 156 this week and 68 next week. At minimum they should have 72, fill in the field based on current year FedEx Cup points. You’re having one-somes go off on a Thursday. It’s just not right. Everyone is on board on that and they’ll have a board meeting in June to discuss some of it.”

Lanto Griffin plays his shot from the 10th tee during the second round of the U.S. Open golf tournament. Mandatory Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

Griffin has been adamant from the start that the points, which are inflated for the signature events – worth 700 for a win compared to 500 for a regular event — are out of whack.

“If the Green Bay Packers were playing the Dallas Cowboys, you wouldn’t want that to be worth three wins and then Jacksonville Jaguars play the Titans and that’s worth one or half a win,” Griffin said. “Giving out all these points at the big events is not incentivizing the top players to play more.”

He also said the field size needs to be expanded to give Korn Ferry Tour and Q-School grads access to the bigger events. “If you’re a KFT grad this year, you’re not a PGA Tour player. You’re on the B- Tour,” he said.

Lashley, for one, doesn’t hold out much hope for the PAC to come to the rescue, and expressed concern that too much emphasis has been placed on catering to the stars.

“The PAC doesn’t do anything. Now we have a handful of player advisers but two or three of them that are on that are top players using their leverage against the Tour. It’s terrible, they don’t represent the rest of the Tour; they represent themselves,” he said. “We were on a call with Jordan (Spieth) and he wouldn’t even give us an honest answer. It was like Jordan, you know the points are wrong. He was like, well, that’s what the analytics show. He’s been trained or someone told him to say that.”

While it’s never easy to satisfy an entire membership, there’s still time to fix some of the kinks in field size and how to qualify for the signature events before the 2025 season debuts in Maui.

Story originally appeared on GolfWeek