It’s an old trick in the political world. When an opponent criticizes an incumbent, the incumbent simply takes an action to negate the criticism.
If your opponent says there aren’t enough stop signs in a town, for instance, you as the mayor simply put up more stop signs. Then your opponent has nothing to base his attacks on anymore. It’s a strategy to cut the legs out from under your opponent.
That certainly appears to be the strategy of the PGA Tour these days when it comes to the threat of the proposed Saudi-backed golf tour led by Hall of Famer Greg Norman. The Saudi tour is offering more money, and more guaranteed money, to top players. The PGA Tour is now doing the same through a series of initiatives, though there is still nothing of a guarantee to what the PGA Tour is pushing.
We know that there are offers of up to $30 million guaranteed for top players to sign with the tour pushed by Norman and the Saudi money. What the PGA Tour is doing is increasing purses and bonus money to reward its top players. We already knew, for example, that The Players Championship run by the PGA Tour has increased its purse to $20 million next year from $15 million, with $3.6 million for the first prize.
Then the Tour issued a memo to players last week outlining major increases in other Tour-controlled events. Among the biggest changes are an increase in the FedEx Cup bonus from $60 to $75 million. Patrick Cantlay won $15 million for winning the FedEx Cup in the 2020-21 season, so that will go up for the current season.
And here’s a bonus that was glossed over when the announcement came out — the new and mysterious Player Impact Program, will rise from $40 million to $50 million.
Remember, fans don’t actually know who wins this money for players who have a big social and media impact on the Tour.
Last August, PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan confirmed that the Player Impact Program, which was approved this year, would run through the end of the year rather than following the Tour’s schedule. Despite the program being designed to compensate players who are judged to drive fan and sponsor engagement, Monahan said, “we don’t have any intention on publicizing it.”
As Golfweek originally reported, the 10 beneficiaries will be determined based on their “Impact Score,” a number generated from six separate metrics that are designed to quantify that individual’s added value. According to a document the PGA Tour distributed to players, the metrics on which players will be ranked against their peers include:
(1) Their position on the season-ending FedEx Cup points list.
*Update: While FedEx Cup rank was included among criterion in the document players received, the tour tells Golfweek that it will not be used as a metric to determine bonus payments.
(2) Their popularity in Google Search.
(3) Their Nielsen Brand Exposure rating, which places a value on the exposure a player delivers to sponsors though the minutes they are featured on broadcasts.
(4) Their Q Rating, which measures the familiarity and appeal of a player’s brand.
(5) Their MVP Index rating, which calibrates the value of the engagement a player drives across social and digital channels.
(6) Their Meltwater Mentions, or the frequency with which a player generates coverage across a range of media platforms.
The Tour will employ an algorithm to turn the values from each metric into Impact Scores for every player and a ranking of those Scores then determines the bonus amount due.
It’s not just bonuses going up, but purses in some big events, too. World Golf Championships, which guarantee money to a player because there are no cuts, will increase their purses to $12 million. The Tour has three events designated as invitationals, the Arnold Palmer Invitational, the Memorial hosted by Jack Nicklaus and the Genesis Invitational hosted by Tiger Woods. Each of those events will have $12 million purses, up from $10.5
All of this is great news for the players, especially the top players who annually seem to win the most money on Tour with their stellar performances. Even if you are the last golfer to qualify for the WGC event, your share of that increased purse just went up.
But it all does seem a little bit transparent. Maybe the powers at the PGA Tour see the Saudi tour as a legitimate threat, maybe they don’t. But their action on increasing bonus money and big purses does seem to be a direct response to the threat. The PGA Tour, like most sports organizations, trades on the appeal of its biggest stars.
If those players are tempted by the Saudi tour because of more money, the PGA Tour’s answer is to give the stars more money. No, it’s not a guaranteed contract at the start of the season before anyone hits a ball in competition, but it is a guarantee that golfers who perform at the level they have before will now earn more money.
Will the strategy work? We see it all the time in sports, especially with coaches. If a coach is rumored to be heading to a different team or a different school, the odds are that coach will get an offer of a contract extension with an increase in annual pay. Look at the bonus and purse increases as a kind of increased salary for the stars of the PGA Tour.
None of this means a few stars won’t still take their chances with the Saudi tour. There are a few other issues that some players have with the PGA Tour, after all. But it does mean the PGA Tour is willing to acknowledge that paying its biggest stars is a priority.
The big money is a political gamble for the PGA Tour, trying to cut the legs out from under the Saudi tour. It might be more than enough for the PGA Tour to remain the incumbent in the game.
Larry Bohannan is The Desert Sun golf writer, he can be reached at email@example.com or (760) 778-4633. Follow him on Facebook or on Twitter at @larry_Bohannan.