Justin Thomas explains how the PGA Tour’s new rivals have already spurred change
There’s a storm on the horizon, and the PGA Tour appears to be bringing all hands on deck. The long-rumored development of LIV Golf Investments, headed up by CEO Greg Norman, and separately, the PGL, are beginning to take shape. For the first time in several decades, it appears at though the PGA Tour might have a challenge to its throne atop professional golf.
The new leagues face significant obstacles on the path to relevance and still have many questions to answer to the golf public. (Namely, can either of the new proposed concepts actually land a top-tier player?) But there is no question that they pose a legitimate threat to the near-untested reign of PGA Tour supremacy, particularly given the two leagues’ purported ties to deep-pocketed financiers.
Nobody is silly enough to underestimate the value of a blank check, particularly not the Tour. Which is precisely why the organization has been moving proactively to implement changes that will better endear itself to its highest-earning clientele. Of course, the Player Impact Program (PIP) is the most public example of that shift. The $40 million annual popularity contest — erhm, prize pool — just finished its first year of payouts (ironically, the winners of the program were not announced publicly). Elsewhere, the Tour has bolstered its strategic alliances (notably with the European Tour), and has grown its incentive program to better benefit players.
But not all of the Tour’s changes have been affecting players’ bottom line. In fact, as Justin Thomas said in his press conference ahead of the World Wide Technologies Championship at Mayakoba on Wednesday, perhaps the most noticable shift has been in the Tour’s attitude.
“I know for one, my first couple years I felt like I didn’t necessarily have the place or the voice to go to a Jay Monahan, to go to [chief tournaments and competitions officer] Andy Pazder to say how I feel about what things are going on in the Tour,” Thomas said. “In reality, it sounds disrespectful to say, but they work for us, you know what I mean? It doesn’t matter if you’re the 120th ranked player on the FedExCup or the second, if you have a problem and you think it should be changed, you should go voice that opinion to the Tour and that’s their job to try to fulfill that or at least give you an answer.”
In recent months, Thomas said, Tour leadership has been much more proactive with its constituents.
“I think that’s kind of been the main thing that’s come out of this is, look, we can better our product and we can get better because of stuff like this, we can learn from it,” he said. “I just think that a lot of it was honestly the players not knowing and also maybe the Tour not understanding that it could be done differently and that the players even felt that way.”
In that sense, Thomas sees the proposed tours as a good thing. For one thing, they provide an influx of new ideas into a sport that could use the inspiration. The new tours are rumored to be team-based concepts involving guaranteed salaries, 54-hole tournaments and even ownership stakes for players.
We can get better because of stuff like this, we can learn from it.
For another, the new tours might spur commissioner Jay Monahan to enact sweeping changes quickly. Fear can be a powerful motivator.
“I think all of this has been better for me personally, and I think a lot of us have conversations with the Tour, with our agents, with other players, because at the end of the day, if the PGA Tour’s winning, we’re also winning,” Thomas said. “If we’re winning, the PGA — we want to all grow together.”
For now, Thomas remains committed to the Tour. But his words of support Tuesday were far from ironclad.
“Obviously I’m trying to listen and talk to players and people and hear as much as I can, but at the same time, what’s most important right now is my career on the PGA Tour and me playing well in Mexico this week,” he said. “I think that’s just kind of the route that I’m trying to take it.”
As of Tuesday, the PGA Tour is pushing all the right buttons to hang onto its players. That’s good news, because the storm is only getting closer.
“I think all of this that’s happened outside of the PGA Tour — questions from the players — to where the Tour’s done a great job of answering it, but also answering that maybe we have the opportunity to better our product,” Thomas said.