James Hahn is mad as hell about the changes coming to the PGA Tour and he isn’t afraid to tell you why
James Hahn is mad. Like the TV newscaster in the classic movie “Network,” Hahn is mad as hell except he’s mad as hell about the changes coming to the PGA Tour in 2024.
“I mean, I hate them,” Hahn said during a phone interview with Golfweek that interrupted his gym workout. “I’m gonna say exactly what 99.99 percent of fans said about players leaving for the LIV Tour. If our players just said, ‘We’re doing this for the money,’ I would have a lot more respect for them. But how they’re covering up what they’re doing and trying to make it a thing about sponsors and fans and saving opposite-field events. I think that’s all BS.
“All the big names that are talking about this ‘new product,’ if you just came out and said, ‘Hey, we’re doing this for the money,’ they want more guaranteed money and this is another way to funnel more money to the top players in the world, I’d have a lot more respect for them.
“Right now, they’re just covering their ass and saying everything that the PGA Tour basically has trained them to say, have taught them to say and try to make it not about money when everyone knows 100 percent it’s about more guaranteed money being funneled to the top players in the world. We’ve been talking about money for the last two years and for them not to say that that’s not the No. 1 reason why they’re making these changes —it’s very, very hypocritical.”
Hahn was just getting warmed up. His fellow Cal alum Max Homa on Wednesday during his pre-tournament press conference said he might go on a rant about the changes and then did for more than 4 minutes. Hahn had a lot on his mind and spoke for more than 45 minutes on Thursday, touching on a wide array of topics. So, let’s get after it.
A two-tiered system and straying from the Tour's mission
Tiger Woods played only nine competitive rounds in 2022 — all at majors — but still won the PGA Tour’s Player Impact Program and banked $10 million for being the most popular player. (Photo by Cliff Hawkins/Getty Images)
Hahn’s beef is with the PGA Tour essentially creating what he called “a two-tiered system with a feeder tour onto the elevated Tour series.”
“They have created these elevated events where it significantly impacts other full-field events sandwiched in between full-field events. The solution to their problem is to limit the number of players that get into elevated events to force the other players to play in the other full-field non-elevated events,” he said. “To me, it’s a road that we have to be very careful on because going to back our mission and our purpose is to be able to create the best playing opportunities for our membership and be able to contribute and donate back to the communities and the charities that we play in. It seems like the major theme over these past few years has been how do we get the most money to the most popular players on our Tour?
“I use the word popular instead of best players because, granted that Tiger is one of the best players to ever have played this game, but he just won the PIP money two years running without really playing golf, without being ranked in the top 1,000 and without keeping his card. I never would have imagined growing up that someone could make more money just for being popular than for how good they are on the course.
“And I say that as one who believes pay that man for bringing our Tour to where it is today and I’m not saying he doesn’t deserve it but what are we doing as a business, as a company, what are we doing? We’re not spending money to provide the best playing experience for our members; all we’re concerned with is just pushing money to the top players on our Tour. That’s where we are getting a great divide between the elevated events and non-elevated events and the players who play those two different tours.”
On policy board member Peter Malnati flipping his vote in favor of the Tour's short-field, no cut designated events
Peter Malnati hits his tee shot on the fourth hole of the 2021 Fortinet Championship at Silverado Resort and Spa in Napa, California. (Photo by Meg Oliphant/Getty Images)
“We’ve lost our power, the majority of the membership has lost their power to the elite running the show.”
Hahn served as a player director on the PGA Tour until the end of the year and was replaced by Peter Malnati to represent the Tour’s rank-and-file:
“When I see Peter I’m going to tell him exactly what Lanto Griffin told me when I was put in that position and my mind was swayed by the executives on the board. He said, ‘You were put there for a reason to voice the opinion of the majority of the players on the PGA Tour.’ If he doesn’t have enough balls to sack up and vote no against it then I don’t want him on the board. We picked the wrong guy. He was put there to argue our side of the discussion.
“It’s gonna pass regardless but if he doesn’t have enough balls to vote against it and take the stance that I did and stand up for what he believes in then he shouldn’t be on the board. We don’t need another person like that on the board, if you can’t stick up for us. Let’s be honest, it would have passed, they had enough votes to pass. It’s just a cop out to prevent the media, yourself, Alan Shipnucks of the world asking him why he voted no. If he doesn’t have the courage to go into the lion’s den then he should get out. We need somebody else in there. I did it, right. And everyone saw how I was treated.”
On voting against last year's increase $100 million PIP: 'It's just a $50 million mistake'
Buried in the last paragraph of PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan’s memo to players was the announcement of the reduction Player Impact Program (PIP) money from $100 million back to its original level of $50 million. Does Hahn feel vindicated for casting the lone opposing vote against the increase?
“Yes, 100 percent. We never should have gone to $100 million to begin with but that’s $50 million we just threw away on this experiment. And we knew that no one was really gonna go jump ship (to LIV). You’re just funneling money to this small group of people just because they were demanding it. They were literally negotiating with the Tour and they were saying that this is what they want or else. They basically said, not word for word, ‘We want $120 million in the PIP or else’ and we said, ‘OK, what if what if we give you 100?’ ‘OK, we’ll settle for 100.’ That’s not how a business is run. That’s not how an organization is run. That’s not how the PGA Tour should be run.
“It’s just a $50 million mistake. Think about what we could have done with an extra $50 million. Like, the money just doesn’t grow on trees. We could have given $50 million to charities around the United States of America, and still be in the same position that we are today. We wasted it on 10 people. Think about how ridiculous that is. That was my stance from the get-go. What changed from last year to this year for us to drop it from $100 million to $50 million? What changed?
On wanting to resign from the Tour's board of directors and how the board treated Jordan Spieth as if he was 'the prom queen, and everyone wants to ask her out for the dance'
Jordan Spieth hits his tee shot on the eighth hole during the second round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational golf tournament. Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports
Here Hahn describes why he felt that his voice wasn’t being heard by the board, and he threatened to resign from the board before being talked out of that by a Tour executive.
“So here’s where the power of influence, the power of someone’s on-course excellence means more in those meetings than the correct opinion,” he said. “I’ve been saying the same exact thing about Patrick Cantlay. He won the FedEx Cup and didn’t get any PIP money. And I said that in the meeting and nothing happens. Well, guess what? Patrick Cantlay gets (elected to the board and gets) in those meetings. He says something very similar, that he’d rather play for it. And they listened to him. Why would they listen to him and not me? The message is the same. It’s because he has a higher world ranking than I do, he has won more golf tournaments than I have, his net worth is triple what I’m worth. Does any of that even matter when the message is the same and it’s the correct message?
“It happened before when Jordan Spieth was on the board that the (four independent directors) listen to players that have a higher world rank than those who don’t. That’s just my personal experience.
“After my first year on the board, I wanted to resign because I didn’t feel like my voice was being heard. I felt that they were listening to Jordan, which granted, he’s very, very smart, very well spoken. He articulates his words in a way that I could never and he gets his message across. He’s a very likable person in those meetings. On and off the course, I have nothing but the most respect for Jordan. But you can see how when he talks that everyone’s eyes in the room just glimmer like he’s the prom queen, and everyone wants to ask her out for the dance. When Jordan would talk to an executive in the board meetings, that (independent director) started blushing, ‘Oh, my gosh, Jordan’s talking to me. How awesome is this?’
“So, they talked me out of resigning and said this is exactly why we need you on the board. Because we need you to speak up and I say, ‘Well, how do I speak up when you guys don’t listen? Why should I be on board? You already have your agenda. Everything’s already been written out. We already know what’s going on and you guys are more interested in this small group of people, this elite group of people, and not necessarily what’s better, what’s best for the whole Tour.’
“Where do we go from here? I don’t know. I’m outspoken. These are my opinions. I’m just trying to make the Tour better. But I don’t see how taking care of the top players in the world and not taking care of the bottom players on our Tour unites us all to want to be better.
“I’ll play the remainder of this year with full status and then next year I’ll probably end up with conditional status, past champion status and I’ll play in those opposite-field events and then retire the following year because I mean, I’m older. I can’t really hang with the younger stars of our game. I mean, they’re really good. They’re really good. But also I don’t feel like the Tour is going in a direction that the majority of PGA Tour players like.”