PGA Tour’s LIV response is to pump in money that won’t last forever

John Craven

Jay Monahan (Photo by Tracy Wilcox/PGA TOUR)

John Craven

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Some of the biggest events on the PGA Tour are set to receive a significant cash injection from 2023, however, Commissioner Jay Monahan admits his organisation can’t compete in financial warfare against the Saudi-backed LIV Golf threat.

Although the tour accepts it can’t fight fire with fire against the bottomless pockets of the Saudi Investment Fund, it has bumped up purses that were rising anyway, albeit escalating the increases in an effort to entice its members to stay on the PGA Tour.

From 2023, the Sentry Tournament of Champions will see its prize fund increase from $8.2 million to $15 million, while marquee events like the Arnold Palmer, the Genesis Invitational, the WGC-Dell Match Play and the Memorial Tournament will increase from $12m to $20m, matching new prize pots for the FedEx St. Jude Invitational and BMW Championship.

The Players Championship, which boasted a $20m purse in 2022, will rise to $25m next year.

Nice work if you can get it says you, however, Monahan says there’s only so far the Tour’s pockets can stretch and admits that his organisation cannot win a bidding war against his Saudi-backed rivals.

“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,’” Monahan said. “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.”

“I am not naïve. If this is an arms race and if the only weapons are dollar bills, the PGA Tour can’t compete with a foreign monarchy that is spending billions of dollars in an attempt to buy the game of golf.

“We welcome good healthy competition, the LIV series is not that. It’s an irrational threat, one not concerned with the return on investment or true growth of the game. Currently no one organisation owns or dominates the game of golf, instead the various entities work together to meet our own respective priorities but with the best interests of the game at heart.

“But when someone attempts to buy the sport and dismantle the institutions that are intrinsically invested in growth and focus only a personal priority, that partnership evaporates. Instead we end up with one person, one entity, using endless amounts of money to direct employees 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.

“My read on the situation is that this environment is unsettling and the players want to make certain that their Tour is doing everything it possibly can to grow and evolve in the manner that has got us to this point.

“We need to continue to be the ultimate platform for the best players in the world – a place they want to compete to prepare for the greatest championships in our game. The best competing against the best at historic venues with traditions and meanings and purpose.

“We are going down our path, and we are excited about what we have announced today, and there is more exciting news to come. We are going to do it as a Tour, as a collective, and a group of members that are absolutely behind their Tour.”

There will be other changes implemented to improve working conditions for those on the PGA Tour (the poor divils). As things stand, the top-125 in the FedEx rankings at the end of this season will qualify for the end of year play-offs. From 2023, however, that number will be just 70 competing across the same three events with the top-30 advancing to the Tour Championship.

If you don’t qualify for the play-offs, players will need to earn their exemptions for the following season through a series of fall events. The key word being ‘earn’… yes, ultimately the PGA Tour’s response to too much money being thrown at the Saudi project is to dig deeper into their own pockets but the key difference is that players will have to earn their crust on the PGA Tour, unlike the pre-paid Saudi rebels.

“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,” Monahan said.

“That is ultimately going to be the element that will continue to make this tour the greatest tour in the world.”

And from 2024, expect the PGA Tour to return to a calendar-based schedule, meaning no more wrap-around seasons and hopefully a designated off-season. Golf every week of the year might be some people’s idea of fun but in reality it leads to diluted fields and over-saturation for viewers.

The tour needs to ensure its best players play together a lot more than they currently do to maximise the product. Almost at June’s end in 2022 and Rory McIlroy, Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth have played in the same event just five times this year, and three of them were Majors. That’s five times out of 26 possible events.

Room for improvement? Absolutely, and if there’s one positive coming out of LIV’s attempted takeover of golf, it’s that the PGA Tour, asleep at the wheel for too long, is finally coming out of hibernation.

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