By Charlie Blanchard
The PGA Tour has already begun its 2023 season. It’s actually the Tour’s “wraparound” 2022-23 season that started shortly after the FedEx Cup Tour Championship at the end of August, won by Rory McIlroy.
Starting in January 2024, the PGA Tour will go back to a calendar season. That’s just one of the several major changes the tour has in the works. PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan has been meeting often with the Player Advisory Council and Policy Board, headed by Rory McIlroy, for most of the current year with hopes of elevating the status of a number of events as well as raising the purse money for those events . Monahan is acutely aware that more Tour and college players could jump to LIV Golf, given the huge cash incentives involved. Not only is he interested in seeing the PGA Tour stage competitions with the best players in the world (only two of the top 20 players in OWGR play on LIV Golf), but he is committed to providing “a more compelling product for our players, fans and partners.”
So far this season, seven tournaments have been played. From early November on that leaves 43 more tournaments, including the four majors. The FedEx Cup/Tour championship will be August 24-27. Then it will be four months until PGA Tour play starts in January 2024. It will be nice to see the “silly season” return to professional golf. While the 2024 calendar schedule is news, the bigger news is events that will feature $20 million purses and an especially elite field.
Starting in January 2023 there will be 34 weeks of PGA Tour tournaments with 20 of them earmarked for the top 20 Tour players as determined by the Player Impact Program (PIP). Additionally, the Tour is making room for up to three international, no-cut, limited-field events, taking the top 50 from the FedEx Cup finals, and top performers from fall of 2022. At this point 10 tournaments will have purses of $20 million, with the Players Championship at $25 million.
In decades past change occurred slowly on the PGA Tour, but with the start-up of rival LIV Golf, with its infusion of billions from the Saudi Public Investment Fund, there was an urgency to implement most of the current changes. Another change is the PGA Tour 20 event requirement for players who are deemed to be a “top player.” Of those 20 events 17 will consist of 12 elevated events (big purses), and five will come from the four majors and the Players Championship. Then there are three regular events that the player can choose to enter, bringing the total to 20. A player must compete in 20 events to qualify for the PIP.
As with any abrupt changes to the status quo there follows objections and problems. With the numerous elevated purses and elite field events some popular and respected tournaments may well struggle to get top players to show up. The Honda Classic and the Valspar Championship are two events that face that prospect. The Honda (Feb. 23-26) is stuck between the Genesis Invitational and the Arnold Palmer Invitational, both elevated; the Valspar (Mar. 16-19) is stuck between the Players and the WGC Match Play, both elevated.
“We’re in a tough spot, no question,” said Tracy West, tournament director for Valspar. Then there is also the matter of sponsors; some may be lost if the idea of a “PGA super Tour” continues to gain traction. Gary Van Sickle, one of my favorite golf writers, had this to say on si.com: “LIV Golf isn’t going to eat its young because it doesn’t have any. It’s eating someone else’s young. The PGA Tour, however, could be on the verge of doing just that by filling its tour with limited-field, big-money purses that tilt the formerly level playing field.” It’s a matter of the rich getting richer.
I know I’m “old school.” I don’t like reference to golf as a “product” using a “platform,” even though it certainly is entertainment. I recoil at promotion of betting on professional golf. And I hope the PGA Tour doesn’t follow the LIV model of boring exhibition golf.