The PGA Tour has responded — a number of times and in a variety of ways — to the upstart LIV Golf league. Their latest counter to LIV ripping away a handful of stars and multi-time major winners is a reported plan to add a big-money fall schedule to the annual calendar with individual purses of approximately $20 million put up for grabs among the top 50 players from the previous season.
According to Golfweek, the PGA Tour will likely overlay presently scheduled events with three tournaments in that will pay out $60 million across the fall. They will feature the 50 golfers who qualify for the BMW Championship, the second of three FedEx Cup Playoff events, and be spread across Asia, Europe and the Middle East.
One other proposed change is that only 70 golfers (down from 125) would qualify for the first FedEx Cup Playoff event, the St. Jude Championship. Only those 70 would be guaranteed PGA Tour cards for the following season, which will move back to being held over a calendar year beginning in January 2024.
This coincides with a previous report from Golf Digest that suggested that there would be eight events elevated to $20 million status. Presumably, the three new ones in the fall and five other current events played throughout the year (where the purses of already-existing events could be raised to $20 million). It remains to be seen whether the other five events will have inflated purses or the PGA Tour simply adds the three fall events.
This move would create tournaments that are effectively the same as the World Golf Championship events, which were built two decades ago. There would be more difficult to get into because they’re limited to the top 50 players from the previous season, but the effect is the same. It’s a direct monetary rebuttal to LIV Golf, which is planning double-digit $25 million tournaments next year ($20 million to individuals, $5 million to teams).
What’s fascinating is how much money is being bandied about here. The only event on the PGA Tour that is currently equivalent to this purse size is the Players Championship, which distributes $20 million. The biggest current major championship purse is the U.S. Open, which just pumped its number to $17.5 million at Brookline.
The other interesting part to this development is what player response will be. Part of the allure of LIV Golf is that golfers can play fewer events for more guaranteed money in the form of contracts. It doesn’t matter where Dustin Johnson and Bryson DeChambeau finish at LIV Golf events because they get paid either way. This move by the PGA Tour would potentially see stars play more tournaments than they already play for no contractually guaranteed money at all.
It’s clear that golfers do want guaranteed money, as Patrick Cantlay stated on Tuesday at the Travelers Championship.
“I definitely think that could be beneficial,” said Cantlay. “I think right now there’s a competition for talent that’s going on and I think you see it in all sorts of other businesses. You’ve seen it in other professional sports from time to time. Part of the concern is not knowing what the future is going to be like. Right now it’s an uncertain time for golf, but if you think about it in the larger business landscape it’s a competition for talent. So if the PGA Tour wants to remain the preeminent tour for professional golfers, it has to be the best place to play for the best players in the world.”
These extra events, though, are perhaps not even something the top players were asking for.
“I think there’s enough programs in place that benefit the top players right now, PIP program, the Comcast Top-10, the FedExCup bonus, all of those things are designed to funnel more money into the top players’ pockets,” said Rory McIlroy at the Wells Fargo Championship last month. “You play the best, and the cream should rise to the top by the end of the year. That’s why Comcast Top-10, FedExCup bonus money is so high. And then you add the PIP in there for the people that make the biggest impact on the Tour.”
Now, top players might have to add to their schedules to build up regular-season wealth. Part of the reason for this is that the PGA Tour is a 501c(6) organization, which means it is tax exempt and thus must get creative with how it pays its constituents (i.e. creating more events for players to play instead of guaranteeing contracts).
This new three-tournament league within a league introduction is part of that, and it should at least help take care of the best players monetarily (especially if they bump five current purses to $20 million as well), which the PGA Tour believes will likely quell the outflow of players to LIV Golf.