No Rickie? No Homa? 9 surprising takeaways from the inaugural Player Impact Program results
Results from the much buzzed-about Player Impact Program — which dishes out huge sums to pros who drive the most eyeballs to the PGA Tour — were released Wednesday morning in an email to Tour pros. Unsurprisingly, the the top-10 finishers were made public almost immediately. Your winner: Tiger Woods. Second place: Phil Mickelson.
To the typical sports fan, that might not be surprising at all, but digging a little deeper there are some eyebrow-raising tidbits buried within. Here are 9 surprising takeaways from the inaugural PIP results.
1. The PGA Tour made it public!
When the PIP was initially reported on by Golfweek in April, the initial conclusion was that the results would not be shared by the Tour. It was not a program the Tour wanted people to know about anyway, so they were not going to be in a rush to make the results known. But over the course of the next 10 months, the Tour changed its tune and actually prepared a report on its own about the results. It falls in line with the Tour’s recent increased willingness to be transparent about some of its business affairs, which we love to see! It also helps set the record straight on what exactly this program is all about.
2. Bryson DeChambeau’s low Q-Score
One of the five metrics of the PIP is Q-Score, defined by the Tour as “Awareness: A player’s general awareness score among broad U.S. population.” One might think that the 2020 U.S. Open champion, the PGA Tour’s preeminent long-driver, who made headlines repeatedly throughout the year and even competed in multiple made-for-TV matches, would register highly in public awareness. But apparently not! DeChambeau ranked 22nd in Q-Score among his Tour compadres, which ended up being his worst metric within the PIP. Luckily for him, that doesn’t matter. Players finishing 3rd-6th all reaped the same reward: $3.5 million.
3. Bubba has social REACH
The biggest surprise on this list is unquestionably Bubba Watson, who finished 10th. Watson hasn’t won on Tour in the last three years, and is not in the top 50 in the world. But he does have 1.8 million followers on Twitter, 940k followers on Instagram and 1.3 million followers on TikTok. He is out there in the social media world, and posting frequently. It was enough for him to rank 1st in the “MVP Index,” which the Tour defined as “Social Media: Social media score that considers a player’s reach, conversation and engagement metrics.”
4. Dustin Johnson’s questionable social reach
Dustin Johnson doesn’t manage his own social-media accounts. He almost surely doesn’t scroll endlessly while he’s laying in bed. It’s not something he thinks about. And in 2021, he sent or retweeted 92 tweets, almost all of which would fall in the category of “promotional.”
Apparently that extent of social media usage and engagement is enough for Johnson to rank 16th in the MVP Index. Surely there are 25 Tour pros who are creating more social engagement than DJ, right?
5. No Rickie or Max
When the Tour initially announced to players its intentions with the PIP, it simulated how the 2019 season would have played out. Tiger Woods won, to no surprise, but also unsurprising was Rickie Fowler, who ranked 5th behind Mickelson, Brooks Koepka, Rory McIlroy and Woods. Fowler has long been one of the Tour’s most marketable players, but in 2021, that clearly wasn’t so much the case. Fowler’s name was nowhere to be found on the top 10 results that were shared. Could he have been in the next 10? Probably. But without that information at our disposal, we’ll just have to wonder.
Similarly absent is the Twittering Golfer himself, Max Homa. Beloved on Golf Twitter and in social media circles for roasting swings and generally just being himself, Homa was definitely a surprise to see not included on the list. At least for the most ardent Golf Twitter supporters. Homa also won multiple events in 2021 and has hosted/appeared on many podcasts. Again, would love to know if he finished at, say, 14th in the ranking. Until then, Max clearly has some work to do.
6. Phil Mickelson finishing 2nd
This shouldn’t come as a huge surprise that Mickelson would lose to Woods; he’s been chasing the GOAT his entire career. And Woods’ impact on the game — and the discussion around the game — has long been difficult to properly quantify. But Mickelson made a bold statement late in 2021 when he publicly claimed the PIP’s top spot.
As the day moved forward and journalists worked to confirm or deny Mickelson’s claim, it became clear that the results were not yet finalized, and that Woods (who Mickelson claimed to have finished 2nd) still had time to rally up support. Whether or not he needed it, Woods got it. And reading through Mickelson’s various replies, it’s clear he was trying to drum up some late attention anyway to boost his own standing. For whatever it was worth, he did have a higher MVP Index (social engagement) rating than Woods, finishing 5th to Woods’ 8th.
7. Jordan Spieth’s father kept him from taking 3rd
OK, not literally, but sort of. Spieth, as ever, was a blast to watch play golf last year. He was frequently in contention, nearly won the British Open and has always been top of mind for golf fans. But on social media, he just doesn’t rank high enough. Spieth’s MVP Index rank was 19th, behind aforementioned Dustin Johnson and his rather basic output. It was the only metric that Spieth didn’t finish in the top 10 of, and it just so happened to be the only metric related to his family.
Spieth’s father, Shawn, co-founded a company that created the MVP Index, which is designed to help athletes measure their value for brands and potential sponsors. The algorithm was used by the Tour, representing 20% of the PIP results; Jordan ended up just .09% behind McIlroy for the 3rd spot. Thanks, Dad! Like DeChambeau, though, this discrepancy didn’t cost him anything since places 3 through 6 all were paid out the same amount.
8. The PGA Tour asserts ‘this is not a social media competition’
The discourse surrounding the PIP, almost from the start, has been that it is a competition for players to create massive engagement on social media. Patrick Cantlay mentioned it when asked about the PIP just two weeks ago: “I think I’m old school in the respect that I would like the money to be doled out relative to play and I don’t think the PIP does that. It may be the first departure that the Tour has had from rewarding good play to rewarding social media or popularity presence, so I don’t like that departure.”
Cantlay is clearly not a fan. But that doesn’t mean he’s correct. Social media engagement, as we have discussed, plays an important role in the overall PIP results, but it makes up just 20% of the system.
The Tour was assertive in its own write-up of the results, saying, “While many have been under the impression that the Player Impact Program is a ‘social media contest,’ the scope of the metrics includes five criteria obtained from objective, third-party data measurement services.”
9. Tiger is winning this thing again. And he might just keep winning for a while.
Tiger Woods didn’t hit a competitive shot on the PGA Tour in 2021 after his February car crash, though he did rehab enough to drive around in a golf cart and hit smooth shots with his son in the PNC Championship in December.
Yes, that was enough for him to win the PIP. Woods finished 1st in the metrics listed as “Internet Searches,” “Earned Media,” and “Q-Score.” It’s no surprise that Woods is extremely well-known in broader culture (Q-Score), or that he ranked highly in the Google-search scene (his crash was international news), but the Earned Media space was still a bit surprising. That metric boils down entirely to the number of individual articles that included a player’s name in the headline. Woods finished 1st ahead of Rory McIlroy and Bryson DeChambeau in that category. We can only imagine how dominant his PIP results would be if he played a reasonably busy schedule.
Woods took his biggest step toward defending the PIP results for this year by roasting Mickelson Wednesday afternoon. Two emojis, one word, one tweet. The man just doesn’t lose.