Tour Confidential: The PGA Tour’s new deal, LIV in 2024, Pebble changes
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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 at @golf_com. This week we discuss the PGA Tour’s recently announced deal with the SSG, LIV Golf’s 2024 debut, changes to Pebble Beach’s format and more.
1. The PGA Tour on Wednesday announced details of an up to $3 billion investment from the Strategic Sports Group, an entity that consists of several billionaire investors (think Arthur Blank and Steve Cohen) who now stand to make a sizable return on their investment into the Tour. Players should benefit as well — some 200 of them will now become “equity partners” in the PGA Tour. (Still confused? Read this.) But let’s cut to the chase — how significant was this news to the PGA Tour and its future?
Jonathan Wall, managing equipment editor (@jonathanrwall): I don’t think we really know at this point. The cash injection is going to make some of those players who weren’t in the Tour’s “inner circle” feel a lot better. But beyond that? Who’s to say what upwards of $3 billion is going to do to the Tour’s product? We’ve seen some players push the importance of the fan experience; others have talked up the importance of elevating the coverage, as it pertains to gambling. It’s pure conjecture at this point until we get a clearer picture of the PIF’s involvement, if any. What it guarantees is more voices in the room trying to figure out the Tour’s future. I’m not sure more voices are a good thing, but I’ll refrain from judgment for the moment.
Zephyr Melton, assistant editor (@zephyrmelton): It’s significant in that it stops the bleeding for the PGA Tour — for now. It’s no secret that LIV and the PIF were forcing the Tour to burn through its cash reserves. Now, the Tour has some substantial capital of its own to throw around. Hopefully, they use it wisely, because we all know the Saudis aren’t short on cash.
Josh Berhow, managing editor (@Josh_Berhow): In a way, it also puts the ball back in the PGA Tour’s court. LIV Golf signed Jon Rahm away from the Tour, but this gave the Tour the positive PR bump it needed in this news cycle. This will be a nice infusion for the Tour (at a time when it needed it), but I don’t think your average fan cares about the details of this, and personally, I was hoping to get more information on how much individual players, for example, would benefit. You keep hearing the $1.5 billion with upwards to $3 billion number, but I’m interested in how that’s divvied up among players and what factors (PIP results, top 10s, wins, world rank, etc.) play into the distribution of it. And if I somehow missed that, someone please let me know!
2. Months ago, it seemed like the Tour was destined to merge with the Saudi PIF (and, in a way, LIV Golf). And while PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan’s note to players said the SSG news “allows for a co-investment from the PIF in the future,” it’s uncertain just how soon that will be. What did Wednesday’s news mean for the PGA Tour-Saudi PIF merger? And is there a chance it doesn’t happen at all anymore?
Wall: I still think the PIF deal happens. We’ve seen Rory — about as anti-LIV as it gets for most of golf’s neverending soap opera — change his tune and open the door for some of the biggest LIV defectors to return. You’d have to assume he knows something if there’s a sudden about-face. What’s certain is the Tour knows its product hasn’t been the same since Rahm, DJ, Cam Smith and others bolted for head-spinning money. Don’t think we see an announcement before the Masters, but a deal is far from dead, even with SSG’s Tour involvement.
Melton: It seems as though the PIF deal will still happen, but the SSG investment weakens the Saudis’ bargaining power a bit. As JWall noted, Rory and co. wouldn’t be softening their stances without some sort of inkling that Saudi money will be coming to the Tour in coming years. It feels like a matter of when — not if — the deal gets pushed across the finish line.
Berhow: I think it still happens as well, but this news is enough to make you wonder if it’s something that even gets done this year now. They already delayed the deadline they put in place once, and now the Tour has new cash coming in. And what if even more comes in? What if the next logical thought is, “Do we even need the PIF merger?” The dilemma here is that even if the Tour got to a point where it believed it didn’t need the PIF’s money, it would probably want a deal to stop the fight over players, so the next Rahm isn’t signed away to dilute the PGA Tour’s star power.
3. Speaking of LIV Golf, it started its second full season (and third overall) in Mayakoba, with Joaquin Niemann winning on Sunday. With guys likes Rahm and Tyrrell Hatton now in the mix, and with a potential truce between the PGA Tour and LIV Golf more likely to happen now that it was a year ago, do you see LIV making bigger waves in 2024 when it comes to viewers and traction among golf fans?
Wall: Everything I’ve read on social media from staunch golf fans is that they’re ready to watch the majors — and that’s it. I think everyone loses so long as LIV and the PGA Tour can’t find a way to come together. I hate calling both products watered down, but that’s what they are. Credit to LIV for trying to innovate with its television coverage, but I still don’t think that’s enough to increase eyeballs. Only a LIV-Tour truce will make that happen.
Melton: I really don’t see LIV getting that much more popular, even with their latest influx of talent. There isn’t a golfer on earth (other than Tiger) that can move the needle in any meaningful way. And with LIV’s tournaments still airing on the CW instead of a major network, drawing eyeballs en masse is going to be tough. The league is still a novelty rather than a major player — even with their ever-growing roster of stars.
Berhow: I think LIV gets bigger this year, but that’s also just a natural progression of something new becoming more well known, and you can’t discount the international audiences looking for ways to watch guys like Rahm or Hatton. Now, to get really into the weeds, I was going to say I didn’t care for the putt-tracer graphic cluttering up Niemann’s tying attempt in regulation on Sunday, but I do think it was pretty cool that LIV didn’t take itself too seriously and used the scoreboard to light up a dark green late in the playoff.
4. Wyndham Clark set a Pebble Beach course record with a 12-under 60 on Saturday, which vaulted him atop the leaderboard after three rounds (and was good enough for the win, after the event was deemed final after 54 holes). One debate that broke out on social media, however, was about how “official” the record should be since soggy conditions meant the field played “lift, clean and place,” when in the short stuff. What say you? Should there be an asterisk here?
Wall: Normally I’d say it should have an asterisk, but the guy set a ShotLink record with 150-plus feet of made putts over 9 holes on Saturday. It’s not like he was hitting everything to tap-in range with lift, clean and place. It’s still an impressive round no matter how you look at it.
Melton: The rest of the field had the benefit of preferred lies, too, and no one else came within three shots of matching Wyndham’s feat. It’s hard to frame his round as anything other than a historic round at a historic track.
Berhow: It should 100 percent stand as the course record at Pebble Beach, but I also don’t necessarily think it takes anything away from it by simply stating, as a fact, that it was played using preferred lies. That’s just context, people. As Zephyr said, he wasn’t the only one who played by those rules. And it’s not like you get to fluff up your ball if you hit it 40 yards offline in the rough — you still need to hit the shots. Interestingly, I knew the PGA Tour counted lift, clean and place scores as records, but was unaware the DP World Tour does not. (Across the pond, the game’s inventors thumb their nose at the elements.)
5. Although this year’s AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am was only 54 holes, there were some big changes as the historic stop after it received Signature Event status this year. That meant one less course, less amateurs and only two rounds of the pro-am portion. Was the new format an improvement?
Wall: Count me as a fan of the changes. The previous Pro-Am format was a slog that kept fans from watching until the final round. Being forced to watch a bunch of amateurs hack it around for three days was excessive. I think two rounds makes everyone happy and keeps the focus on the improved field and venue. Now if only we could see more golf shots…
Melton: Definitely an improvement from years past. There’s nothing better than getting the best of the best together on one of golf’s premier courses. I’m certainly a fan of how things played out.
Berhow: It was an improvement. Despite the rich history of the pro-am, previous editions felt more like a silly-season event. I liked it.
6. Next up the PGA Tour heads to Arizona for the WM Phoenix Open, which carries the reputation as the biggest party in golf. But if our readers are looking to take in another popular or raucous stop, what non-major event would you say is the runner-up to Phoenix?
Wall: In terms of a party atmosphere, nothing else on Tour comes close. However, if we’re trying for a distant second, I’d go with the Players Championship. The 17th is a raucous cauldron on Sunday when the leaders are coming down the stretch. It’s definitely worth making a trip to TPC Sawgrass if you’ve never been.
Melton: There isn’t an event on the schedule that can compete with the atmosphere at TPC Scottsdale, but if you want to go to a great golf course with a great field, the Genesis always delivers. There may not be any beers raining from the galleries, but the chance to walk around Riv is something you shouldn’t pass up.
Berhow: Again, hard to match the party atmosphere and I don’t think there is even a second place here, but one event I always recommend is the RBC Heritage. Great, classic course and an awesome location for food and drinks and things to do afterwards.