The PGA Tour strikes back.
That was the message Jay Monahan brought to his members in a retreat on Tuesday, and it is the message he brought to the public in a press conference on Wednesday. He announced the tour’s plans to add money and meaning to its flagship events, effectively creating a super schedule for top professionals.
Monahan insisted that plan was already in the works, but acknowledged the moves were “obviously accelerated by the current environment.” As he began his remarks, LIV Golf issued a press release: They had officially signed Brooks Koepka. It’s on.
So what does the new schedule look like – and what does it mean for PGA Tour players? let’s go through it
We might as well start there, right? This was almost every round of dollar signs. The Saudi-backed LIV Breakaway League has access to the Public Investment Fund, which is practically a bottomless pit. They handed off most of a billion dollars in pledges to defectors on the PGA Tour. But the PGA Tour responded with a $54 million raise (yes, they left at 54) spread across eight of its biggest events, including increasing the Players Championship purse to $25 million and six other events to $20 million.
“I’m not naive,” Monahan told Travelers on Wednesday. “If this is an arms race and the only weapons here are dollar bills, the PGA Tour can’t compete. The PGA Tour, an American institution, cannot compete with a foreign monarchy that spends billions of dollars to buy the game of golf.”
The purse hikes made it clear: The Tour may not be able to keep up, but it will still do its best to keep up.
The calendar year plan
Tired of explaining to your non-golf friends that the PGA Tour starts about two weeks after the previous season ends, but also ends around Thanksgiving, but only for a month, but not really? Good news for you, buddy. The tour returns to a calendar-year schedule, with the FedEx Cup running from January through August and an additional series of events in the fall.
The next season – the 2022-23 season – will still start next fall and run through fall 2023, but the following season will start in January 2024, with eligibility for that season being determined in fall 2023.
The super season
I’ve always felt that the PGA Tour schedule was confusing to casual fans because, like the Lake Wobegon kids, all Tour events were treated as if they were above average. A 47-event FedEx Cup schedule is great because it allows pro golf fans to see professional golf, but it’s confusing when the tour is essentially a non-stop carousel of similar events.
The advantage of the new schedule is that it is clear when the best golfers will play. A common criticism among Tour fans is that they don’t always see the best players together in the same field. Now we have established events with established stories taken to the next level. The money is part of it; The harder part will be for the tour to make these events feel real Juice. Here’s what this “Super Series” (my words, not theirs) will look like with new elevated wallets:
January: Sentry Tournament of Champions ($15 million, up from $8.2 million)
February: Genesis Invitational ($20 million, up from $12 million)
march: Arnold Palmer Invitational ($20M, from $12M), Players Championship ($25M, from $20M), WGC-Match Play ($20M, from $12M)
Can: PGA Championship
June: Memorial Tournament ($20M vs. $12M), US Open
July: Open Championship
August: Playoff Season – FedEx St. Jude Championship ($20M, down from $12M) and BMW Championship ($20M, down from $12M).
We’ll get to the fall series in a bit, but that’s a pretty compelling schedule, with 11 events that almost all of the top members of the tour should be attending.
Fewer players qualify for the FedEx Cup Playoffs. Instead of 125 pros locking up their tour tickets (and an additional FedEx Cup payout) at the end of the regular season, only 70 will compete in the first playoff event, the FedEx St. Jude Championship. The top 50 advance to the BMW Championship and the top 30 to the Tour Championship.
The top 70 that make the playoffs are fully exempt for the following season, including Invitationals (Riviera, Bay Hill, Memorial), while the top 50 qualify for a new fall series. Speaking of…
The Fall Series
Monahan added that there will be a series of up to three international events played after the FedEx Cup Playoffs conclude. These events are limited field, no-cut events and their specific format is currently under review by the Player Advisory Council.
The effect here is threefold: it’s a chance to rally the best players in the game, it’s a chance for the top 50 pros to double and grow their earnings for the season, and it’s a simple commitment that Pros can play (or not) and still get an offseason.
What about the “other” tour pros? Those not in the top 70 by the end of the PGA Tour season will compete in a “convincing, consistent finisher” that will determine their status for the following season.
Let’s go through one by one.
Do the players get salaries?
No – at least not yet.
Is there a way back for banned LIV players?
Not yet. “I think our position there is very well established as it relates to all players who will be playing at future events,” Monahan said.
How does the DP World Tour fit in here? What happened to this “strategic alliance”?
The DP World Tour is currently particularly vulnerable due to LIV transitions and their immediate future plans are in doubt. While we expect an announcement from Commissioner Keith Pelley soon, Monahan reiterated that the strategic alliance is strong and that they work “closely” together – but it was interesting that no jointly sanctioned events (with the exception of the WGC match play) were raised as for example the Genesis Scottish Open.
Will the majors ban LIV players in the future?
Well, the US Open last week didn’t. Next month’s Open Championship won’t either. Monahan said Wednesday that they will make their own decisions and that he will not tip the scales. “We will be as competitive as we can,” he said.
Where is the extra money coming from?
Largely from sponsors, Monahan said — both old and new. He added that the funding “will come from a combination of sponsorship contributions, opportunities to continue to sell more within these events themselves and our reserves.”
When asked if LIV’s arrival hastened the announcement, Monahan acknowledged that was a factor.
“Yes, we are doing this to respond on behalf of our members to the current environment that we find ourselves in,” he said.
Would the PGA Tour ever work with LIV?
“Hypothetically,” Monahan said. In other words, not if they can help it.
Now we are waiting for the next LIV event, which will tee off next week. And we’re watching the tide of defectors to see if the stream holds up or if the PGA Tour’s plans slow it to a trickle.