When it comes to making consequential changes, the world home of the PGA Tour has a lot in common with the Vatican, two reclusive worlds accustomed to moving at the sleepy pace of papal encyclicals rather than the pace expected in the modern world. It’s been 39 days since the final authority of the tour, Jay Monahan released his post – Let’s call it primaries (“Price Selected”) – sets out a vision to ensure the loyalty of the world’s best golfers, details of which he said will be revealed within 45 to 60 days. That’s such a dizzying pace for the Ponte Vedra curia bishops tasked with implementing the details that any major sporting federation would fundamentally overhaul how it does business.
The easy part includes the money: a $100 million Player Impact doubling, a $500,000 guarantee for all beginners, and a modest pension so wrongdoers can afford it. More problematic is the radical reconfiguration of the product that Monahan promised at the behest of a group of players led by Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods.
primaries Invitations to tour within the tour, 12 “high” events worth $20 million from wallets and elite fields. Add the major leagues and the Players Championship, and the best players will compete against each other 17 times each season, much more than they do now. But raising championships is not easy.
Some winners announced – three FedEx Cup playoff events, Current Invitations (Memorial, Arnold Palmer and Genesis), WGC Match Play, and Sentry Tournament of Champions. The remaining four will be determined, but will likely rotate among sponsors willing to pay the premium required for the hike every few years but not annually. When elevated events are identified, where do they fall in the table? Most events for elite status are fixed in the calendar. The mystery of speed will not be resolved without some tournaments being pushed to new dates, which raises new considerations in each case.
An inevitable byproduct of setting high leagues is the creation of a tiered system between the events of the PGA Tour, one where elite players are guaranteed to emerge, and another where their presence is an unexpected bonus. For sponsors who have historically focused on impacting their host communities—Sanderson Farms this week, for example—the implied relegation may not diminish the company’s value to the championship, but that view won’t prevail in every C Suite.
The boarding tournaments only formalize a second division, as some events always attract better fields. The Tour will insist that increasing the value of one tournament does not automatically reduce the value of another tournament, but alleviating sponsor tension is why top players should commit to playing three not-so-higher stops each year. Some events will see elite talents simply because the dates are appropriate to fulfill their commitments.
The scope of those commitments has already proven controversial. Jon Ram wondered if the commitment to 20 weeks – majors and players, the 12th week high and the discretionary three – would prevent him from supporting events in Europe. These 20 appearances are expected between January and Labor Day, with PIP eligibility potentially being linked to playing a full roster. Team Monahan may need to come up with a compromise that requires the stars to play the minimum number of those round-controlled events rather than all of them.
The problems you face in Ponte Vedra do not end with the season. What happens after Labor Day? The top players won’t be sitting at home for four months – the guys who said they wanted to do so often had already left for the LIV. This is the place PGA Tour Alliance with DP World Tour Come. After the FedEx Cup qualifiers, after the wealthy have had time to overcome their boredom, we are likely to see many of the top players competing in the final race of the European Circuit Race to Dubai. Incorporating important European events into the broader PGA Tour landscape – perhaps even with high-stakes stops – is part of the ongoing discussions, adding a layer of global complexity to what is already a Russian puppet puzzle.
Beginning in the year 23, the local fall schedule in the United States is unlikely to attract much star power at all compared to the flesh of the year, but it rarely does. The consolation (which only pertains to hardcore fans) is that more will be at stake as players scramble for position and avoid the revived Q-School Shock, the mention of which still causes many veterans to shiver. There will be drama, even though it was largely generated by the rowdy cast. Winners are born losers in the rough arithmetic of upcoming changes.
This whole process has been driven by unhappy players and what they need to be a little less unhappy. Some chose Saudi Cash Balm, while others chose to stay and fight for the improvements of the PGA Tour. But most simply sat and waited to see what others were going to serve, ready to turn their noses up and once again threaten to go eat next door at Greg’s Grill, despite the owner’s reputation for not handling criticism well. Monahan must know that the day is approaching when he must do what every grumpy restaurant manager does: tell disgruntled diners that the menu is the best he can offer, and if they don’t like it, well, there’s no razor wire around the way out.