Tour Confidential: PGA Tour shakeup, LIV departures, Rory McIlroy
Check in every week for the unfiltered opinions of our writers and editors as they break down the hottest topics in the sport, and join the conversation by tweeting us @golf_com. This week, we discuss the changes to the PGA Tour’s schedule and money, LIV departures, Rory McIlroy’s win and more.
1. In a recurring trend, most of the news this week came before play. And the biggest was the multiple changes to the PGA Tour’s schedule and money as part of the Tour’s fight against LIV Golf. Among the items, announced Wednesday by Tour commissioner Jay Monahan ahead of the Tour Championship, were: 20 players will be defined as “top players” starting next year; the device in which the Tour defines those players, the Player Impact Program, 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.
We’ll start with this: Will these moves work in the Tour’s fight against LIV Golf?
Josh Sens, senior writer (@joshsens): They seem like effective moves in keeping young American talent around. The upshot feels like both sides are more solidified in their positions. LIV isn’t going anywhere. But the Tour has shored up crucial core support.
Jack Hirsh, assistant editor (@JR_HIRSHey): Players are choosing between money and legacy, it seems like. LIV has a seemingly unlimited supply of money. The Tour, on the other hand, has history, and if it can make the dollars at least within shouting distance of LIV, I don’t see many players picking them over the Tour. After all, what does $25 million get you that $20 million doesn’t? The league minimum also helps take care of the journeymen pros who help make up a lot of what the dream of playing on the PGA Tour is.
Alan Bastable, executive editor (@alan_bastable): You know when this plan would have been really effective? A year ago. This new model has many cool elements and enticements — and it seems to have helped sway at least one rising star, in Cameron Young, to stay put — but it’s still too little too late. Too many ships have already sailed, creating two diluted golf leagues, one of which you can only watch on YouTube. Yes, we’ll see some of the best players in the world get together regularly at the elevated PGA Tour events but not all of them. That’ll happen only four times a year now, at the majors. It’s a real bummer. The top players on both tours are all getting richer, but golf fans will be poorer for it.
2. What change are you most interested in? What change may need some work?
Sens: The $500k stipend. A lot of guys are expendable and just can’t cut it. But you’ve got to do something to keep the farm teams alive. The change I’d still like to see is a greater commitment to cool venues. Great designs go a long way toward creating interesting golf.
Hirsh: I agree with Josh here, but I’ll change it up to bring up another topic. I’m very interested in how the “elevated events” will rotate from season to season. Will we see an elevated John Deere Classic in 2027? You would think every sponsor would want a shot at hosting all of the top pros at their event. On the other hand, not all sponsors are equal, so I guess we’ll see.
Bastable: Yeah, the rotating elevated events most grabbed my attention. Clever idea — but will it work? With the top players’ schedules filling up with the permanent elevated events, majors and — coming soon! — Monday night golf, how much appetite and energy will they have for smaller-ticket tourneys? The John Deeres, the Hondas, the Rocket Mortgages, etc., all seem to be in a precarious spot. The wave of household names who departed for LIV doesn’t help matters.
3. Max Homa offered up some of the better thoughts on the changes after his Tour Championship second round, and when he was asked about his field size, he also said this: “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.” That raises a good point. All of the changes by the PGA Tour, along with the large, guaranteed money, seemingly have the player in mind. But where does the fan fit in to all of this?
Sens: As a fan, I’m partly put off by the insanity of the money. But there are trickle-down perks in the preservation of talent. More than fans, I see more pluses for bettors. I guess some of them are fans.
Hirsh: What the fan gets are defined events of when the “top players” are all going to be in the field. This fixes a huge problem for the casual fan, who didn’t really know when they were supposed to be watching a Tour event. I knew the top players weren’t at the Wyndham Championship, but was the Travelers worth watching? Wells Fargo? Bay Hill has the prestige of being Arnold Palmer’s event, but the field had been weakening with the new schedule shifts. Was it still worth watching? Now fans will know exactly when the best weeks to watch golf are.
Bastable: Mentioned this above, but, yeah, it’s hard to see how any of this upheaval benefits the fans. Sports fans want to watch the best players, period, competing against the best players, period. In golf, that’s no longer possible, other than four times a year. Don’t get me wrong: The drama around pro golf in recent months has had golf fans and non-golf fans alike riveted. But what happens when that all passes?
4. This week, while the PGA Tour is off, LIV will play its fourth event, just outside of Boston, and as many as seven current Tour players will be in the field. On Saturday, several outlets were reporting that Cameron Smith, Joaquin Niemann and others would leave the Tour and join LIV, following other notable players who have done so already. What do these moves mean to both the LIV and PGA Tour brands?
Sens: A blow to the Tour and a boon for LIV. I don’t know how you cast it any other way.
Hirsh: It’s a blow to the Tour, but it could have been worse. Don’t get me wrong, Niemann and Smith are both young players just entering the primes of their careers; Niemann may even be a few years away from his. But both of these players certainly don’t draw like Rory, Justin Thomas, Jordan Spieth or even Adam Scott. It’s definitely a great announcement for LIV as, for the most part, most of the players defecting have been past their primes. If Hideki Matsuyama was going over, that would be a massive blow given his status in Asia. But it looks like he’s staying put for now, thus making this a hit the PGA Tour can weather.
Bastable: Yeah, I’d agree that other than the reigning Claret Jug-holder, there’s no names in the next reported pack of defectors that will send shockwaves beyond the golf world, but it’s still another reminder that LIV isn’t done recruiting. Worth keeping in mind, though, that their format allows only for 48 players (for now, anyway), so there are only so many spots. LIV obviously wants those 48 players to be the biggest stars possible, but there are also only so many big-name players who will say yes. Feels like we might be hitting that threshold soon.
5. Immediately after Monahan’s announcement, Rory McIlroy revealed that he and Tiger Woods would lead a “tech-infused league” that would be played in an arena on Monday nights starting in 2024. As for the competition, the TGL will feature teams of 3 competing against each other in a 3-on-3 format. Each team will play five times over the 15-week season and each broadcast will feature just one matchup between two teams. Will you watch?
Sens: I’ll tune in out of professional curiosity, but I’m not the target audience here. Gimmicky and high-tech is not my thing. I’m old-school and analog. If you ever find me wearing VR headsets, please smother me with a pillow. I’d like to live my remaining years engaging with the real world as much as possible.
Hirsh: Target audience here! I was initially put off by this from the initial reporting, but after seeing the renderings and other plans, I’m hooked! Think of it like this, TopGolf attracts a way wider audience than just golfers. In fact, non-avid golfers probably like TopGolf more than avid ones. If the TGL can do the same, then I’m all for exposing more people to the game.
Bastable: Pros hitting balls into simulators? I don’t think Monday Night Football should feel threatened. But I also think we need way more information here before filing our reviews! Certainly love the idea of regular primetime golf and, at the very least, it seems like an ideal format for Tiger. No walking required. If this concept means we’ll see more of Woods with a club in his hand, it’s already a win.
6. An actual golf question! The Tour Championship concluded Sunday, and with it, the PGA Tour’s regular season. Rory McIlroy rallied from six shots down to start the final round to edge Scottie Scheffler and bring home the $30 million top prize. What did we learn about McIlroy in victory?
Sens: Nothing we didn’t know already. When he gets it going, he’s got a rarefied gear.
Hirsh: We already knew he was a great chaser. We knew he was resilient. We knew he was the Alpha of the PGA Tour — when Tiger isn’t around. I think this win was a statement of how well McIlroy can let his play do the talking. This was a huge week for him. His last win, at the Canadian Open, was also a huge week for him because it was the week of LIV’s U.S. debut. Maybe these two wins will finally help him get the Masters monkey off his back.
Bastable: Like Tiger’s Tour Championship win in 2018, you couldn’t have scripted this one much better. The Tour’s knight in shining armor in 2022 winning the season-culminating tourney and a boatland of (non-LIV!) dollars to boot. It all felt so right. After his win, Rory also spoke of how much his Open Championship disappointment still haunts him. He’s not over it, he said, but surely $18 mil will help soothe the sting.