While addressing the media Wednesday for the first time since March, PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan formally announced three new events as well as a massive increase in purse size to eight other tournaments. He also discussed LIV Golf and fielded questions about the future of a PGA Tour that has never seemed more tenuous than it does in this moment.
Monahan was more vociferous about the tour’s position than in prior media gatherings and more steadfast about how good the tour can be in the near future. That doesn’t mean it’s going to work, but his words were compelling in the moment.
In the middle of Monahan’s press conference, LIV Golf made its signing of Brooks Koepka official. It was a reminder that LIV is still on the move as it has now signed 20% of the top 100 players in the Official World Golf Rankings.
With the future of the DP World Tour up in the air — rumors are flying that it could be bought soon by either the PGA Tour or LIV Golf — never has a lead in to The Open Championship in July felt more consequential.
Here’s a look at what Monahan had to say Wednesday along with a breakdown of what the future holds for the PGA Tour and professional golf as a whole.
On LIV Golf’s intentions
“I am not naive. If this is an arms race, and if the only weapons here are dollar bills, the PGA Tour can’t compete. The PGA Tour, an American institution, can’t compete with a foreign monarchy that is spending billions of dollars in attempt to buy the game of golf. We welcome good, healthy competition. The LIV Saudi Golf League is not that. It’s an irrational threat, one not concerned with the return on investment or true growth of the game.”
Simply put, the future of the PGA Tour is dependent on its players both understanding and believing this statement.
On LIV Golf as a whole
“When someone attempts to buy the sport, dismantle the institutions that are intrinsically invested in its growth and focus only on a personal priority, that partnership evaporates and instead we end up with one person, one entity, using endless amounts of money to direct employees, not members or partners, toward their personal goal, which may or may not change tomorrow or the next day.
“I doubt that’s the vision any of us have for the game. Now, I know legacy and purpose sound like talking points that don’t mean much, but when I talk of those concepts, it isn’t about some sort of intangible moral high ground. It is our track record as an organization and as a sport. On the PGA Tour, our members compete for the opportunity to add their names to history books, and yes, significant financial benefits, without having to wrestle with any sort of moral ambiguity.”
Again, Monahan needs the PGA Tour’s remaining stars to believe this is imperative to the tour’s future existence.
On a salary for PGA Tour players
“Seeing a day where things like that happen? I guess my response to that question is we’re always open to change, and we’re going to consider everything that’s going to continue to make this tour stronger and stronger. I would say that, if you go back to the elements, the foundation of this tour, the meritocracy of playing on the PGA Tour — how hard it is to get out here, how hard it is to get at the highest level of the game — that is ultimately going to be the attribute … that will continue to make this tour the greatest tour in the world.”
Whether this is true remains to be seen. It does feel a bit antiquated to use “meritocracy” as the mechanism of compensation for the players making all the money. The tour announced an influx of $54 million to tournament purses with another $60 million expected in the three fall events that would include the top 50 players who qualify. However, the top players in the world are guaranteed none of that money even though they will be the ones who generate all the interest.
On pushback from reducing tour cards to 70
“This is a significant change, and it affects every member of the PGA Tour. And what we talked about [Tuesday] in that player meeting and what we’ve talked about through the months is every single player in that room, every single member that carries a PGA Tour card, they have the ability to be the No. 1 player in the world.
“So to say that everybody supports this would be an exaggeration, but it’s the right move for the business and ultimately it’s the right move for our players and fans, and that’s something I look forward to proving in the years ahead.”
It’s certainly the right move for the business. Fall events will not be part of the FedEx Cup anymore. Instead, three of them will be big-money events for limited fields, and the rest will be the players beyond the top 70 will be fighting it out for position on the tour starting in January. That’s a bummer for the average player, but it protects and rewards the tour’s stars, which is what they’re going for here.
On how the majors will react
“So, to me, they have made a decision about their 2022 championships. How they’re going to continue to look at this current situation, the current environment, that’s up to them. I’m entirely focused on the things that we control, and a lot of that we’re talking about and announcing today. I think so long as we continue to take the steps that make this tour stronger, that create more opportunities for top players, ultimately we’re the pathway to those championships.
“To compete in those championships, you need to compete against the best. You need to compete for relevancy. You need to compete for context. And the best way to prepare is on the PGA Tour. And so long as we continue to focus on that, I’ll let them make their own decisions. … I won’t let them. They’re going to make their own decisions and we’re just going to be as competitive as we can be.”
This is true, but if the OWGR board awards LIV Golf events points or LIV simply purchases the DP World Tour outright, there’s a good chance that none of this actually matters.
On the tour’s tax exempt status
“We’re always open for anything that’s going to create more opportunity for our members, and that’s an exercise that’s perpetual. But at this point, there’s nothing that I foresee beyond what we currently have. But we’ll continue to look at everything.”
On whether players are underpaid
“You can’t answer that question with going back to the model itself. So, do I think the model, the meritocracy model, the mission of the PGA Tour, which is to have the best players in the world competing on the biggest and greatest stage preparing for golf’s biggest championships … we have that. We’re going to continue to evolve that.
“And I feel like players themselves … that’s really a question for them. We’re doing everything we can to maximize the revenue that they play for. We’ve grown. We’ve grown 20% from 2021 coming into 2022. We’re going to grow faster over the next 10 years than we have at any point in our history.
“We’re also not just about what you’re making through your competitive performance. The fact that our players control their schedule, control the brands that they associate with, are able to build their own businesses without limitation … it’s a combination of what they play, what they earn in the field of play. It’s also a combination of not only what they earn outside of it, but the opportunities and flexibility that provides.
“A long way of saying I want every single player on the PGA Tour to make more money, and that’s what I’m going to continue to focus on. … There’s more to come on that front.”
Players are underpaid in the sense that they’re not guaranteed any money from the PGA Tour. If you like that model, then this is a good one. They’re not underpaid as it relates to the percentage of money the PGA Tour distributes, which is north of 50% and consummate with other top sports leagues in the world.
On the source of this infusion of funds
“One of the things that we’ve heard over the last several months from our sponsors is, ‘Please tell us what we can do to help.’ And so the changes that we’re making, which will be roughly $45 million in incremental purse, is coming from a combination of sponsor contribution, you know, ways to continue to sell more within those events themselves, and our reserves.”
This figure is believed to be $54 million, but the interesting part here is that sponsors were coming to the tour to help them out — not the other way around. That bodes well for the future of the tour.
On potentially shrinking the schedule
“What we’ve done today is you’ve gone from a wraparound season to a season, a FedEx Cup season, that is primarily January through August. And by creating two separate tracks for those players that finish inside the top 70 and outside the top 70, to me, there’s some alleviation there.
“But more importantly, those tournaments within the core have gotten even stronger, and I fundamentally believe that those tournaments in the fall, given the importance and significance that an opportunity to be on the PGA Tour means — qualifying for invitationals, retaining your card — I think that moment is going to be, while different than it’s been in the past, I think it’s going to be very exciting for fans. And I think will create great energy in the fall.
“So, I don’t foresee a day where there are fewer tournaments because we need the full breadth of those tournaments in order to do the things that we’re doing. Which is, again, within the 35 events in the core PGA Tour season, create as much consequence, which creates the relevancy and context for the best players in the world. And then to be able to provide up to three events for those that have performed at the highest level. And then provide six tournaments in the fall ultimately to compete for positioning and cards the following year.”
I would love to see the PGA Tour either shrink its schedule or create two different tiers of events. The Memorial and Genesis Invitational are not the same as the Byron Nelson and American Express, for example. While that distinction is quite clear to those inside of golf, I think it needs to be clearer to fans and those tuning in: These are the tournaments that matter to the stars, and these are the ones that do not.