Normally, when the playoffs arrive, all the focus and attention is on the players and teams competing for the season’s ultimate prize. The spotlight is on the chase to etch one’s name in the record books.
Instead, there’s a black cloud that has parked itself over Wilmington Country Club in Wilmington, Delaware, site of this week’s BMW Championship. The top-70 golfers in the FedEx Cup standings will battle at the second stop of the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup Playoffs, where $75 million is up for grabs. Yet at the penultimate event on the schedule for the 2021-22 season, there’s no conversation about how this is the Tour’s first event in the state of Delaware and hardly any about the race for the FedEx Cup.
It’s talk about the ongoing PGA Tour vs. LIV Golf battle and the players-only meeting that occurred late Tuesday. That meeting included Tiger Woods, who flew in from Florida earlier that day to have discussions about the future of the PGA Tour and the future of professional golf itself.
“It was a productive meeting,” said Justin Thomas, who won the 2022 PGA Championship. “It’s just something that the players who are involved just want the best for the Tour and want what’s in their best interest. I think it’s just one of those things where we all want what’s best for the players, and we’re working to do that.”
Thomas, who sits 10th in the standings and won the FedEx Cup trophy in 2017, is looking to join Woods and Rory McIlroy as the only players to win the playoffs twice. Yet none of the first questions Thomas answered during his pre-tournament news conference were about his chances this week.
On Tuesday, there were two meetings regarding the Tour’s future. One was a players-only meeting that Woods and Rickie Fowler flew in to attend. The other was a Players Advisory Counsel meeting.
“I think if someone like him is passionate about it, no offense to all of us, but that’s really all that matters,” Thomas said of Woods’ appearance. “If he’s not behind something, then one, it’s probably not a good idea in terms of the betterment of the game, but two, it’s just not going to work.
“I think he came because it was very important to him. It probably was just not something that he felt was appropriate to do over Zoom or just to call in. I think it shows how passionate he is about golf and wanting to improve it.”
Added Rory McIlroy on Woods: “I mean, I think it’s pretty apparent that whenever we all get in the room, there’s an alpha in there, and it’s not me.”
Thomas, McIlroy and the field are chasing Will Zalatoris, who captured his first PGA Tour title last week at the FedEx St. Jude Championship in Memphis, Tennessee. Zalatoris moved to first in the playoff standings with the win.
Scottie Scheffler, who had held the top spot for 23 weeks, dropped to No. 2. Cameron Smith, third in the FedEx Cup, withdrew from the BMW Championship on Monday, citing hip discomfort.
Xander Schauffele, sixth in the standings, was also at the meeting.
“I am very hopeful with sort of what’s to come,” he said.
“All the top players on this Tour are in agreement and alignment of where we should go going forward, and that was awesome,” McIlroy said. “We need to get the top guys together more often than we do. I’m talking about all in the same tournaments, all in the same weeks.”
The FedEx Cup Playoffs feature some of the strongest fields in professional golf, but a few of the top players in the Official World Golf Ranking aren’t there, mostly those who defected to the LIV Golf Series: Dustin Johnson (No. 21), Abraham Ancer (23), Brooks Koepka (25), among others, have been suspended by the Tour.
So, what does the future look like for the PGA Tour?
“I’d just hope for a better product,” Thomas said. “I think that’s the hope in general of anything is just to try to improve ourselves, where we’re playing, everything the best that we can.”