The PGA Tour just made big-time structural changes. Here are the 10 biggest
For months, the news surrounding the PGA Tour’s future has been mostly…bad. The steady trickle of well-known pros announcing their departure for LIV combined with rumors of who was next to go added up to a sense of impending doom. The Tour was under siege.
But behind closed doors, its top stars were drawing up battle plans. Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy spearheaded a series of meetings between big-name pros to try to maximize the Tour’s future without blowing up its existing structure. Those sessions culminated in a players-only meeting at last week’s BMW Championship, where roughly two dozen pros reviewed changes to the Tour’s structure before bringing them before its leadership.
On Wednesday, the PGA Tour informed its membership that those changes will go into effect for the 2023 season — a shocking turnaround given the typical speed of change on Tour. Jay Monahan and Rory McIlroy addressed the media shortly thereafter. Here are 10 ways the PGA Tour will be changing:
1. We now have official “top players.”
According to the Tour’s release, for the 2022-23 season a “top player” will be defined as:
“Players who finish in the top 20 under the current Player Impact Program AND players who finish in the top 20 under the revised PIP criteria.”
In other words, to reap the benefits of being a top PGA Tour player you also have to give back — which means committing to playing a bunch of elevated events. We’ll get to those. But first, the rewards!
2. The Player Impact Program is getting jacked up.
There will now be 20 players instead of 10 who get PIP money. The announced $50 million PIP money has been doubled to $100 million, effective immediately — so the 2022 list will pay out $100 million and the 2023 list will, too.
There are some changes to PIP scores: Q-Score and social media will be removed and “awareness criteria” will be expanded. It’s not completely clear what that scoring system means but Monahan referenced the speed with which the social media landscape changes as one reason for the shift.
To receive their PIP bonus, players must compete in the Elevated Events plus three non-elevated events. Speaking of which…
3. The 12 “Elevated Events” are official.
The PGA Tour has always had bigger events and smaller events. Now they’re more clearly defined. Here are the 12 “Elevated Events” which will have average purses of at least $20 million and feature the top 20 players in the PIP, as long as they’re qualified for the event:
1-3. Three FedEx Cup Playoffs events
4. The Genesis Invitational
5. Arnold Palmer Invitational
6. Memorial Tournament
7. WGC-Dell Match Play
8. Sentry Tournament of Champions
9-12. Four additional Elevated Events with at least $20 million purses
The final four events have yet to be determined but are expected to rotate from one year to the next to spread the love around to different Tour stops. Monahan said he expected those four to come from a pool of existing domestic PGA Tour events, though he floated the Genesis Scottish Open as a possibility, too.
4. We’ll see the top PGA Tour pros at least 20 times.
This is math even a golf writer can do: The aforementioned 12 Elevated Events plus three additional non-elevated events gets us to 15. Then there’s the Players Championship, which I assumed is an Elevated-Elevated Event. And then there are the four major championships, which — lest we forget — are the original Elevated Events. This means we’ll be seeing the best players on the PGA Tour a minimum of 20 times in 2023 — and in the same field at least 17 of those.
This is the biggest point of the 10, in my opinion. This is what came out of that Tiger-led players’ meeting. PGA Tour pros have always competed as individuals. There has always been the sense that this is a zero-sum game. It’s not. Rory McIlroy summed up the difference:
“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,” he said. “Sometimes what’s happened on the PGA Tour is we all act independently and we sort of have our own schedules, and that means that we never really get together all that often.
“I think what came out of the meeting last week and what Jay just was up here announcing is the fact that we’ve all made a commitment to get together more often to make the product more compelling.”
5. All fully-exempt Tour members will get $500,000.
The new “Earnings Assurance Program” guarantees that every fully exempt member of the PGA Tour will get $500,000, credited against their on-course earnings. Those who weren’t on Tour the previous season — rookies and returning members — will get the money upfront, helping with expenses. Other pros would get paid at the end of the year, minus their earnings. For instance, if a pro earns $450,000 in prize money, the Tour would fill that gap and give him $50,000 at year’s end. Pros must play 15 events to earn the minimum, effectively replacing the previous “Play15” program which also required 15 events.
“We believe it meets the challenging dynamic of how players manage and invest in their careers, and it’s comparable to how other leagues approach their athlete compensation,” Monahan said.
It’s interesting to note that this isn’t actually a huge expense for the PGA Tour. Monahan estimated it would pay out only $2-3 million given that most pros who earn full PGA Tour status end up making in excess of $500,000 anyway. The point, Monahan said, is to level the playing field for those without massive resources.
“For rookies, coming out here and knowing that that’s payable on day one we think will help put those rookies in a better position to compete because they can invest in the infrastructure they need to succeed,” he said.
6. There will be stipends for all other Tour members.
Those who aren’t fully exempt but still have some PGA Tour status will receive a $5,000 stipend every time they play an event and miss the cut, which won’t affect tournament purses but will subsidize “travel and tournament-related expenses.” In other words, the Tour doesn’t want its fringe members losing money when they attend events.
I asked Martin Trainer, who finished No. 138 in this year’s FedEx Cup, what he thought of the changes.
“Sounds like the rich getting richer and the little folk getting some perks as well,” he said via text. Well said.
7. The Tour Championship has some extra juice.
Making it to East Lake will now mean a two-season PGA Tour exemption, ensuring that any pros who make it to the Tour Championship will maintain some status even if they struggle the next season. Tour Championship participants will also be exempt into the following year’s Sentry Tournament of Champions. At the Tour Championship, everyone’s a champion! In turn, the Sentry TOC will have a full slate of 550 FedEx Cup points — the same as Genesis, Bay Hill and Memorial.
8. Get to 20 wins and you’re a lifetime member.
This isn’t a change that will affect many people. In fact, I think it only affects one, for now: Rory McIlroy, whose 21 wins make him a lifetime member immediately. (The previous rule also required 15 seasons of membership in addition to 20 wins.) I guess I should add that in addition to 20 wins you also must not be a LIV member — Dustin Johnson’s 24 career PGA Tour wins are negated by the fact that he has now resigned his PGA Tour membership.
Others on the horizon? There aren’t many. Justin Thomas has 15 wins, Adam Scott has 14 and Jordan Spieth has 13.
9. LIV pros won’t be coming back anytime soon.
Monahan was pretty clear when asked if LIV pros with buyer’s remorse could come back to the PGA Tour.
“No,” he said.
“They’ve joined the LIV Golf Series and they’ve made that commitment. For most of them, they’ve made multiyear commitments,” he said. “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.” (Those suing the Tour for exactly that right may not understand it, but I see what Monahan was getting at.)
10. We’re getting Monday Night Golf.
This is worth its own exploration, but there’s an add-on competition coming to professional golf: The TGL! That stands for TMRW Golf League. (TMRW stands for Tomorrow and it also stands for TW and RM, which stand for Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy, who own TMRW.)
The TGL will kick off in January 2024 and is a stadium-style team golf event. What does that mean? Hard to say exactly. But there will be 18 players in the league split into six teams who will go head-to-head over the course of 15 Monday nights throughout the season. It’s intended as a supplement to the PGA Tour and a way to bolster the profiles and pockets of top pros.
(The CEO of TMRW Sports, Mike McCarley, described the money involved in this way: “I see the terms boatload and truckload being thrown around a lot lately. Maybe it’ll be in between those two, but we’ll announce the purse as we get a little bit closer to the start date.”)
There is no TV contract in place yet — and details are relatively scarce — but check out the renderings of the proposed TGL:
One important note: There are two committed players thus far. You guessed ’em: Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy.
McIlroy was asked about Woods’ participation: “Who knows where we’re going to see Tiger Woods play golf next, right? We don’t know what his schedule is going to be. We don’t know how his body is going to be. But to be able to see him still showcase his skills on primetime, on TV without really any wear and tear on his body, I think to be able to see Tiger hit golf shots and still sort of provide people with a glimpse of his genius, I think it is a really good use of his time.”
The times, they are a-changing.
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