PGA Tour's radical change: Big names will play more often for more money

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So it turns out Phil had a point after all.

Roughly eight months after Phil Mickelson leveled charges and criticisms against the PGA Tour that resulted in his own banishment, as well as the departure of many of the sport’s biggest names for the competing LIV tour, new changes coming to the Tour address many of Mickelson’s exact concerns. The upshot is this: the best players on the Tour will play more often for more money, and all regular players will have guaranteed earnings.

It’s a direct response to the sudden and meaningful threat of LIV Golf, the upstart golf league that has lured away many of golf’s biggest names with the promise of guaranteed winnings and vast paydays.

“As much as I probably don't want to give Phil any sort of credit at all, yeah, there were certain points that he was trying to make,” Rory McIlroy said Wednesday prior to the Tour Championship. “Some of these ideas, did they have merit? Of course they did. But he just didn't approach it the right way.”

McIlroy, Tiger Woods and 21 other players apparently worked in the right way, at least to the Tour’s preference, and the result is a set of sweeping changes, announced by PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan and set to begin in the 2022-23 season, that will fundamentally reshape how the Tour operates … and compensates its most valuable assets.

The Tour will now feature 20 “top players,” as defined by the Tour’s “Player Impact Program,” or PIP — in effect, a popularity contest that measures media mentions, broadcast exposure, and fan awareness. These players will commit to a 20-event PGA Tour schedule. That includes 12 “elevated events,” including notable Tour stops like the Players Championship, the Memorial and the Arnold Palmer Invitational; the four majors; and four as-yet-unidentified “elevated events.” It’s a deliberate attempt to get the best players to play together more often.

“Apart from the major championships and maybe The Players, the top 10 players, top 20 players in the world get together to play against each other one other time during the year,” McIlroy said. “I think if you're trying to sell a product to TV and to sponsors and to try to get as many eyeballs on professional golf as possible, you need to at least let people know what they're tuning in for. When I tune into a Tampa Bay Buccaneers game I expect to see Tom Brady throw a football. When I tune into a Formula 1 race I expect to see Lewis Hamilton in a car.”

The PIP program will also give players vast sums of money for engendering more audience awareness; a pool of $100 million will be available to those 20 players. While it doesn’t begin to match what LIV has offered players, it’s a substantial jump upward from previous years, in which there was no mechanism to pay players beyond their on-course winnings.

“Every single member of the PGA Tour is going to benefit from the changes that we're going to be making. Rising tides,” Monahan said. “The Tour is going to continue to grow by having the best players in the world committed to it, by us continuing to lean into and invest in our ethos, which is the single-best competitive platform. We're going to be able to generate more value when you add on top of that what we stand for and why companies around the world invest in the PGA Tour.”

The Tour has always prided itself on being a meritocracy — every player, from Tiger Woods to a Monday-qualifying journeyman, risks missing the cut at every tournament and going home empty-handed. But that structure was part of what enticed many players to jump ship and join the Saudi-backed LIV Golf, which offers no-cut tournaments and guaranteed checks to every player in the field.

For the first time, the Tour will offer guaranteed financial stability to all of its members, with a “league minimum” of $500,000 per player. Players must compete in 15 events, and winnings at those events will be “deducted” from the $500,000 that players will receive at the beginning of the season. The Tour will also offer travel stipends for players ranked below 125th, offering $5,000 for every missed cut.

While breaking into that PIP-defined top 20 will be a challenge — players of McIlroy’s stature will get broadcast mentions regardless of how poorly they’re playing — McIlroy insisted it’s still a continuation of the meritocracy.

“Anyone has a chance to play their way into these elevated events. Anyone has a chance to feature in the Player Impact Program,” he said. “The reason we're trying to do this is we're trying to build a tour for the future, young, ambitious players that want to be the best players in the game.If you want to be the best player in the game, the PGA Tour is where you want to be because it is a pure meritocracy. There's nothing stopping guys from playing in these elevated events. There's nothing stopping guys from getting in the PIP. You just play better. You work your ass off, you play better, and if you do that, you will get into these events.”

One group that won’t be in those events: the players that left for LIV. Even though the new changes afoot mimic those already announced by LIV, there’s no amnesty on the table. Asked whether LIV players intrigued by the Tour’s new proposals might be welcomed back, Monahan had a single word: “No.”

PGA Tour players who joined LIV are currently under suspension, with some of those suspensions lasting until March 2024.

“They've joined the LIV Golf Series and they've made that commitment,” Monahan continued. “For most of them, they've made multi-year commitments. As I've been clear throughout, every player has a choice, and I respect their choice, but they've made it. We've made ours. We're going to continue to focus on the things that we control and get stronger and stronger.”

The PGA Tour’s 2021-22 season concludes this week at the Tour Championship in Atlanta. LIV Golf’s next event is scheduled for early September in Boston.

ATLANTA, GEORGIA - AUGUST 24: PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan speaks during a press conference prior to the TOUR Championship at East Lake Golf Club on August 24, 2022 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Cliff Hawkins/Getty Images)
ATLANTA, GEORGIA - AUGUST 24: PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan speaks during a press conference prior to the TOUR Championship at East Lake Golf Club on August 24, 2022 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Cliff Hawkins/Getty Images)

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Contact Jay Busbee at jay.busbee@yahoo.com or on Twitter at @jaybusbee.