The only shared commonality between Jay Monahan and Charles Dickens — other than both debuting to American audiences in Boston — is that each created a PIP that inspired great expectations among the lower orders. Dickens’ ‘Pip’ was the protagonist of his exquisite 1861 novel; Monahan’s is more prosaic: the Player Impact Program, his widely-criticized plan to reward those players who most impact the PGA Tour’s business.
Monahan’s PIP only measures positive impact, so Greg Norman doesn’t number among its beneficiaries. But, like Abel Magwitch in Great Expectations, much of what transpires is due to his unseen hand.
Depending upon one’s disposition — toward the PGA Tour and LIV, toward meritocratic compensation, or even toward corporate talent-retention policies — the Player Impact Program represents a bribe to secure loyalty, money for nothing, or a commonplace way to bonus high-impact performers. Those sentiments are not mutually exclusive; rather, there’s significant overlap in reasonable judgments about the PIP.
This week, the Tour announced the final results in the only season-long race whose standings it doesn’t aggressively promote. The PIP pot doubled in 2022 to $100 million, and so did the number of recipients, to 20 (with three more added for reasons too byzantine to bother with here). Tiger Woods collected $15 million to go with the $8 million he received from the inaugural PIP pool last year, despite Phil Mickelson’s Trumpian attempt to prematurely declare a victory he hadn’t earned.
That’s $23 million just for being Tiger Woods. But then, it took a lot of work to become Tiger Woods, and Tiger Woods adds immense value to the PGA Tour, to a multiple of $23 million. It also took a lot of work to become Rory McIlroy (second, for $12 million in ‘22), Will Zalatoris (9th, $5 million) and Viktor Hovland (20th, $2 million). The respective deservedness of others on the PIP list — everyone below Woods in the mortals division — will be debated. This is a sport where competitors like to boast of eating only what they kill (never entirely true) and because a perception exists that PIP payouts are entirely unrelated to how recipients perform inside the ropes (also not entirely true, but less true this year than it was last).
The criteria used in ’22 leans toward placing greater value on performance — measuring screen time on weekend telecasts, for example, though carding a comical quad might guarantee a chap plenty of air time too. Other metrics are also impacted by how well someone plays, and how often, so even if PIP bonuses are found money, it doesn’t quite amount to money for nothing.
If the entire program is, as many suggest, a transparent sop to secure player loyalty against LIV, it has been remarkably ineffective, at least based on season one. Bryson DeChambeau, Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka and Bubba Watson all split after receiving PIP bonuses of at least $3 million, though DeChambeau is irked that he hasn’t been paid in full on account of not having completed the necessary obligations to collect before he departed.
Successful businesses not owned by Elon Musk make good faith efforts to retain talent who add value. Through that lens, the PIP makes sense. Those bonused in ’22 earned it via great play (Scottie Scheffler), exceptional fan engagement (Rickie Fowler), or both (Max Homa). The engagement metric is clearly the contentious one, understandably so since the Tour’s idea of swell engagement gave us “Live Under Par.” But how better to measure the enduring impact of Woods in the waning years of his competitive career?
In the event of another flow of defections to LIV in ’23, the PIP will not scope the tide. Most of the bonuses paid out are inconsequential compared to what beckons when Saudi oil grants a blank check to a man with a vendetta who is desperate for traction. But what the PIP does accomplish is to highlight just how lucrative life is for those who can still perform and who cherish their reputations. McIlroy didn’t win a major title in 2022, but between prize money and bonuses his “on-course” earnings exceed $40 million, and he didn’t have to brown-nose a butcher to make that money.
Woods’ value to the PGA Tour is diminished only in that he can no longer compete with the consistency and frequency he used to. But a few weeks shy of his 47th birthday, he still draws more eyeballs than any of them. The next three weeks will illustrate that, when he plays at the Hero World Challenge, in a made-for-TV match with McIlroy against Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas, and at the PNC Championship, alongside his son, Charlie. Who else can make irrelevant golf relevant in December? That PIP bonus is a bargain for what he brings, and would remain so even if it were doubled.
Not everything Woods contributed to the PGA Tour this year is quantifiable, even with opaque metrics. What was it worth when he flew to the player meeting in Delaware to stand with McIlroy and rally support? Or when he incinerated LIV’s competitive integrity at a press conference in St. Andrews, during which he reminded players not only that he has set the bar, but where and how he did so? Woods brought to bear the weight of his record and reputation when it mattered most, and in doing so proved that these days a professional golfer’s value and his values are intrinsically linked as never before.
Fifteen million doesn’t even begin to cover it.