LIV Golf is signing players! The PGA Tour changed! 5 key questions (and answers) from a whirlwind week
Your men’s pro golf is a-changin’. Your PGA Tour is. The money and schedule won’t be your grandfather’s, mother’s or even your money and schedule. Your LIV Golf is a-changin’ too. They’re making moves with players as you may in your fantasy football league.
But before we get into them, let’s talk about you.
Max Homa did. On Friday, in response to a question about field sizes, he stopped his thoughts on field sizes and got to the heart of the matter.
“We are an entertainment product, so it really isn’t about like the perfect amount of competition, and I don’t know what that number is,” Homa said. “Like I was talking to Xander [Schauffele] about this. I said, I don’t care how good you are at golf; I don’t care how good I am at golf. If people aren’t watching, we’re just telling people in a bar we’re really good at golf.
“It’s like at some point it is about the product and what makes people want to watch us play.”
He’s not wrong. Keep that in mind as we try to spin things forward here. Using the same question throughout, let’s look ahead.
So after the PGA Tour’s changes … what now?
The PGA Tour’s changes were many, and we’ll try to sum things up quickly. On Wednesday, ahead of the Tour Championship, Tour commissioner Jay Monahan said that 20 players will be defined as “top players” starting next year; the device in which the Tour will define those players will be the Player Impact Program, and it will receive a purse bump, from $50 million to $100 million, to reward those players; four more tournaments, in addition to eight announced in June, will be tabbed as “elevated events” with $20 million purses; the 20 players will play in those events, the Players Championship, the majors and three other tournaments; all fully exempt players will start the season with a $500,000 stipend; and players will receive a $5,000 travel stipend. And … all of this starts soon: The PGA Tour season ended Sunday, and the next one kicks off in just two weeks.
So … what now?
We’ll start by answering why these moves were made, and that’s easy: LIV Golf. Monahan tried to spin that everything had been in the works regardless of the Saudi-backed series, but we’re not naive. Players were leaving for the upstart, so the established brand is trying to make its remaining existing constituents happy. Especially the top players, which, as you can see above, are now called top players, conveniently enough.
But where does that leave the little guys? We’ll begin with the player angle. Will it be easy for players to crack that top 20 threshold? That is, after all, what the Tour has hung its headcover on — anyone can break through. But the moves seemingly protect the elite better; with the top players constantly playing the top events, you would think that would create an endless star loop. If you’re a golf fan, that means you’ll see a lot of Rory and Scottie. But will you see the next Rorys and Scotties?
That remains to be seen. For what it’s worth, McIlroy himself said nothing’s changed here.
“So anyone has a chance to play their way into these elevated events,” he said Wednesday. “Anyone has a chance to feature in the Player Impact Program. Like that’s the thing: 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.
“That’s as simple as it is. Everyone has the same opportunity. Everyone starts the week at even par, apart from this week. But everyone has the same opportunity at the start of every week to make something of themselves and to compete, and that’s the beautiful thing about this Tour.”
Then there are the events that aren’t elevated. Even labeling them is difficult. Ground-level events? Events, hard stop? Anyway, you have the elevated dozen — three FedEx Cup Playoffs events, Genesis Invitational, Arnold Palmer Invitational, Memorial Tournament, WGC-Match Play, Tournament of Champions and four to come — and the top players are promising to play those, the majors and three more. But what about the 3M Opens and John Deere Classics of the world?
In an interview with Golfweek — which you can and should read in full here — James Hahn had that thought. He’s a member of the Tour’s Policy Board and was the lone dissenting vote to the changes.
“It could cannibalize the rest of the season and make the other tournaments feel like second-class events,” Hahn said in the interview. “By asking the best players to play more and essentially the same schedule, they are going to end up taking the same week off. Are they going to play the Honda Classic with its $8-million purse, or the $20-million purses that surround it? I fear we could end up like the ATP [the men’s tennis circuit], where only a handful of events draw real interest.”
That’s a valid concern. Is there a solution? Maybe. Rotate the unannounced four and the pick-em three among the other events. And know that top players will still play their favorites; the horses-for-courses idea. It’s a thought.
So after LIV Golf’s changes … what now?
When LIV’s fourth event tees off Thursday in Boston, the Saudi-backed series will have six new faces in the mix: Cameron Smith, Joaquin Niemann, Harold Varner III, Marc Leishman, Cameron Tringale and Anirban Lahiri to its roster. (Mito Pereira is also reportedly expected to sign, but may hold off to play in the upcoming Presidents Cup; more on that below.)
So … what now?
From the world-ranking standpoint, Smith, at No. 2, and Niemann, at No. 19, immediately become LIV’s top players, though it should be noted that all of the LIV roster has dipped without world-ranking points of its own to award. Still, the positions are earned; Smith won the Open Championship and Players Championship this year, Niemann the Genesis.
You should also focus on the nationalities here; Smith and Leishman are Australian, Niemann and Pereira are Chilean, Varner and Tringale are American, and Lahiri is Indian. LIV has leaned into its teams being region-flavored, and this crop of players enhance that.
But your main takeaway should be the jolt. The PGA Tour is weaker than it was yesterday. LIV is now stronger. Greg Norman is pleased.
Of course, does that mean more interest? Or sponsors? Or a TV deal? (LIV, remember, is shown just on YouTube and its Facebook and home pages.) Internationally, maybe. But none of these players, at the moment, are needle-movers in the U.S.
To that end, consider this quote from Atul Khosla, LIV Golf Investments president and COO, during an interview last month with CNBC:
“We do have a longer runway. But our investor definitely wants to see returns at the end of the day.”
So for the Presidents Cup … what now? And the Ryder Cup?
We’ll start by noting how to qualify for for events, though the Presidents Cup is simple; it’s run by the PGA Tour, the Tour has banned its members after playing in LIV events, and LIV players will be banned from the Presidents Cup, which will start in just over three weeks in Charlotte, N.C.
The Ryder Cup is murkier, and while nothing has been determined yet for next year’s event in Italy and beyond, LIV may be locked out here, too. On the U.S. side, the PGA of America controls the selection process, and in June, captain Zach Johnson spelled out his thoughts on potential LIV participation in this way: “So what I know is this: In order to play on the Ryder Cup team, whether you’re top six or a pick, you must garner Ryder Cup points through the PGA of America. In order to garner Ryder Cup points through the PGA of America, you have to be a member of the PGA of America. The way that we’re members of the PGA of America is through the PGA Tour. “I’ll let you connect the dots from there.”
On the European side, the DP World Tour handles selections, and officials there have been mostly mum, with European Ryder Cup director Guy Kinnings recently telling various outlets: “The position isn’t clear. There are legal appeals ongoing, and until such time, the players are entitled to play. And therefore, you know, the Ryder Cup qualification process when it does get announced, then that has to be something that [captain] Luke [Donald] will be working on with us.” OK, then. [UPDATE: On Tuesday, the European side announced that Donald will be awarded six captain’s picks.]
So … now what?
On the American side, LIV golfers Bryson DeChambeau, Brooks Koepka and Dustin Johnson would all have been up to play, as they did at last year’s Ryder Cup. But that’s three players, and the stable is deep. Meanwhile, the opposition is gutted.
Gone from Presidents Cup International team consideration are Smith, Niemann, Pereira, Leishman and Lahiri — Pereira, on Friday, posted a Presidents Cup picture to his Instagram page — and already gone are LIV players Abraham Ancer, Carlos Ortiz, Louis Oosthuizen and Charl Schwartzel. So you know Trevor Immelman’s reaction, but here it is anyway.
“It’s been a giant pain in my ass,” Immelman said on last week’s GOLF Subpar podcast, speaking generally. “There’s no other way to put it. It’s been brutally difficult in many ways. Not just for the Presidents Cup, but because I’m a member of the PGA Tour and DP World Tour and it’s been tough to see my sport get divided over the past year. From a Presidents Cup standpoint, it’s made it uber-tricky.”
The European team, meanwhile, may be without its veterans. Past Ryder Cuppers Sergio Garcia, Ian Poulter, Lee Westwood, Martin Kaymer, Paul Casey, Graeme McDowell, Bernd Wiesberger all play for LIV — as does Henrik Stenson, who had been the captain, before signing on with the upstarts last month.
So … what now for a resolution between the sides?
LOL. But stranger things have happened.
Still, in January 2024, the sides are heading to court after a batch of LIV players filed an antitrust lawsuit against the PGA Tour, though the number of golfers in the suit has recently dropped to seven. And Monahan said this on Wednesday, when asked if the Tour would lift suspensions should a player be interested in the changes:
“No.” End of quote.
A reporter then asked why not.
“They’ve joined the LIV Golf Series and they’ve made that commitment,” Monahan said. “For most of them, they’ve made multiyear 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.
“I think they understand that.”
Still, at least one fan remains hopeful.
“All right, so you get in a room right now with Greg Norman and Jay Monahan and someone asks you to be the moderator between the two of them. What advice are you giving to Greg and what advice are you giving to Jay to try and see if there’s a way that this whole thing can be less destructive and less aggressive than it is?”
“First of all, I would say leave your egos at the door,” said Butch, who once coached Norman and LIV player Phil Mickelson. “Come in with no egos. Let’s come in with an open mind and see what we can do to make it better. That would be the first thing. Second thing, I would think that there is a way for the European Tour, the PGA Tour, the LIV Tour, to get together and have four or five huge tournaments a year, where participants from all three get to play. You can make it a 100-man field, you can do it off world rankings, you can do it any way you want to do it, I don’t care. For an amount of money, because that’s what it’s all about. And go to iconic, fabulous golf courses around the world and have this true world event.
“Now, that going to happen? Probably not because I don’t think Jay Monahan would even go to the meeting at the moment. So I think until things calm down — I’ve never talked to Jay about it, so I haven’t had that opportunity. But I would love to see some kind of thing get together where it is a world event, a gigantic world event. Not close to the majors. The majors will always be the majors. They’re there. Ultimate in golf is winning a major. I don’t care if you’ve 25 tournaments in your life; if you’ve never won a major, I’m sorry, you’re not considered a great champion. But there’s got to be a way that they can co-exist. … And I think these two organizations have to get together and do what’s best for golf.”