But the LIV series is a different beast. Backed by the Saudi government’s investment department, it’s not here to make a profit. It’s here to shake up the golf world and bring prestige to the Saudi royal family.
“The PGA Tour, an American institution, cannot compete with a foreign monarchy that spends billions of dollars to buy the game of golf,” Monahan said.
Monahan is right. The PGA Tour can’t match the nine-figure guarantees that LIV offers to golf’s biggest names. On Wednesday, LIV officially announced it had signed four-time Major winner Brooks Koepka as the latest star player to retire from the PGA.
In response to the spate of defectors in recent weeks, Monahan and the PGA Tour announced significant changes beginning in 2024. These include higher prize pools across eight events, a shorter schedule, a smaller FedEx Cup playoff field and a new three-event European tournament series in the fall for the top 50 players in the FedEx Cup standings.
They are confirmation that the LIV threat is very real and that the only way to stop the defectors is to take care of the PGA Tour’s star players.
“I think everyone’s worried,” said world No. 6 Patrick Cantlay. “If the PGA Tour is to remain the premier tour for professional golfers, it has to be the premier place for the best players in the world to play.”
The LIV threat didn’t seem serious as only over-the-hill pros like Phil Mickelson, Lee Westwood and Ian Poulter, as well as youngsters who haven’t made their mark like 2021 US amateur champion James Piot, signed.
But LIV is starting to attract some of the top players like Dustin Johnson (38 years old), Patrick Reed (31), Bryson DeChambeau (28) and Koepka (32). Justin Thomas and Collin Morikawa battled rumors of churn this week, tweeting that they are staying with the PGA Tour.
But Koepka was committed to the PGA Tour until he wasn’t anymore. The LIV money was just too good to pass up.
“It was definitely a surprise for me. I was at an event with him last week and it was definitely not what he had in mind,” said world No. 1 Scottie Scheffler. “We’ve been focused on building the PGA Tour and getting the guys that are staying here together and just having conversations and figuring out how we can benefit the Tour.”
The Saudis and their cash reserves are unstoppable. That’s why Monahan’s moves have been all about the star players. There was no talk of a guaranteed salary or minimum appearance fee, issues raised by LIV.
The best players in the world don’t care about appearance fees. They want thicker wallets. And a better schedule. And more freedom to play events elsewhere.
Monahan and the PGA Tour conceded those points after a five-hour meeting with player officials Tuesday in Connecticut.
The biggest changes:
▪ Prize pools at eight of the tour’s most popular events will increase by a total of $54 million.
▪ Instead of a year-round schedule beginning in the fall, the tour will operate in a single calendar year beginning in January. Once the playoffs conclude in August, the fall season is optional and not eligible for FedExCup points.
“Self-interested, I would wish for an off-season for me,” said Rory McIlroy, PGA Tour player director. “I’d like to not show up in February and be 150th on the FedEx Cup points list because I just didn’t want to play in the fall and wanted to take some time off and spend some time with my family.”
▪ The FedEx Cup Playoffs field will shrink from 100, 70 and 30 participants to 70, 50 and 30 in the three events. The smaller the field, the better the chances for the star players to emerge with the grand prize.
▪ The three international events will take place after the fall season, but details are scarce. It’s a way to reward the top players with target events.
Monahan knows that even these changes may not be enough to contain the LIV defectors. He spent much of his press conference appealing to player sensibilities, emphasizing concepts like “honor,” “legacy,” and “competition.”
“Our members are competing for the opportunity to have their names in the history books…without having to contend with any moral ambiguities,” he said.
However, the real key to the sustainability of the PGA Tour is the majors. The United States Golf Association allowed LIV golfers to play at the US Open last week and the Royal & Ancient will allow them to play at next month’s British Open. Augusta National and the PGA Championship have yet to make decisions.
“I would never risk going and missing an opportunity to come back to Augusta every year or do any of that,” said Scheffler, this year’s Masters champion.
Most of Scheffler’s contemporaries would agree. But the jump to LIV carries little risk at this point as the majors are still in the game. The only consequence of switching to LIV is that you cannot play at regular PGA Tour stops like Memorial, Bay Hill or the Colonial.
Monahan practically asked the Majors organizers to reconsider their stance on LIV players.
“How they continue to view this current situation, the current environment, that’s up to them,” he said. “To compete in these championships you have to compete against the best, you have to fight for relevance, you have to fight for context. And the best way to prepare is on the PGA Tour.”
Wednesday’s changes were likely well received by the tour’s top players. But they’re also a tacit admission from the PGA Tour that the league knows it could be in big trouble.
Ben Volin can be reached at [email protected]